There are many potential reasons weight loss stalls, happens very slowly, or even reverses to weight gain.
Each one of us reacts to carbohydrate, protein, and fat differently, governed by such diverse factors as genetic heritage, gender, age, circadian rhythms, sleep duration, exercise level, stress, self-control, current health status, food and drink choices, and even the composition of the colonies of microbes living in our intestines.
It takes many people much longer than they anticipate to become truly fat adapted, able to burn fat for fuel instead of glucose.
Developing the internal machinery to burn fat requires re-making specific enzymes and re-awakening specific biochemical pathways to use the enzymes, which your body has long forgotten if your primary source of fuel has been glucose from starchy carbohydrates.
Here are twelve tips to help you identify areas you may need to personalise to achieve your weight-loss goals and enjoy all the other health benefits of a low carbohydrate, adequate protein, healthy fat LCHF lifestyle.
Tip 1… Avoid starchy carbohydrates and sugars
All starchy carbs and sugars quickly elevate blood glucose. When blood glucose rises, insulin is released, which stops fat burning.
The only way to keep your insulin low and allow your tummy fat to be burnt for energy, is to be very strict with yourself and stay away from all easily-digested carbohydrates, sugary drinks, and fruit.
Make sure you’re getting your carbohydrates exclusively from vegetables that grow above ground, including a wide variety of colourful salad leaves.
Leafy vegetables and salad leaves are naturally very low in starch and sugars, and it takes much longer to release what little glucose they do have, compared with rapidly-digested starchy carbohydrates, so they don’t cause an insulin spike.
They also provide you with fibres, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants you need for vibrant health.
Hidden sugar and carbs
Check not only the ingredients labels for added sugars or starches on store-bought items you use, but also the nutrition panel.
Look for amounts of carbohydrates and sugars. Be aware that manufacturers often hide sugars by giving them misleading names. There’s a good article on the Healthline website if you’d like to know more.
Although insulin is not the only hormone involved in energy balance, fat storage, and fat release, it is a major player.
If the amount of glucose in your bloodstream rises, your insulin level rises, and that increase in insulin is a powerful signal.
Rising insulin signals your fat cells to stop the release of fat, and directs your body to use the glucose from the starch you’ve just eaten, for fuel instead.
The insulin rise is much more pronounced and lasts much longer if you are insulin resistant.
How do you know if you’re insulin resistant? There are medical tests, like testing the insulin in your blood before you eat anything, then again two hours after you’ve eaten, or the gold-standard 5-hour Kraft insulin assay.
The easiest way is to take an honest look in a mirror. If you’re apple shaped, you’re very likely to have metabolic syndrome and be insulin resistant.
Unexpectedly, some slim people have insulin resistance too, so although appearance is a good indicator, it’s not the only one.
Slim-looking people with metabolic syndrome are often referred to as TOFI, an abbreviation for Thin on the Outside, Fat on the Inside.
If you’re slim, but have some of the items in the list below, you may like to listen to the podcast about TOFI on the 2ketodudes website, here.
In a nutshell, you have insulin resistance (part of the metabolic syndrome) if you have some of these:
- large waist measurement
- increased weight
- raised triglycerides
- low HDL
- increased blood pressure
- elevated blood sugar
- elevated insulin
- polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- erectile dysfunction (ED)
- non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
Metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and chronic hyperinsulinaemia (the medical term for high insulin level in the blood), inevitably lead to serious, debilitating diseases.
Good news is that, if you know what’s causing your health issues now, you can take steps to reverse them before you become one of the dreadful statistics.
Tip 2… Self-control
Changing old habits, and sticking with new choices, is not easy. It takes a lot of determination, willpower, and self-control.
The study of willpower and self-control is really interesting.
As Professor Roy Baumeister related in this 59-minute talk, willpower is rather like a muscle. If you’re exercising it all day long, by the time the evening arrives, the muscle is fatigued.
Having resisted the temptation to have a slice of pizza your family members or well-meaning friends offered you during the day, you’re less likely to say ‘No thanks‘ if you get a similar offer in the evening.
There isn’t an easy solution to this phenomenon. Now you’re aware of it though, you know you need to strengthen your resolve and stay focused all day.
Another aspect is that, having given in to temptation once, you’re much more likely to give in again. And again.
It may be helpful to let the people around you know that you’ve adopted a different way of eating to help you lose weight, and ask for their support in your endeavours.
