The major difference between normal diets and ketogenic diets is that the former is focused on calorie reduction and the latter is based on macro reduction (in this case, carbohydrates).
By limiting the number of calories you ingest to an amount less than the amount you burn every day, you will lose weight. Although there is some focus on macros, primarily limiting fat and simple carbs, the primary focus is reducing caloric intake.
Ketogenic diets are different because they focus on a metabolic hack; if you remove carbohydrates from the diet, the body burns fat for energy, including body fat. This means, on keto, you lose weight because you burn more fat everyday than you eat.
Although not typically discussed in these terms, keto diets are also calorie reduction diets. Knowing this is the key to answering the question of why you may be in ketosis, but not losing weight.
Before we get into the details though, it must be said here that you may THINK you are in ketosis and not losing weight, but you may very well NOT be in ketosis at all, or at least at the level needed to burn body fat.
Your ketosis isn’t optimized yet
In fact, most people that think they are doing a ketogenic diet but not losing weight are actually eating too many carbs to be in stable ketosis, fluctuating in and out of ketosis but never transitioning to optimized ketosis.
See “What happens to the body during keto?” and “What are the rules for ketogenic diets?” for further discussion. If your blood ketone levels are less than 1 mmol/L (or <10 mg/dL using urine test strips), your body isn’t optimized for burning fat.
Eating too many calories
Assuming you are in optimal ketosis, there may be another reason you aren’t losing weight… calorie intake. Despite that the focus of ketogenic diets on decreasing carbohydrates and increasing fats, it is possible to eat too much.
As the keto diets get stricter (see “What are the types of ketogenic diets?”) there is more and more focus on fat being the primary source of calories. It is easy to focus entirely on carb reduction and forget that the number of calories you ingest still matters.
I will give you a personal example here. Before I go to bed, I almost always crave something salty. My go-to keto snack for salty is pork rinds, typically with ranch dressing to increase the fat to protein ratio. If I don’t pay attention, I can easily eat half a bag of pork rinds and a small cup of ranch (say three tablespoons) without blinking. For the brands I eat, that comes out to around 400 calories from pork rinds and around 220 calories from the ranch.
620 calories right before bed is not a good way to lose weight, even if the food is ketogenic (the fat to carb/protein ratio is almost exactly 1:1 and the Standard Keto Diet ratio is around 1.33:1 – so even pork rinds and ranch dressing combined don’t have enough fat to be highly ketogenic).
I use this example for a reason. You would think that pork rinds and ranch dressing would be more than enough fat, but in reality it isn’t ketogenic enough to even qualify as Standard Keto Diet, let alone one of the stricter diets.
So even if I think I am eating a good keto snack, I am still ingesting 620 calories before sleep; the time of the day you need the fewest calories to function.
Do you think I am burning body fat overnight after eating this snack? That would be very doubtful.
While sleeping, the body is basically in fasting mode. Any calories needed for functioning are typically derived by breaking down body fat for energy. Burning fat while asleep is a great thing.
In fact, if you don’t eat late, you will probably burn more body fat overnight than you will during the day (due to eating meals and using that fat as an energy source instead of body fat). This is a great reason to limit food intake prior to bed.
Regardless, this post is more about calorie intake than about caloric timing. That being the case, we can’t look at the keto diet as being only about carb reduction. You can be in full-blown ketosis, but if you eat more calories than you burn, you will not lose weight. It won’t kick you out of ketosis either, which make monitoring it with keto testing impossible.
So long story short, yes, you have to count calories on keto too, even though you can be laxer about it than with traditional diets.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.