Why you might be gaining weight on Keto

The keto diet can be a powerful tool for weight loss, but what if it's having the opposite effect? Whether you were initially losing weight on a keto diet or just started one, seeing the scale begin to tick upwards can be extremely frustrating. Weight gain can happen on a keto diet for a number of reasons. Luckily, most of them are fairly easy to assess and correct in order to get you back on track. Here are just some of the reasons why you may be gaining weight on a Keto diet.

Reasons You’re Gaining Weight on Keto

1. Too many calories

The keto diet is primarily made up of fats, which are more energy dense than other macronutrients. One gram of fat contains 9 calories, whereas 1 gram of both protein and carbohydrates are only 4 calories each. If you are taking in more calories than you are burning, this can lead to weight gain. Assessing your overall calorie intake for the day is a good place to start to see if this may be the problem.

2. Sneaky carbs

You may be including some foods in your diet that seem keto friendly, but actually contain some carbohydrates. These can add up and unknowingly kick you out of ketosis. Here are just a few places carbs can be hiding [1]:

  • Sugar alcohols and alternatives
  • Sauces
  • Seasonings
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Supplements
  • Protein bars

To help avoid those unwanted carbohydrates, the best solution is to check the food label when available.

3. Too much protein

While we need enough protein for muscle and tissue growth and repair, we don’t store any excess protein we take in for later use. Instead, extra protein is usually stored as fat. Studies have even shown that high protein diets are directly linked to a high risk of weight gain [2]. The keto diet is designed to be only low-moderate in protein, but this may be an area of your diet to examine if you are experiencing weight gain.

4. Not enough exercise

Exercise and movement are important for everyone, regardless of weight loss goals. It is recommended that adults get at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity weekly plus strength training at least twice per week. A more sedentary lifestyle can potentially lead to weight gain on a keto diet.

Strength training can be an especially helpful tool to resist weight gain because the more lean muscle mass you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Also keep in mind that muscle weighs more than fat. If you do start strength training, you may initially see the scale go up a bit as you gain muscle mass. Body composition tests like a DEXA scan can be helpful in assessing those changes much more so than the number on the scale.

5. Fluid retention

It can take your body time to adjust to a keto diet. While a low-carb diet usually helps with fluid retention, there could be underlying causes that keep you from shedding that extra water weight. This may include a high salt diet, certain medications, hormonal changes before and during menstruation, or cardiovascular disease.

6. Not enough fiber

A keto diet can be low in fiber if you’ve cut out the majority of fruits, vegetables, and grains. A low amount of dietary fiber can lead to constipation and bloating, which may be causing your perceived weight gain. It is recommended that adults consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day to promote regularity and for the cardiovascular benefits that fiber has to offer. Many non-starchy vegetables and even some fruits can fit into a low carb diet plan to help you reach these numbers.

7. Underlying health conditions

Diet and exercise may not be playing a role in your weight gain at all. Several chronic conditions can directly or indirectly lead to weight gain. Some of these include PCOS, hypothyroidism, menopause, and heart failure. Consult your doctor for individual recommendations on how to manage these conditions.

8. Stress

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Prolonged elevated levels of cortisol have been shown to cause weight gain, as well as make it difficult to lose weight. Daily stressors can stem from personal relationships, jobs, sleep quality, and diet to name a few. Managing stress is key in keeping cortisol in check to prevent unwanted weight gain. [3]

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How to Prevent Weight Gain on a Keto Diet

The causes of weight gain aren’t always easy to pin-point. Everyone is different in the factors that contribute to their weight, and what works for one person may not work for another. Here are some good places to start when evaluating your weight gain.

1. Examine your diet

Calories: Analyzing your total calories is a great place to start. It can be easy to underestimate our portions, leading to a higher intake of calories than we need. Your total calorie needs depend on several factors including age, sex, and daily activity. Online calculators can help you determine a general range that may be appropriate for you.

Macronutrients:  If our macronutrients are out of balance, we may be having a hard time staying in ketosis. It is recommended that no more than 5-10% of calories are coming from carbs on a keto diet, which generally falls between 20-50 grams of carbs per day. Around 20% of calories should come from protein, leaving the rest to come from fats.

Quality: Make sure you’re getting adequate nutrients on your keto diet. This includes essential vitamins and minerals as well as at least 25 grams of fiber per day. Nutrient deficiencies and a lack of fiber can quickly lead to things like microbiome changes and constipation. It is a good idea to add in fiber gradually, as too much too soon can cause GI upset.

2. Lifestyle & Habits

Stress: How are you handling it? We know the gut-brain axis is a real thing. Stress is a part of daily life, but finding ways to manage it is key to keeping those stress hormones in check. Effective practices can include things like yoga, meditation, journaling, socializing with friends, professional counseling and dietary supplements.

Sleep: How many hours of sleep are you getting? A lack of sleep can affect our   hormones and lead to weight gain. Instead of doom scrolling before bed, try to avoid screens and establish a bedtime routine to set the stage for a good night's sleep.

Exercise: Not only does exercise burn calories, it’s a great way to boost your mood; all of which can help prevent weight gain and promote weight loss. Finding a type of exercise that you truly enjoy will make you a lot more likely to stick with it.

3. Consult your healthcare professional

You don’t have to go at it alone! Your healthcare provider that is familiar with your unique set of circumstances can help guide you in the right direction. They may be able to provide some valuable insight as to why you’re gaining weight on the keto diet, along with some actions you can take to prevent further weight gain.



1.Perfect Keto. Finding Hidden Carbohydrates on a Ketogenic Diet.

2. Alonso et al. High dietary protein intake is associated with an increased body weight and total risk of death.

3.Myers, A. The Link Between Cortisol and Weight Gain

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