Low-carb diets are very effective. That is a scientific fact.
However, as with any diet, people sometimes stop losing before they reach their desired weight.
Here are the top 15 reasons why you're not losing weight on a low-carb diet.
Weight loss isn't a linear process.
If you weigh yourself every day, there will be days when the scale goes down and other days when it goes up.
It doesn't mean that the diet isn't working, as long as the general trend is going downwards.
Of course, losing weight is not the same as losing fat.
It is possible, especially if you're new to weight lifting, that you are gaining muscle at the same time as you're losing fat.
To make sure that you're losing, use something other than just the scale. Use a measuring tape to measure your waist circumference and have your body fat percentage measured every month or so.
Also, take pictures. Take note of how your clothes fit. If you're looking thinner and your clothes are looser, you are losing fat no matter what the scale says.
Summary Weight loss isn’t linear, and there’s a lot more to weight than just body fat. Be patient and use other ways of measuring than just the scale.
Some people are more carb sensitive than others.
If you're eating low-carb and your weight starts to plateau, you may want to cut back on carbs even further.
In that case, go under 50 grams of carbs per day.
When you go under 50 grams per day, you're going to have to eliminate most fruits from your diet, although you can have berries in small amounts.
If that doesn't work either, going under 20 grams temporarily can work. Then you are eating just protein, healthy fats and leafy green vegetables.
To make sure that you're really eating low-carb, get yourself a free online nutrition tracker and log your food intake for a while.
Summary If you are carb sensitive, you may want to temporarily eliminate all high-carb foods and eat less than 50 grams of carbs per day.
Unfortunately, it isn't always enough to just eat healthy and exercise.
You need to make sure that your body is functioning optimally and that your hormonal environment is favorable.
Being stressed all the time keeps the body in a constant state of "fight or flight" — with elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol.
Having chronically elevated cortisol levels can increase your hunger and cravings for unhealthy foods ().
If you want to cut back on stress, try meditation and deep breathing exercises. Cut back on distractions like online news, and read more books instead.
Summary Chronic stress can have negative effects on your hormonal environment, making you hungrier and preventing you from losing weight.
A low-carb diet is about more than just lowering your intake of carbs.
You have to replace those carbohydrates with real, nutritious foods.
Throw away all processed low-carb products like Atkins bars, as they are not real food and not good for your health.
Stick to meats, fish, eggs, vegetables and healthy fats if you need to lose weight.
Also, "treats" like paleo cookies and brownies can cause problems even though they're made with healthy ingredients. They should be considered occasional treats, not something you eat every day.
It is also important to eat enough fat. If you try to cut back on carbs and fat at the same time, you will end up ravenously hungry and feel bad.
Eating a diet with nothing but protein is a very bad idea. Low-carb, high-fat and moderate protein is the way to go if you want to get into ketosis, which is the optimal hormonal environment to burn body fat.
Summary You need to replace the carbs with real, nutritious foods. To lose weight, stick to meats, fish, eggs, healthy fats and vegetables.
Nuts are real foods, no doubt about that.
They are also very high in fat. For example, about 70% of the calories in almonds come from fat.
However, nuts are very easy to overeat.
Their crunchiness and high energy density give you the ability to eat large amounts of them without feeling full.
I personally can eat a bag of nuts and still not feel satisfied, even though that one bag contains more calories than a meal.
If you're snacking on nuts every day (or worse, nut butters), chances are you're just eating way too many calories.
Summary Nuts have a very high energy density and are easy to overeat. If you're constantly snacking on nuts, try eliminating them.
Sleep is incredibly important for overall health, and studies show that a lack of sleep correlates with weight gain and obesity (, ).
A lack of sleep can make you feel hungrier (4). It will also make you tired and less motivated to exercise and eat healthy.
Sleep is one of the pillars of health. If you're doing everything right but still not getting proper sleep, you won't see the results you might expect.
If you have a sleeping disorder, see a doctor. They are often easily treatable.
Some tips to improve sleep:
- Avoid caffeine after 2 pm
- Sleep in complete darkness
- Avoid alcohol and physical exercise in the last few hours before sleep
- Do something relaxing before sleep, like reading
- Try to go to bed at a similar time each night
Summary Sleep is absolutely crucial for optimal health. Studies show that a lack of sleep can make you eat more and gain weight.
Another low-carb food that can cause problems for some people is dairy.
Some dairy products, despite being low in carbs, are still pretty high in protein.
Protein, like carbs, can raise insulin levels, which drives energy into storage.
The amino acid composition of dairy protein makes it very potent at spiking insulin. In fact, dairy proteins can spike insulin as much as white bread (, ).
Even though you may seem to tolerate dairy products just fine, eating them often and spiking insulin can be detrimental to the metabolic adaptation that needs to take place in order to reap the full benefits of low-carb diets.
