Keto weight gain can and does happen. Why are you gaining weight on a low carb diet? Here are a few ideas, and what to do about it.
For most overweight people, the keto diet works like magic. The pounds seem to just melt away. But for some, keto weight gain is very real, and very frustrating. Here are a few thoughts that explain what’s going on, and what to do about keto weight gain.
Why Some People Gain Weight on a Low Carb Ketogenic Diet
1. Too many calories. While the CICO (calories in, calories out) theory of weight gain/loss is not as sound as we thought it was, calories still matter to some extent. For many people, consuming a significant excess of calories overtime, even while eating a very low carb diet, will lead to some weight gain.
2. Low carb foods are very nutrient dense. Fatty steaks, eggs, cheese – these all provide a lot of calories, packaged in a small volume of food. If you’re accustomed to the physical fullness that comes from eating grains and legumes, you would need to eat a large volume of meat and eggs, which could translate to several thousand daily calories. As stated above, a large surplus of calories could result in weight gain, though typically a far more modest gain than what you would see with a high-carb, high-calorie diet.
3. This is their body’s optimal weight. Many people come to a very low carb diet not to lose weight, but to heal. Some of these people are actually underweight – they have been restricting calories and over exercising to attain the current unattainable fashion ideal of extreme thinness. Once they start a low carb diet, they often stop counting calories, and eat low carb, high fat food to satiety. This is a very healthy thing to do, and it allows their bodies to heal – but it often results in weight gain, when their starved body is finally allowed to reach its optimal weight – not a fashion-dictated weight.
4. Low carb foods are utilized fully. While most insulin-resistant people gain weight, some remain thin and even lose weight as their carbohydrate intolerance worsens. I believe this was the case for me. For years, I’ve been occasionally monitoring my food intake using fitday.com. Whenever I checked, it turned out that I was consuming 1800-2000 calories per day. As my hypoglycemia issues progressed and worsened, I became gradually hungrier, and increased my food consumption without gaining weight. I was eating around 2500 calories per day at some point, and I was still hungry, shaky, miserable and thin.
When I switched to a low carb diet, I felt so much better, but I did gain a few pounds. I discovered that I needed to lower my calories back to around 2000 per day in order to maintain my weight (which is in the normal range). My best guess is that on a very low carb diet, my body utilizes the food completely and efficiently, while on a high-carb diet, I was malabsorbing some of the carbs I was eating.
5. Too much dairy. A low carb diet which includes a lot of dairy could be spiking your insulin pretty high, making it easy to store fat and difficult to lose it. This is likely highly individual, and depends on your individual heritage and genetic makeup in addition to your level of metabolic dysfunction. But if you’re gaining weight on a low carb diet that includes lots of dairy, try eliminating the dairy for a few weeks and see if it makes a difference.
6. A small decrease in thyroid function. There’s some evidence that a low carb diet affects thyroid hormones. whether this is a negative thing is debatable, but it’s possible that for some people, a very low carb ketogenic diet means a modest weight gain due to slightly lower thyroid function.
Maybe A Modest Keto Weight Gain is Not the End of the World
Yes, you can gain weight on a low carb diet, especially if you’ve been underweight, severely restricting calories or working out excessively. But it’s usually just a few pounds, and with some simple tweaks, you can stop and reverse the weight gain.
Another option is to decide that after years of restricting calories and semi-starvation, gaining a few pounds while eating to satiety, regaining your health and balancing your hormones is not the end of the world. It’s very possible that for those of us who were severely restricting food before, a very low carb diet balances not just hormones but also body fat, allowing our bodies to reach their preferred weight.
There’s likely a big difference for most of us between fashion-dictated thinness, and our bodies’ preferred weight, and I wouldn’t be surprised if humans are supposed to be a little more sturdy than current fashion trends dictate. Did you know that slightly overweight people live longer? Clearly, there’s something healthy and protective about carrying a few extra pounds, as long as it’s just a few.
Having said that, if you are overweight and you keep gaining on a keto diet, you probably SHOULD look at your food consumption carefully and make a few changes, one at a time, until you find what works.