Calling it a different way of eating rather than a ‘diet’ or ‘LCHF’ may avoid lengthy discussions of the pros and cons of your new macro-nutrient choices.
If someone wants to know about weight loss, you’ll be happy to show them at another time, when you can get together for a proper chat.
Enjoy your meal with friends or family earlier in the day, if you can. Your willpower muscle is stronger then, and you are better able to resist sampling the tempting carbohydrate foods they may be eating.
Tip 3… Timing
There are other important reasons to have your main meal earlier in the day.
If you eat your largest meal before your period of most activity, the energy from the food is used to power you through your work schedule, and none of it will end up around your waist.
Eating at night, especially close to bed-time, packs your digestive tract with fuel you can’t possibly use, and your liver will have the arduous task of preparing the glucose, amino acids, and fatty acids for storage.
You’ll see the effects of this when you stand on your scales, see your profile in a mirror, or feel your clothes getting tighter.
Removing debris and toxins
The churning digestive processes going on in your gut while you’re in bed, need energy, which deprives your other organs of the energy they need to carry out their night-time tasks.
Sleep is the time the cells in your body clear out the bits and pieces left over from their day’s activities. Old cells are dismantled and recycled, and new replacements are constructed.
This is particularly important for the health of your brain.
During sleep, the watery liquid surrounding your brain and spinal cord (the cerebrospinal fluid) is pumped through your skull, washing away debris and toxins from your brain. Here’s an interesting easy-read article about it.
Clearing out the junk, so to speak, is a vital part of repair and rejuvenation, keeping your cells working at peak efficiency, your brain active, and you looking and feeling your best.
As a rule of thumb, stop eating at least three hours before you go to bed. This gives your digestive processes a chance to empty your stomach and be well on their way to completion before you hit the sack.
You’ll sleep better, the waste removal systems in your organs and brain will be able to operate properly, and you’ll spring out of bed the next morning, refreshed and ready for the new day.
Tip 4… Meal frequency and intermittent fasting
After a good night’s sleep, go as long as you can before having your first meal.
For example, skip breakfast and have a lunch that’s able to power you through to the early evening.
Having a long food-less period every day is usually called intermittent fasting.
It’s important for weight loss because, during the food-less hours, your sugar stores get used up and your body has to use your stored fat for fuel. Great news for your waistline.
Important too, is not snacking between meals.
Every time you eat something, your blood sugar rises, insulin is produced, and fat burning stops. Between meals you want your body to burn your own fat for fuel, not the snack you’ve just eaten.
During the food-less hours of the day, your body meets its need for protein by scavenging old and malformed proteins – an important process called autophagy – adding further to the clearing that went on while you were asleep.
Intermittent fasting encourages your body’s own natural ability to recycle the old, tangled proteins and replace them with new ones. The result is a gradual noticeable improvement in your nails, hair, skin texture and appearance.
Tip 5… Fasting
Some people start their LCHF weight loss journey with a full 24-hour or longer fast.
It’s a great way to start, and is especially recommended by Dr Jason Fung, a specialist nephrologist in Toronto, Canada, who runs a very successful weight-loss clinic.
In a nutshell, this is how fasting works…
When you don’t eat, your blood sugar gets used up. If your blood sugar gets used up, your insulin level drops. If your insulin level drops, you stop storing fat and start burning it.
If the thought of complete fasting is too challenging for you, you have another option to kick-start your weight-loss programme: Fast mimicking.
As the name suggests, this is a method of getting the benefits of a fast without actually fasting.
Dr Darren Schmidt has made some excellent short videos about this, which I’ve put in our weight loss collection.
His video ‘3 Ways to Get into Ketosis. #3 is Easiest and Fastest‘ shows you how to do it.
He suggests two meals a day, each of which consists of 1 small avocado and 1 green drink. The green drink is made from organic powder available from health shops, mixed with water.
Resist the temptation to make your own green smoothies and vegetable juices. They contain too much sugar and starch for kick-starting weight loss.
Nutritional ketosis is the term used when you’re burning fat for fuel, instead of glucose.
Eat more salt
While in ketosis you’ll excrete more water, and along with the water, electrolytes. This is normal.
You can replace the lost electrolytes by increasing your intake of salt. Use Himalayan pink salt, which naturally contains a good variety of minerals.
If you have swollen ankles, are taking medicine for congestive heart failure or high blood pressure, or have kidney disease, I’m obliged to advise you to check with your doctor before increasing your salt intake.
