How fast can keto help you lose weight?
Answer 1: Probably not as fast as you want to!
Answer 2: Probably not as fast someone else is!
The third and most important answer to this frequently asked question is: it’s entirely individual.
Keto researcher Eric Westman, MD often says that if people are very disciplined about sticking to strict keto—and he means strict, like 20-30 total grams of carbs per day—then a good rate of loss is about 1-2 pounds (0.5-1 kg) per week. Some will lose more, but if you lose more slowly than that, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong.
The human body isn’t a calculator, and there’s no precise formula or mathematical equation that can predict exactly how much weight you’ll lose in any given period of time.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what you can expect with weight loss on keto.
Weight Loss is Not Linear
The first thing to know is weight loss is not linear. You won’t lose weight at the same rate every week or every month. Some weeks and months you’ll see a relatively large drop in your weight and there’ll be other times when the scale barely moves, even when you’re doing all the same things you were doing when weight was moving more quickly.
Weight loss tends to be quick at first, then it slows down. This is normal and you need to understand that so if it happens to you, you’ll have expected it and you won’t worry that you’re doing something wrong or that keto isn’t working anymore.
Even when you’re doing “everything right,” weight loss graphs are squiggly. The process is almost never a straight line down from your starting weight to your goal weight with no hiccups along the way. That’s fantasy land.
The way it really happens is you lose a bit, stay the same weight for a few days or weeks, lose a bit more, stay the same, gain a pound or two, lose again, stay the same, gain a bit, stay the same, lose again. It’s also not uncommon to stay at the same weight for a while and then drop several pounds seemingly overnight.
Keto online shorthand for this is a “whoosh”—your weight stays the same for what feels like forever, and then suddenly, whoosh!—you’re down multiple pounds.
If you weigh yourself every day—and I recommend not doing this—you’ll drive yourself crazy over these completely normal fluctuations. You’ll rack your brain trying to figure out what the problem is. You’ll change and tweak your diet 47 different ways when everything’s actually going fine. For this reason, it’s crucial that you don’t use your scale weight as the only way you assess how things are going.
It’s not uncommon for your size and shape to change even when your scale weight stays the same. It is essential to understand this: just because your scale weight isn’t changing, or it’s changing more slowly than you wish it would, don’t ignore that your physique—the size and shape of your body—could be changing favorably. This leads us right to the next point…
Don’t Confuse Weight Loss with Fat Loss
I use the phrase “weight loss” because those are the words most people use. But the fact is, you don’t want to lose “weight,” you want to lose fat. You don’t want to lose bone mass or muscle tissue. But the number you see on a scale doesn’t differentiate between these things.
It tells you only one thing: your total body weight. (Even if you have an advanced scale that claims to break things out into water, muscle, and fat, take that with a big grain of salt. At best, it’s a vague ballpark.)
So don’t use your scale weight as the only indicator of your progress. It’s possible—pretty common, in fact—for someone’s size and shape to change with little to no change in scale weight. Take your measurements once a month or choose an article of clothing that’s tight and try it on once a month.
If you do see the scale go up a pound or two once in a while, don’t freak out! Unless you’ve been on a multi-week bender of sugar and starch, this “weight gain” most likely reflects water retention, not an increase in body fat.
World-renowned keto researchers Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney explained this in their book, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living:
“Don’t Trust the Bathroom Scale With Your Mental Health.”
“We humans are about 2/3 water. Each of us contains about 40 liters (or quarts) of the stuff, and each liter weighs a bit over 2 pounds. Our bodies effectively regulate fluid balance by adjusting urine output and sense of thirst, but this is done within a 2-liter range. Within this range, your body doesn’t really care if it is up to a liter above or below its ideal fluid level.
“What this means is that we all live inside a 4-pound-wide grey zone, so that from day to day we fluctuate up or down (i.e., plus or minus) 2 pounds. This happens more or less at random, so with any one weight reading you don’t know where your body is within that fluid range.
“Your weight can be the same for 3 days in a row, and the next morning you wake up the scale says you’ve ‘gained’ 3 pounds for no apparent reason. For people who weigh themselves frequently, this can be maddening.”
It’s also well-known that you can retain water after a hard workout. Drs. Volek and Phinney nailed it again:
“A Sore Muscle is a Swollen Muscle.”
“Most people think that if they do an intense workout (say 90 minutes of circuit training in a gym) that they should lose weight. And indeed, if you weigh before and right after such a workout, the scale goes down because of sweating and water weight loss.
“However, if it makes you sore for the next few days don’t be surprised to see the scale go up. That’s because muscle soreness indicates that your muscles are temporarily inflamed, and inflammation causes fluid retention and swelling in that muscle. Once again, don’t let the scale make you crazy.
“Once the soreness is gone, the swelling is gone, and the scale comes back down to where it’s supposed to be.”
