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The ins and outs of the keto stall

Help, I am in a stall!’

I think I hear this at least ten times per day and the urgency with which it is said is very indicative of people not really understanding how weight-loss actually works. So here are my tips on how to deal with a keto stall.

A true stall is when you have not lost weight AND inches for a minimum of 4-6 weeks. What is important to keep in mind is that weight loss really never is linear and stalls of weeks and months do happen. Biochemical-individuality, possible food sensitivities and hormones play important roles in this.

Each case is a case though and specifically, comparing to others is never of any use and can be very dispiriting. 
Also keep in mind that the number on the scale is not the only way to see change: actual measurements or fit of clothes are far more reliable ways to keep an eye on your progress.

Now, a stall as described above does happen and I fully understand it can be frustrating. Luckily, there is usually a reason for it, and sometimes more than one. The trick is to learn how to identify possible causes AND how to fix them. So here goes:

1 You are following wrong macros or no macros at all

I can not emphasise this enough: at the start of your keto lifestyle following correct personal macros ensures your succes and allows you to adequately take control of your new way of eating. Your personal macros are intended as a starting point for a ketogenic diet for health first, weight-loss second, and should always be based on high fat/moderate protein/low carb.

Individual tweaking of these macros are always a possibility after keto adaptation has taken place and when metabolic flexibility is a given: there is after all no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ keto diet. But sticking to the following basic macro rules is important if you are just starting out:

  • always follow correctly calculated personal macros in grams, not percentages, and always use a proper macro calculator to get those; choose a small to moderate deficit at most, a too large deficit will possibly lead to a damaged metabolism and thyroid issues;
  • the carb macro should be set at 25 gr net carbs and even though it is a limit, it is best to aim to get as much of them through healthy green vegetables: you need the fiber and micronutrients. Going extremely low in carbs does NOT make for better ketosis or more weight-loss;
  • protein is a goal: meet that macro daily, do not go under or over by more than 10 gr on a regular basis;
  • do not exceed the fat macro if weight-loss is one of your goals but because it is already a deficit on your TDEE (Total daily Energy Expenditure) I do strongly advise to meet it; if you honestly have trouble doing so just make sure you always keep it at minimum 60-65% of daily caloric intake but again, you should be aware you may possibly stall as a result of under-eating;
  • recalculate your macros with every 10 lbs lost and/or with a significant change in your activity level.

2 You forget to eat your greens

I see this all the time: coachees who are very proud of the fact they are managing to eat very little carbs, sometimes even staying as low as 10 grams of net carbs daily. There is however absolutely no reason to do so: very low carb levels do not make for better ketosis or more/faster weight-loss.

Just remember this: the majority of people reaches ketosis by staying between 20 – 30 gr net carbs, so as a keto coach I always advise 25 gr. And while that carb macro is a limit, you do need to eat as much of those 25 gr net carbs as possible through healthy keto vegetables. You need those for fiber, micronutrients and the necessary variety for your meals. Eating at a very low level of healthy carbs consistently will lead to deficiencies in the long run.

3 You are obsessing over the colour on a stick

This must also be a top 10 question: ‘My ketosticks suddenly show trace instead of high…what am I doing wrong?’.

Let me start by saying there is absolutely no reason why you should be measuring your ketone levels in the first place: you can be certain you are in ketosis if you stay between 20 – 30 gr net carbs consistently and if you eat moderate protein.

That is it people.

Plenty of energy, good sleep, lifting of mind fog, no cravings: all signs of ketosis. So unless you have very specific reasons to test ketones (medical reasons or due to high performance sports for example) there really is no need to test at all.

A lot of my coachees tell me they do like to test using the well-known strips for urine testing. I need to point out here they are rather unreliable and may even cause confusion: they do not work the same for everyone, only show ketones you waste, not used ones, they show fluctuating levels during the course of a day and they stop working for most people once keto adapted.

That said, do use them if you feel more confident at the start of keto seeing that colour on the sticks, I understand it is fun and gives a feeling of validation. Just keep in mind that the first box indicates ‘negative’, the other colours simply all mean ‘ketosis’. Darker does not mean ‘better’ ketosis though and the darkest purple may in fact indicate dehydration.

If you are interested in blood ketone testing and want to know more about how high blood ketones may not even be beneficial for weight-loss you can click here, here and here.

4 You have too much stress in your life

Show me one person that does not experience some kind of stress and I will take my hat off to you: fact of the matter is stress is usually part of everyday life in one way or the other and that is to be expected. Too much stress though is another issue and can seriously impact both health and weight-loss.

High stress causes cortisol levels to rise and this will in turn raise your blood sugar levels and lower your ketone levels. And to combat chronically elevated blood sugar, your body will produce more insulin. And when that happens fat-burning will become an issue.

As you can imagine, reducing your stress levels is important. Things to think of:

  • try meditation techniques; I have taken zen meditation classes but meditation can be done anywhere anytime and there are also plenty of apps you can try. A lot of people I have spoken to about this are using Headspace, at home I use InsightTimer myself;
  • avoid too much cardio exercise: excessive cardio raises those cortisol levels! Have a read here to learn how to exercise on keto;
  • make sure to pay attention to your magnesium intake, the recommended daily amount is 300 – 500 mg;
  • step away from social media, turn those electronic devices off; invest some of your time in actual social interaction for a change or take up some more relaxing activities such as walking or reading.