Actually, we need much more salt than most doctors recommend. Dr James DiNicolantonio, who wrote the book ‘The Salt Fix‘, is an expert.
Dr DiNicolantonio has a Doctorate in Pharmacy, and is a cardiovascular research scientist at the Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri.
He gives fascinating information about how much salt we need to be really healthy. Well worth listening to his chat, which is in our Thrive Low Carb playlist, here.
Restart or accelerate weight loss
Fasting, or fast mimicking, are effective ways to restart your weight loss if it has stalled.
They’re also effective to help accelerate your weight loss if it is very slow.
If your weight loss isn’t going as well as you want, check out the helpful videos here.
It’s very important for your success that each meal is devoid of starch, sugar, and fruits.
You have to keep your fat-storing hormone insulin as low as possible. And the only way to do that is to avoid any food that will increase you blood sugar.
If you want to lose weight, you can’t have flour, bread, rice, pasta, cakes, cookies, fruit, fruit juices, sodas, or alcohol (especially beer).
And if you’ve got a lot of weight to shed, you also need to be mindful of the quantity of leafy vegetables and salads you eat, because they contain starches and sugars, though in much smaller amounts than packaged and restaurant foods.
Depending on how insulin resistant you are, and the amount of weight you want to lose, you may need to go as low as 20g of vegetable carbohydrate a day.
There’s a good article about how low you need to go, on the Diet Doctor website, here.
Tip 6… Exercise
It’s a popular misconception that, to loose weight, you need to eat like a bird and exercise like an olympic athlete.
On the contrary, energetic exercise before you are fat adapted increases your hunger.
If your body hasn’t reprogrammed itself to burn fat for energy, it will use glucose for fuel.
The exercise will use up your glycogen (the glucose stored in your liver and muscles), and as soon as you leave the gym you’ll experience an overwhelming desire to eat something, because your body wants to replenish its depleted glycogen stores.
If the food you eat has starchy carbs and sugars in it, you’ll replenish your glycogen stores quickly. Then, next time you’re in the gym, you’ll deplete your glycogen stores again, seek out food afterwards, and start the cycle all over again.
You’ll be doing this for months and months, with no weight loss.
As you become fat adapted, you’ll rely less on glucose and more on fat from your own body for energy, enabling you to exercise for longer without feeling hungry afterwards.
And burning your own body fat during exercise, of course, has the desired effect on your waist measurement.
If you’ve got a lot of weight to lose, start with gentle exercise like walking on the treadmill. Even better I think, is walking outdoors. No gym membership required, and you’ll get some health-boosting vitamin D from the sun on your skin along with the exercise.
Some strength training is essential, too. Muscles rev up your metabolism and burn a lot of energy, which is great for weight loss. Again, no need to go wild in the gym. Get yourself an elastic resistance band and give your muscles a short work-out a couple of times a day at home or during breaks at work.
It’s easy to overestimate the number of calories you’ve used for your exercise, and allow yourself more calories in your after-workout reward than you actually used on the treadmill.
For example, the sugar in so-called ‘sports drinks’ will stop weight loss for sure. If you’re thirsty, water is the best drink for re-hydrating yourself, and it doesn’t increase your blood sugar, insulin levels, and belly fat, like sports drinks do.
Tip 7… Adequate protein only
Many people increase the amount of protein they eat, to ‘compensate’ for the reduction in starchy carbohydrates.
Because protein cannot be stored in the body like fat and glucose can, eating protein in excess of your immediate requirements forces your body to dispose of it. Some is used for repair and renewal, but the liver is tasked with disposing of the unused portion.
In the liver, protein building blocks (called amino acids) can be used to generate energy if needed, and some amino acids can be converted to glucose for energy, in a process called gluconeogenesis. That long word is medical speak for making glucose from new.
The fact that glucose can be made from excess protein is worth remembering, because the glucose from protein has the same effect on your insulin level as glucose from carbohydrates – and the same effect on your abdomen.
Another source of expanding waistline from eating too much protein, is the ability of the liver to convert some amino acids to a fat called triglyceride.
Triglyceride shows up in the blood, on its way to your fat stores. You’ll remember an elevated triglyceride level is one of the features of metabolic syndrome.
I wrote about protein, and how much you need, in this post.