In this case, avoid milk and cut back on the cheese, yogurt and cream. Butter is fine, as it is very low in protein and lactose and therefore won't spike insulin.
Summary The amino acid composition of dairy proteins makes them spike insulin fairly effectively. Try eating less dairy.
You shouldn’t exercise with the goal of burning calories.
The calories burned during exercise are usually insignificant and can easily be negated by eating a few extra bites of food at the next meal.
However, exercise is critical for both physical and mental health.
Exercise can help you lose weight by improving your metabolic health, increasing your muscle mass and making you feel awesome.
But it's important to do the right kind of exercise. Nothing but cardio on the treadmill is unlikely to give you good results and doing too much may even be detrimental.
Weight lifting: This will greatly improve your hormonal environment and increase your muscle mass, which will help you lose weight over the long term.
Interval training: Doing high-intensity intervals is an excellent form of cardio that boosts your metabolism and raises your levels of human growth hormone.
Low intensity: Being active and doing some low-intensity work like walking is a great idea. The human body was designed to move around, not sit in a chair all day.
Summary The right kinds of exercise improve your hormones, increase your muscle mass and make you feel awesome.
If you’re on a low-carb or ketogenic diet, “healthy” sugars like coconut sugar or raw cane sugar are just as bad as plain sugar.
They are high in carbs and can completely prevent your body from adapting to the diet.
This also applies to honey, agave nectar and others.
Zero-calorie sweeteners are fine for most people, but you may want to consider limiting them if you have trouble losing weight. They also often contain digestible carbs as fillers.
Summary Despite being natural, sweeteners like honey and raw cane sugar are just as high in carbs as regular sugar.
Certain medications are known to stimulate weight gain.
If you look at the list of side effects of the medications you are taking and see "weight gain" on the list, make an appointment with your doctor.
Perhaps there is another drug available that doesn't cause weight gain.
If you're doing everything right and still aren't getting results, perhaps you have an underlying medical problem.
Many hormonal disorders can cause problems losing weight, particularly hypothyroidism.
In that case, make an appointment with your doctor. Explain that you're having problems losing weight and that you want to rule out any medical issues.
Summary Certain medical issues and medications can cause weight problems. See a doctor to discuss your options.
It is a persistent myth in health and fitness circles that everyone should be eating many, small meals throughout the day.
This has actually been studied thoroughly. No advantage has been found to eating more frequent and smaller meals (, ).
It is natural for humans to eat fewer meals per day and sometimes go long periods without food.
Some people do something called intermittent fasting, eating in an 8-hour window each day or doing 24-hour fasts 1–2 times per week. This can be very useful to break through a plateau.
Summary There is no proven benefit to eating many, small meals throughout the day. Try eating fewer meals and consider giving intermittent fasting a shot.
For people who are able to control themselves, having cheat meals or days every now and then may be fine.
For others, especially those who are prone to food addiction, having cheat meals is likely to do more harm than good.
If you're cheating often, either with "small cheats" here and there or entire days where you eat nothing but junk food, it can easily ruin your progress.
Having more than 1–2 cheat meals per week (or one cheat day) is going to be excessive.
If you just can't seem to control yourself around unhealthy foods no matter what you try, perhaps you have food addiction. In that case, completely removing the junk foods from your life could be a good idea.
Summary Some people can eat junk food from time to time without ruining their progress, but that doesn't apply to everyone. For others, cheat meals will do more harm than good.
At the end of the day, calories do matter.
One of the main reasons low-carb and ketogenic diets are so effective is that they reduce appetite and make people eat fewer overall calories without trying.
If you're not losing weight but are doing all the right things, try counting calories for a while.
Again, create a free account with an online nutrition tracker and track your intake for a few days.
Aim for a deficit of 500 calories per day, which theoretically should make you lose 1 pound of weight per week (although it doesn't always work in practice).
Summary It is possible to eat so many calories that you stop losing weight. Try counting calories and aim for a deficit of 500 calories per day for a while.
At the end of the day, weight loss takes time.
It is a marathon — not a sprint.
Losing 1–2 pounds per week is a realistic goal.
Some people will lose weight faster than that, while others will lose weight more slowly.
But it's also important to keep in mind that not everyone can look like a fitness model.
At some point, you will reach a healthy set point weight, which may be above what you initially hoped for.
Summary It is important to have realistic expectations. Weight loss takes a long time and not everyone can look like a fitness model.
I don't think it's a good idea to be in a calorie deficit for too long at a time.
The leanest people on earth (bodybuilders and fitness models) never do this. They do cycles of "bulking" and "cutting."
If you've been dieting for a long time, a two-month period where you aim to "maintain" and gain a bit of muscle may be what you need to get things started again.
Of course, this doesn't mean eating bad foods, just more of the good stuff.
After these two months are over, you can start "dieting" again.