Recently, I received a really good question via a blog comment that I thought deserved its own post. A reader commented that she was interested in starting a vegan keto diet, but had noticed that everyone who she knew who had done keto had actually gained back all the weight they lost. Some had even gained back more! She was understandably concerned and wanted to know if there was a reason why people gain back all the weight they’ve lost when they stop a ketogenic diet, and how to prevent this. I think it’s a great topic to dive into, so here we go!
You may be interested in transitioning off of a ketogenic diet, and be concerned about the impact that will have on your weight. After all, many people lose weight so quickly with keto that it doesn’t feel like it could really be permanent. You may also be like the reader who wrote in and want to know if you will be able to maintain weight loss after a ketogenic diet. The good news is that not everyone actually does gain weight after stopping keto! I personally am not in ketosis all the time and have not gained back any weight that I lost while on the diet. I’ve managed to maintain weight loss while adding muscle and even losing a little more fat by just eating a relatively low carb diet and jumping back into ketosis here and there. :)
I’m not the only one in this boat, either! In fact, most of my friends in the keto space happen to maintain their weight loss without too much effort! Unfortunately, it’s definitely possible to gain weight after stopping keto, so let’s look at why that might happen and see how we can prevent it.
Why Do People Gain Weight After Keto? Returning to Bad Habits
I won’t really beat around the bush too much here – the main reason I see people gain weight after they stop following a ketogenic diet is that they return to their old eating habits. These are the eating habits that made them gain weight in the first place, so once they return to this way of eating, they end up right back where they started.
If you were 30 pounds overweight your whole life, then briefly lost the weight by switching up your diet, going back to your old eating habits isn’t really going to help you keep the weight off. This can be amplified as people who may have felt too restricted on keto tend to go right for all the foods they’ve been avoiding. So, immediately diving into chips, cookies, and pasta is going to have an impact.
Gaining Back Some Water Weight
I think part of the reason weight gain seems so dramatic after stopping a ketogenic diet is the water weight that is gained. While in ketosis, your body is not storing glycogen (a form of stored sugar) in your muscles. Each gram of glycogen requries several grams of water to store, so using that glycogen flushes the additional water from your system. Replenishing these glycogen stores by eating high carb foods will cause your body to gain that water weight back. It may not seem like much, but it can definitely add some weight on to the scale pretty quickly.
Another reason why people seem to gain weight back after stopping keto is that a ketogenic diet is quite anti-inflammatory. One of the first things I noticed on keto was that my intestinal inflammation reduced even further. I didn’t realize that the puffiness in my gut that I’d been experiencing for over a decade was due to inflammation. Cutting out gluten did a lot to reduce this, but it really noticeably went away on a ketogenic diet. Keto eliminates a lot of foods that often cause inflammation in the body (sugar, grains, gluten-containing foods, beer & wine), so when these foods reappear in your diet, so will the inflammation.
This is closely tied to gaining back water weight, as inflammation is basically your body sending extra fluids to areas to help them heal. It won’t add up to too much but certainly adds a little bit back to the number on the scale. I’ve personally noticed that I can gain as much as 3-4 pounds in inflammation from eating somethign that doesn’t agree with my digestive system. This usually goes away within 24-36 hours, but if you are continually eating pro-inflammatory foods, then you’ll likely always be carrying that little bit of extra poundage.
How Can I Prevent Weight Gain After Keto?
The best advice I have for anyone going off a ketogenic diet who doesn’t want to gain the weight back is to take things slowly. In fact, this is also how I recommend you transition to a ketogenic or low carb diet, but that’s a post for a different day…
Instead of going cold turkey and immediately going back to a life of bread and pasta and rice, I’d recommend adding these carb-laden foods back in slowly. Try having just one serving a day of these and sticking to a relatively low carb diet. Then after a week or so, add in another serving and see how you feel. So, maybe a cup of oatmeal for breakfast and a cup of rice with dinner (or something like that). The slow transition should help you to find a place where you are comfortable.
Even if you do just dive right back into eating the same foods that you ate before keto, I would at least recommend tracking food intake so you have some sort of idea of what you’re eating. Often we don’t realize that the foods we are eating are so calorie-dense, so it’s easy to overeat without even realizing.
The post-keto success stories I’ve seen all come from people who are still keeping track (in some way or another – it doesn’t have to be super rigid) of what they’re eating and are making a conscious effort to prioritize healthy foods and limit refined carbohydrates. An important thing to remember is that dietary changes shouldn’t be temporary, but rather a lifestyle commitment. If you are willing to make a change to your overall eating habits for the long run, then you should have no problem maintaining weight loss after you stop keto.
Have you successfully transitioned from a ketogenic diet? Are you finding yourself struggling for reasons I didn’t mention? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!