Tip 8… Healthy fat
The LCHF lifestyle is sometimes interpreted as more-fat-the-better, with butter, coconut oil, or olive oil lavishly plastered on everything, umpteen bullet-proof coffees, and frequent snacks of nuts and cheese.
Important to remember: Fat does not trigger weight loss. Only low blood sugar, with resultant low insulin, triggers weight loss.
Although you don’t have to count every calorie, you have to be mindful that 1g of fat has about 9 calories, compared with 4 calories each for an equivalent weight of protein or carbohydrate, so a little fat goes a very long way when thinking about energy requirements.
Simply put, if the amount of fat on your plate is enough to satisfy your energy needs, you will not burn any of your own fat and your weight loss will stop.
And because of the calorie density of fat, it’s very easy to eat far too many fat calories and your weight will actually increase.
This is especially true if you’re tempted to have a little starchy carb with the fat. Your body can’t use fat and glucose at the same time to make energy. It’s one or the other.
The glucose from the starch is used for energy first, and the fat is sent for storage in your adipose tissues.
In other words, if you like fried food, fried chicken and fried fish are okay as long as they don’t have a flour batter or breadcrumbs on them.
Nuts can be a challenge, too. They’re packed with fat calories, and they taste so nice, it’s difficult to stop eating them. Unless you have a very strong willpower muscle, consider avoiding nuts until you have your new LCHF lifestyle well and truly mastered.
If you’re having drinks like bullet-proof coffee or tea, take it easy on the butter, cream, coconut oil, or MCT oil you put in. A couple of fat-laden drinks will provide enough energy for hours of activity, and you’ll burn the fat you drank, rather than the fat around your middle.
Tip 9… Check quantities
Now that you’re not eating bread, pasta, pizza, cakes, biscuits, potato chips, French fries, ice cream, and the like, it’s tempting to think you can eat as much protein, fat, and vegetables as you want. Not so. Too much food for your energy requirements always gets stored in your fat cells.
Two simple rules for successful weight loss:
- Don’t eat if you’re not hungry
- Stop eating when you’re full
Tip 10… Use an online tracker
If your weight loss has plateaued, or even reversed, you need to find out which foods or drinks are responsible.
Consider using an online tracker to check what you’re actually swallowing, as well as the amount of energy you’re expending in the gym or by walking.
Tracking will also show you if your vitamin, mineral, fatty acids, amino acids, carbohydrate, fibre, and water are at optimal levels to keep you healthy.
Although you may not be a daily tracking person, force yourself to do it daily, then once a week, until you’ve really got the hang of macro-nutrient ratios and quantities.
Then track every month or so. At least the occasional tracking will give you an idea if you’re still on the right course or not, and help you identify any of your food choices that are hampering your weight-loss progress.
You’re putting in a lot of effort to lose those centimetres, so why risk sabotaging your endeavour with guesswork?
Tip 11… Get good sleep, and reduce stress
Poor sleep stresses your body, which increases your cortisol level.
In addition to going to bed with a belly full of food, many other factors influence sleep quality and duration.
Blue light from screens disrupts normal circadian rhythms and production of the hormone melatonin, an important hormone for good sleep.
We use a free app called F.lux that reduces blue light from our screens as the day progresses, imitating normal light intensities from sunrise to sunset. If you want, you can check out the app here.
Stress and worry are well-known causes of disturbed sleep, and if you suffer from either, it’s worth exploring ways of dealing with them.
There are many types of stress relief, like prayer, meditation, mindfulness, positive affirmations, yoga, and so on.
Some stress does have a beneficial role, but when it gets out of hand, through nights of poor sleep, hours spent worrying, or stressful daily encounters, the stress hormone cortisol is chronically elevated.
One of cortisol’s effects is the release of glucose from the liver into the bloodstream.
In this way, your blood sugar is elevated, even though you haven’t eaten anything, and the familiar cycle of blood sugar up, insulin up, fat storage up, is in full swing, making you fatter, unhappier, more tired, more stressed, and producing even more cortisol.
You may not be able to remove all the stressors from your life, but you can certainly control how you think about them and respond to them, thereby reducing the amount of cortisol your adrenals are pumping out.
If you’re feeling stressed, you may find these tips on the ULifeline website very helpful. Although it was written with college students in mind, it’s a good resource for any stress-sufferer.
Tip 12… Healthy gut microbiome
The bacteria that live on, and inside us, are the focus of much fascinating research.
