As Jessica Ernst, registered dietitian at The Keto RD explains it, people tend to see “decreased hunger due to highly satiable foods, increased energy levels, weight loss, improvement in lipid profiles, improvement in blood sugar, reduction in waist circumference measurements, and loss of fat mass.”
But how does weight loss on the keto diet actually work, and how much weight can you expect to lose? And how long will it take to see results? We talked with experts to bring you this guide to all things keto weight loss.
How does the ketogenic diet lead to weight loss?
Kassey Cameron, food blogger and author of The Beginner’s KETO Meal Plan, explains that the ketogenic diet works due to a natural metabolic switch to ketosis in which your body is primed to utilize fat for fuel in place of glucose (carbs/sugar). “During the state of ketosis your body indiscriminately burns fat for fuel,” she explains. “This is the fat you are eating (your foods), the fat you have stored (adipose tissue), and the fat your body naturally generates (cholesterol).”
By restricting carbohydrates, we naturally consume more nutrient-dense, fat-dense foods, which Dr. Jaime Seeman, a board-certified ketogenic nutrition specialist, says leads to more satiety. This is beneficial for consuming less calories as well,” she explains. “Also, when you restrict carbs, the majority of the processed foods from your diet are eliminated, leading to a more whole, balanced diet.” Most people will naturally eat fewer calories on this diet, which also can lead to decreased fat loss. And per Dr. Seeman, when you begin to enter ketosis by using ketones for fuel vs. carbs, this can also lead to appetite suppression.
Related: 56 high fat, low carb keto recipes
How much weight can you lose on a ketogenic diet?
This, stresses Cameron, depends on your specific goals and body. “In the past four years, I have worked with well over 100,000 men and women and have seen such a range—10 pounds in some people, and upwards of 200 pounds in others” she explains, noting that when it comes to weight loss, there is no “average or normal” because of our bio individuality. Things like starting weight, age, height, body fat percentage, activity level, and preexisting conditions that can impact your metabolism all play a role in your rate of loss. In terms of what to aim for, Cameron recommends “a sustainable healthy goal of an average of one to three pounds per week.”
Keto weight loss after 1 week
Ernst says that during the initial stages of the keto diet, many people lose weight quickly at the beginning as water loss. She typically sees clients shed between two and 10 pounds, but notes that this is very individualized. “This occurs because when you drastically cut carbs out of the diet, you will lose a lot of water weight,” she says. This is largely because fewer carbs will cause a drop in insulin, which will allow the kidneys to eliminate excess sodium.
Drew Manning, keto diet expert and author of Fit2Fat2Fit and Complete Keto, stresses that this beginning weight loss is not initially fat. “It’s mostly just water weight,” he says. In his experience, people can lose anywhere from one to five pounds on average that first week. “Maybe more depending on the person.”
Weight-loss one month into the ketogenic diet
“For the first month on keto, if people stay at a calorie deficit and stay consistent with the diet, most people can probably lose 10 pounds or more that first month,” says Manning. He notes that obviously there are many factors that impact weight loss, but after about a month, the body becomes more fat-adapted and becomes more efficient at burning fat as fuel.
Dr. Seeman says for her patients, the average weight loss is 10-12 pounds the first month. She also explains that keto adaption/fat adaption can take weeks, so it’s important to really stick with it for a while to teach your body how to be a fat burner instead of sugar (glucose) burner. Electrolyte management is very important during this time period, and most people will need additional sodium, potassium and magnesium during this period to combat any symptoms of “keto flu”, which is electrolyte depletion.
“You are literally teaching your body how to do something well,” says Dr. Seeman. “Think of it as a workout program for your cells, you are laying down new transporters and messengers in your system.”
Ernst reminds people to be patient. “It took a long time to put on the weight, so it will take some time to lose it,” she says. But if the individual following a ketogenic plan doesn’t lose any weight for a month, she recommends making some small adjustments to their diet and working with a registered dietitian to evaluate their diet in detail. This can help you to make sure you are taking the proper steps to keto diet success.
Keto weight loss results after 90 days on keto
“If the patient can maintain a steady calorie deficit, I expect them to lose one to two pounds per week,” says Dr. Seeman. So after 12 weeks, her clients are usually down around 20-25 pounds. She adds, however, that this is very patient-specific and would depend on their initial body fat percentage. “As you get closer and closer to an ideal body fat percentage the body will start adapting and weight loss will slow,” she explains.
Related: What Is Lazy Keto?
Maintaining your ketogenic weight loss
Dr. Josh Axe, founder of Ancient Nutrition and author of KETO DIET, suggests that most follow the keto diet for one to several months before taking a break and returning some carbs to their diet. “At this point, keto cycling (or carb cycling) is an option that can help with maintenance,” he says. This involves eating higher carb some days and eating to stay in ketosis on other days.
He explains that a more modified keto diet is another option as well: “This is when you generally eat low carb and high fat, but also aim for more variety in terms of plant foods that provide fiber and important nutrients. such as adding some sweet potato, berries or beans to your diet.”
Next up: Best Keto Dessert Recipes