5 You are not getting enough sleep

While good sleep is essential for everyone, for people doing keto with weight-loss in mind sleep is extra crucial: people who are sleep deprived or suffer from a circadian rhythm disorder (you can read more about that here) are more likely to stall their weight loss and even store extra body fat.

If you suffer from chronic sleep-deprivation your body:

  • produces less growth hormone;
  • is likely to have an impaired glucose metabolism;
  • decreases leptin, the hormone that signals satiety;
  • increases ghrelin, the hormone that tells the brain when we are hungry.

All the more reason to improve your sleep habits. Have a look here for tips on getting good sleep.

6 You overindulge in the nuts department

Ah nuts, what is not to like? Crunchy and savoury, it definitely is one of those foods people reach for when they need a quick fix. And the health benefits of nuts are certainly not to be discounted.
But aside from the fact you really should avoid snacking altogether (and more on that later on) nuts can be very easy to overeat.

As a result you overlook the fact they are quite calorie-dense and too much of them can also result in too many carbs. And there you go, stalling and sometimes even gaining is the result. This does not mean you should avoid them, just make sure you portion them to fit your macros and do not mindlessly munch from the bag.

7 Your fridge looks like dairy-central

The majority of people on keto do enjoy dairy and find it is a very good source of fat. I do also get regular reports from people saying they tend to overeat dairy, especially cheese, and they stall as a result. So again, as with all foods, make sure any dairy you do eat fits your macros.

Another reason dairy may be the cause of a stall is when dairy protein causes insulin spikes you would otherwise not get from other sources of protein. If you are in a stall and you suspect this is the case you may want to consider reducing your consumption of certain high-protein dairy products like cheese and yogurt.

8 You feed the cravings

When doing keto correctly you should not have physical cravings and in most cases mental cravings should also not occur. But if they do, try to pinpoint possible causes, such as:

  • you are not eating enough, or simply put: you are under-eating on your macros;
  • you eat craving inducing foods such as substitute baked goods, low carb sweeteners, keto fruits etc; yes they may be okay for keto in general but they may still make you long for more;
  • stress, boredom, emotions, lack of sleep: if you find yourself mindlessly eating for these reasons you need to take a step back and deal with the underlying issues first;
  • you are not drinking enough water; dehydration may feel like a craving or actual hunger so keep your water intake up;
  • your electrolytes are out of whack: any imbalance in that department may lead to cravings;
  • you snack too much and this constant snacking increases your insulin spikes; always eat 2 or 3 healthy filling meals per day and simply do not snack.

9 You get blind-sided by goods that are labeled ‘keto’

Products like Slimfast, Atkins, Quest etc and the vast majority of store-bought products labeled with the words ‘low carb’ or ‘keto’ are just not suitable for the ketogenic lifestyle due to a variety of non-keto ingredients. And I promise you, these will surely hinder your weight-loss progress. A ketogenic diet, a.k.a. strict keto, is a lifestyle for health and ingredients always matter over carb count.

The word ‘keto’ unfortunately is not a legally protected term and as such will be mis-used for profit by food companies simply jumping on the bandwagon. So always read labels, never assume something is keto just because it says so on the packaging, and put it back on the shelf if you spot those nasties.

10 You have a keto coffee addiction

Okay, I am the first to admit: a keto coffee can be very tasty. I like mine with coconut milk, cacao butter, a little bit of mct oil, raw cacao powder and hemp-seeds. And it is always fun to hear how other people ‘style’ theirs.

But here is why I generally advise against keto coffee, or bpc as it is often referred to: fat needs to be eaten as and/or with proper foods. The actual act of eating (chewing/swallowing/digesting) gives a strong signal of satiety. Drinking your fat in coffee (or tea) is said to suppress hunger but I in fact often hear the exact opposite: it causes cravings which leads to eating more than you want.

Keto coffee, if consumed at all, should be considered a meal, not as a drink with your meal. And if you find that keto coffee as a meal leaves you hungry a few hours after drinking it I recommend you skip it and eat proper foods instead.

10 You keep sipping those alcoholic beverages

Regular alcohol consumption may result in slower weight-loss and might even stop it altogether. The reason for this is simple: the body will always prefer to use alcohol over body fat for energy. If you find this is the case for you stop drinking for a while or drink less to see if that helps solve your stall. And one more thing to consider: alcohol increases appetite and causes dehydration, both not so good if you are trying to get out of a stall.

Want to know more about keto and alcohol? Have a read here.

11 You forget to pre-plan

As I said in the beginning, following correct macros, especially at the start of your keto lifestyle, is essential. And pre-planning your meals helps you to stay within those macros: you can easily adjust food types and portion sizes and it prevents those unpleasant surprises you get at the end of the day if you are only logging your food as you go.

So sit down with your tracker the night before and enter your meals for the following day. It may feel a bit strange at first but it is truly a matter of ‘practice makes perfect’ and helps prevent or solve that stall.

Do you have any questions about this article? Are you in a stall and do you need help? Let me know in the comments!

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