If you started a keto diet for weight loss, you probably heard that ketosis is great for slimming down. A lot of articles on keto and weight loss claim that when you’re on a keto diet:
- You can eat until you’re full and still lose weight
- You don’t have to count calories
- Your metabolism will speed up
- Your sugar and carb cravings will disappear
- Your body will switch into fat-burning mode
The above claims are all rooted in truth, but they’re a little sensationalized. If you take them at face value, you may not meet your goals, even if you’re in ketosis all the time. If that's happening, you're probably pretty frustrated. Hopefully this article will help.
The good news is that keto truly is great for weight loss, and with a few changes, you can start to burn body fat and lose weight on keto. You'll just have to restructure your diet a bit.
Here are three common myths about the keto diet, as well as a practical guide to weight loss on keto.
Myth #1: You don’t have to count calories on keto
Some proponents of keto claim that calories don’t matter when you’re in ketosis, or that you can eat as much butter and bacon as you want and you’ll still lose weight.
To be clear: calories matter on keto. Calories always matter.
Conceptually, weight loss is simple. You burn a certain number of calories a day. If you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight. This rule is inescapable, and it’s as true for keto as it is for any other diet.
The good news: While calories do matter, not all calories are created equal. Keto makes it much more comfortable to be in a calorie deficit than most other diets do.
Keto diets suppress your appetite by blocking ghrelin, your body’s main hunger hormone[*]. Recent research suggests that ghrelin is the single biggest reason you struggle to lose weight and keep it off[*] -- your body releases more and more ghrelin as you lose weight, and you get so hungry that you can’t stick to your diet. As a result, about 80% of people regain the weight they lose[*].
A ketogenic diet suppresses appetite, and it also completely eliminates that weight loss-induced increase in ghrelin[*]. That’s a huge deal. Keto gets rid of the constant, gnawing hunger that wears down your willpower on a standard weight loss diet. You may still feel hungry at times, but it’s a far less pressing sensation.
So while you do have to watch your calorie intake on keto, it’s much easier to stay in a calorie deficit and lose weight long-term. There’s also the psychological benefit of being able to eat steak, butter, bacon, and other delicious, satiating foods. Feeling less deprived makes it easier to stick to a diet.
If you want to figure out how many calories you should be eating, I suggest the Ketogains macro calculator. And for a more in-depth conversation about calories and hunger on keto, check out my recent podcast with Ketogains founders Luis Villasenor and Tyler Cartwright (by the way, Tyler lost 300 lbs on keto and has kept the weight off).
Myth #2: You’re always in fat-burning mode on keto
You’ve probably heard that a ketogenic diet switches your body into “fat-burning mode.” Instead of running on sugar, you’re burning fat for fuel at all hours of the day and night.
That’s true. When you don’t eat carbs, your liver switches over to burning fat for fuel. It turns fat into fatty acids and ketones and sends them to your cells for energy. This state is called ketosis -- your body is running on fat, not carbs.
However, even in ketosis, you burn dietary fat first, and body fat after that.
You don’t automatically lose weight by being in ketosis all the time. You still need to be in a calorie deficit so your metabolism runs out of dietary fat and starts running on your stored body fat.
The good news: ketosis may not make you burn body fat all the time, but it does ramp up your metabolism significantly.
People in ketosis burn an average of about 300 extra calories every day, which is about a 15-20% increase in metabolic rate[*]. Researchers aren’t quite sure why people in keto burn those extra calories, but rodent studies suggest that it may be thanks to increased thermogenesis -- in other words, on keto you may produce more body heat at rest[*][*][*].
So even if you aren’t always burning body fat on keto, you do have the potential to burn significantly more body fat per day, which makes keto a great way to hit your weight loss goals faster (especially when you pair faster metabolism with keto’s hunger suppression).
Myth #3: You have to be in ketosis all the time to lose weight
In a recent podcast, I talked to Ketogains founder Luis Villasenor about a common misconception he sees with his clients who are using keto to lose weight. A lot of them measure their blood ketones, and if their ketone levels drop below 0.7 mmol/L, the threshold for ketosis, many of them worry that they’re doing something wrong. Falling out of ketosis is a bad thing, right?
Not at all. Luis has a great line: “Chase results, not ketones.”
Nutrition is not one-size-fits-all. Some people thrive eating zero carbs and tons of fat. Some people thrive on high-carb, low-fat diets. There’s a lot of variation in what works for us nutritionally.
The good news: with all that variation, what matters is not adhering to a specific diet to lose weight. What matters is that you’re losing the weight. If you find eating carbs triggers cravings and makes you go off the rails, then stay in ketosis. But if you feel miserable in ketosis and you and see better results when you have a few carbs, then have a few carbs.
There’s no need to stay in ketosis all the time. What matters is results. Experiment until you find a diet that feels sustainable and works for meeting your weight loss goals.
How to lose weight on keto
To recap, if you aren’t losing weight on keto, try making these changes:
Give these changes a try and track your fat loss for a few weeks. You may find that you start to lose weight on keto and that it’s relatively painless. And if you feel awful and aren’t seeing results after a month or two, maybe keto isn’t right for your unique biology. Try a low-carb diet, or a higher-carb diet. Listen to your body and find something that works well for you.