You can see now why your scale weight isn’t the best way to gauge what your body is doing on keto. If you absolutely insist on weighing yourself every day, be sure to keep these nuances in mind.
Don’t Compare and Despair
When you took tests in grade school, your teacher probably reminded everyone to keep their eyes on their own paper. Well, when it comes to weight loss on keto, “Eyes on your own body!” Weight loss isn’t a competition or a race. Here are some facts about weight loss to underscore this point.
Men typically lose faster than women. Even when they’re not as strict with the diet. It’s not fair, but good luck outsmarting biology. Ladies, do not compare your rate of weight loss to a man’s. It’s a losing proposition and you will only set yourself up for frustration and resentment. You will lose weight; it just might take longer than it does for the men in your life.
Younger people typically lose faster than older folks. Younger people tend to have faster metabolisms, period. You can lose weight at any age, but if you’re a “seasoned” citizen, realize that the deck is not stacked in your favor here and your body will probably let go of excess pounds more slowly than someone who’s lived through fewer trips around the sun.
Heavier people tend to lose more quickly at first than those who are starting out at a smaller weight. But remember what you read earlier: even people looking to lose a large amount of weight won’t lose “a lot” every single week until they magically land at their goal weight.
What tends to happen is a pretty large drop early on when they’re new to keto, and then a pretty good progression for a while longer, but then things may slow down a bit as they get closer to their goal. Again, this is totally normal. And it makes sense that someone looking to lose two hundred pounds is going to lose the first twenty much more quickly than someone who’s looking to lose twenty, total.
Celebrate All Losses, Big and Small
Banish the word “only” from your weight loss vocabulary. Whether you’re looking to lose a large amount of weight or just “the last few pounds,” cheer yourself on for what you have lost rather than belittling yourself for how far you think you still have to go.
Never say “only” when it comes to weight loss: “I only lost two pounds this month.” How defeatist and demoralizing! Why not reframe things positively and say, “I lost two pounds this month!” The words are nearly the same, but the ones you emphasize are different, and this conveys a completely different feeling.
Flip things around for a minute here and think about how you would talk to yourself if you had gained the same amount of weight in the same time.
Would you say, “I only gained two pounds this month”? Or would you freak out and give yourself a mental beatdown: “I gained TWO POUNDS this month!” Gaining two pounds in a month isn’t the end of the world (really, it isn’t!), but based on the way you’d probably beat yourself up over it, it would seem like a big deal if you’d gained that much.
Why isn’t it an equally big deal if you lose that much? It’s the exact same amount of weight! (Check out this video for more on why your weight loss lexicon shouldn’t include the word “only.”)
Weight Loss is a Long-Term Process
Weight loss is a long-term endeavor. Even if you’re looking to lose just a small amount of weight, the process is a lifelong one when you factor in maintenance. Think of it this way: losing weight is only half the process. The other half is keeping it off for the long term, and that’s what you really want, right?
It’s nice to drop a few pounds for a wedding or a class reunion, but what’s the point of looking great for just one day? You want to maintain your slimmer, trimmer physique long into the future. Operating from that standpoint, what’s the hurry? You don’t need to lose the weight fast; you want to lose it forever.
(Climbing Mount Everest is a huge accomplishment. But reaching the summit is only half the equation. Did you know that most people who die on Mount Everest die on the way back down? It’s true! Don’t make it to your goal weight so fast that you trip yourself up and fall apart during maintenance.)
Play the long game. Don’t get frustrated if it’s been a few days or even a few weeks with no change on the scale. Weight loss is not a steady and linear thing that happens at the same pace all the time. It is completely normal to have ups and downs, times of faster loss, and times where you feel stuck or stalled for a bit.
Even if you’re not losing weight, as long as you keep your carbs low, good things are happening on the inside. Stay the course and be patient. You didn’t get to your current weight overnight, and you won’t get to your goal weight overnight either.
Have Realistic Expectations
Keto is powerful! It can completely transform your health and physique. But understand that your transformation might not happen as quickly as you want it to, and it might not happen as quickly as someone else’s. You are a unique individual.
You have your own genetics, lifestyle habits, medical history and dieting history. Try to see other people’s success as motivating and inspiring: if they did it, then so can you! Try not to use it to belittle yourself or downplay any progress you’ve already made, however small it might seem to you. If you’re starting keto again, follow these tips to get your keto lifestyle going again.
Remember: it never really is small; it only seems that way to you.
Follow your own path; eyes on your own body. Refer back to this article when you need a reminder of things that will help preserve your mental and emotional health during what can sometimes be the long and frustrating process of weight loss.
And for the moments when you do feel frustrated by weight that isn’t budging, here’s a list of 14 things that will reassure you that keto is working just great (totally unrelated to weight loss). (14 things!) Stay the course and don’t give up on yourself. You’ll get to your goals, even if the journey takes longer than you wish it would.