Medical researchers describe how bacteria on our skin, in our gut, mouth, noses, and sinuses influence our digestion, oral health, immune system, nervous systems, brain health, mood, and even how fat we get. Who would have thought it?
In a nutshell, some bugs love sugar and proliferate wildly, causing health issues, while beneficial bugs prefer certain types of fibre.
There’s a whole lot more to this fascinating subject, of course. If you’d like to find out how a healthy gut microbiome would benefit you, check out the video talks in our gut health collection.
One research group gave thin mice gut bacteria from obese mice, and the thin ones became fat. The implication is that gut bacteria play a role in weight gain, and many studies are being undertaken to determine the processes involved in humans.
The consensus so far is that restricting the intake of starchy carbohydrates and sugars, eating adequate protein, healthy fats, and leafy vegetables and salads is the way to a happy, healthy gut microbiome inside a happy, healthy, slim human.
In summary: To lose weight, restart weight loss, or to accelerate it…
- avoid starches, grains, sugars, fruit, and alcohol (especially beer)
- restrict carbohydrate from leafy vegetables and salads to less than 50g a day, or if you’ve got a lot of weight to lose, 20-30g per day
- limit protein to 0.8-1.5g per kg of lean body mass per day, depending on your exercise level, gender, and age
- avoid milk drinks (too many natural sugars)
- limit cheese, which can trigger an unexpected insulin response
- avoid nuts and seeds, unless you’re able to limit how many you eat
- it’s easy to eat too much fat. Choose foods with natural fat in them, like fatty cuts of meat, oily fish, and chicken with the skin on. If needed, add just enough healthy fats to keep hunger away, so your body burns your own fat for fuel, not the fat you’ve eaten
- keep an eye on the overall amount of food you eat, staying within your personal energy needs
- tracking is far more successful than guess-work
- only eat when you’re hungry
- stop eating when you’re satiated
- find ways to control your reaction to stressors
- get enough good sleep to rejuvenate
- exercise gently at first, gradually increasing as your weight drops
Want more info?
You may think you don’t have time to sit and watch umpteen videos.
Well, here’s one way of doing it. When I do household chores that don’t require much brain power or concentration, like washing the dishes, I use the time to listen to videos and podcasts.
There are thousands of videos online. Some are nonsense, some very scientific, and some designed for people who don’t have a science-based education.
To save you time sorting the wheat from the chaff, I’ve put a few of the good, easily-understood ones in the playlist ‘LCHF to lose weight and keep it off‘.
If you’re interested in the science, you’ll find many videos with more detail about how foods work inside us, in the Thrive Low Carb collection.
If you commute to work, you can listen to podcasts in the car, or on the train. You can even download them to your mobile device and listen while you’re walking.
Here’s a really good podcast to get you started.
I’ve linked to Dr Andreas Eenfeldt’s superbly-organised website already in this article. Diet Doctor is full of information to help you understand what LCHF is, and the benefits of adopting such a lifestyle. For example, check out the How to Lose Weight page.
Dr Jason Fung’s weight loss programme in Toronto, Canada, has a very informative blog, and there are many other helpful websites. I’ve put links to some of them in the margin on the right of this page.
Also on Diet Doctor are amazing success stories. In this one, Julian mentions many books he found useful to learn how to lose over 36kg, come off his blood pressure medication, and turn his life around. Read his inspiring story, and get his book recommendations, here.
On her website, Dr Georgia Ede reviewed Dr Jason Fung’s book: ‘The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss‘.
In that superb review, Dr Ede wrote:
‘If you fall into any of the below categories, this book is for you:
Do you gain weight easily?
Do you gain weight even though you exercise religiously and don’t overeat?
Do you have trouble losing weight, even on a low-carbohydrate diet?
Do you want to prevent or reverse pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes?
Are you curious about fasting as a weight loss strategy?
Do you have an insulin-resistant condition, such as Pre-diabetes, Fatty Liver, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, “High Cholesterol”, pre-Alzheimer’s, or Erectile Dysfunction?
Are you a health professional who needs to understand how to help people lose weight?
Do you want to know which foods are most damaging to your metabolism and overall health?‘
Got a question?
With the desire to keep this post a reasonable length, I limited the detail in each section.
I’m happy to help, so if you’ve got a question, or need some clarification, please get in touch with me via the comment box below. Thanks. (All comments remain private if requested)
Please read the medical cautions page before embarking on changes to your regular diet, especially if you have been prescribed medications.