February 15

So why am I not losing weight on low carb?


When I hear this question, I always flinch. I know you’re not demanding an answer, some cosmic explanation, a justification for how low carb has failed you. You’re not looking for an apology from those of us who tell you it works–at least, most of you aren’t.

But sometimes, it feels that way.

Listen–people are individual. Every body, every circumstance, is unique. Our bodies react very differently, even to the same stimulus. Just like a doctor (who is actually seeing you in person, no less) would have a whole lot more questions than how many carbs you eat, so would someone knowledgeable about LC.

Truth is, there are a host of reasons why people don’t lose weight! I can suggest some common areas to look, though. Maybe one will strike a chord with you and help you get back on track.

  • Are you tracking? Are you measuring and recording everything you eat? Because what looks like “about a cup” may be closer to two. And a little nibble here and bite there count to your body, even if not to your brain. If you’re not tracking, you don’t really know how much of what you’re eating.
  • Double check labels. You do read labels, right? Hidden carbs could be an issue. Learn more to see if your food labels may be leading you astray!
  • Are you living on LC specialty foods? Low carb bars, low carb bread or wraps, sugar-free chocolate, Dreamfield’s pasta, anything with sugar alcohols? Yes, even foods designated and advertised as low-carb-legal can cause problems for some. If you’re struggling, go back to the most natural foods you can and add any special items back one at a time to see if one may be making trouble for you.
  • Do you have a long history of yo-yo dieting? I hate to tell you, but that’s hard on one’s metabolism. People who have extensive histories of harsh dieting over time can find it more difficult to lose weight.
  • Do you drink enough water? I’m not talking coffee or tea. Plain old water–we’re looking at about 1/2 your body weight in oz. per day as being optimal.
  • Do you take medications? Do you have ongoing health concerns? These both can definitely impact weight loss efforts!
  • How much do you need to lose? Those with the most tend to lose the fastest, as do men and younger people. The last 20 pounds or so are notoriously difficult for many.
  • Have you tried LC repeatedly? Hate to break the news, but most people find their first attempts at LC the fastest and easiest, with subsequent attempts less so. It doesn’t mean it won’t still work, but maybe not as easily as the first time.
  • How long has this stall been? I have some news–two days is not a stall! Neither is two weeks. (I would be okay calling two weeks a “pause,” but that’s as strong as I’ll go.) If it’s not been a couple months, it’s not really a stall anyway.
  • Are you experiencing other benefits? If you feel good and are still dropping inches, you’re still in the game! For some inexplicable reason, inches and pounds tend to drop at different times.
  • How much cheese, heavy cream and nuts are you eating, anyway? Yes, I know LC’ers aren’t supposed to have to count calories, and especially starting out, most don’t. But even Dr. Atkins didn’t say calories were meaningless. The closer you get to goal, the more sensitive you’re likely to be to calories.
  • Are you moving? No, really. Exercise speeds your metabolism and LC makes exercise more effective, without all the sugar reserves for your body to call upon before drawing upon fat.
  • Have you experimented with your diet? Carb levels up, down, calories up down, night-time eating, avoiding common food allergens, skipping the liquor, eating foods lower on the glycemic index, etc?
  • Are you taking care of yourself physically other ways? Sleeping, stress, and other wellness activities DO impact weight.
  • Has your doctor checked you out? Blood work may be in order to see if there is something physically going on you don’t know about. Thyroid or other issues could be making it more difficult.

Those are my off-the-top-of-the-head ideas to check for if you’re not losing. Bottom line, though: losing weight is just ONE of many, many benefits of low-carbing. Unfortunately, it’s the only one many people care about. Be aware that your expectations are realistic and that you are willing to experiment and investigate exactly how your body works. What works for me might not for you and vice versa!

Do you have tips to add?

About the author...

Zen Goddess

Just a regular gal who found she feels better eating low carb.


Frustrations, Losing Weight, Stalls

  • I have been extremely successful with LC, and have been in maintenance since October 2011. Until I got to goal, I was very compliant with the diet – I ate no bread (even low carb varieties), little fruit, no alcohol, no bad carbs of any kind. I find that to actually lose weight on LC, it is all or nothing. Most people are not willing to do that. I am coaching a friend at work who is just starting LC, and she thought she did good today – but she ate an apple. I did not eat any fruit for 4 months, after that I only ate berries. You really have to completely remove sugar from your diet. Once you do, the cravings will stop and you won’t even want carbs. Now that I am in maintenance, I am able to experiment some and find that some carbs don’t make me gain, and others do. I am able to get away with high fiber bread (like Julian’s Bakery) but I cannot eat sweets at all. I journalled every bite that I put in my mouth, and used a website (livestrong.com) to count my carbs for the day. I kept mine under 30 (and usually under 20) net carbs daily. The weight fell off 1-2 pounds per week. I lost every week. Truly, with any diet, LC or otherwise, if you cheat even a little, you usually won’t lose much after you lose the initial water weight.

    • I think you nailed it, Cathy, when you emphasized that you cannot cheat on a low-carb diet. This is hard for low-calorie dieters to understand, because on a low-calorie diet, 100 calories or so above your daily allotment won’t have a big impact on your weight loss. But on a low carb diet, ingesting sugar, even in smaller quantities, can kick you out of ketosis. I think this is often the issue with people who transition from low-calorie to low-carb.

  • I have been grain free and low carb for the last 3 months. I am also a diabetic. I am very insulin resistant. My body has not caught up with my new lifestyle. Meaning that even though I am not giving my body the carbs it used to get. My body is still producing the insulin because it still believes I will be eating carbs and it wants to be prepared. I also have a storehouse of insulin stored in my fat. My body can not get to that storehouse until it gets into sync and realize it doesn’t need to produce so much insulin. Like retraining the brain. I have only lost 10 pounds in 3 months. I eat anywhere from 30-70 carbs a day. I track all my food. My calories are about 1300-1800 a day. I may be slow at losing but my doctor assures me it will happen. I do not take medication for my diabetes, I control it with my diet. My A1C is 5.6. I feel wonderful. My stomach problems have cleared up. My edema has vanished and I have more energy. Yes, I do wish I would lose weight faster but it is what it is. I did not get into this shape overnight, and the cure will not happen over night. Hang in there!

    • Thanks for your perspective Derby. You may have stopped me from a little binge tonight. I was feeling very frustrated. Pants looser but scale barely budging. However, I feel great and almost forgot about all the energy I have now! I gotta chuck that damn mood determiner (scale).

      • Thank you Dixie and Deb L! I get frustrated not being able to share my struggles with lack of weight loss. Especially when you are doing everything right! I really enjoyed your article Dixie. My doctor always tells me to look at the big picture. Your body is healing as you are eating well. It is working on the most important things first. It will get around to losing the weight. We believe that losing the weight is the most important thing. We want to see results NOW! I love the changes I feel eating great foods, learning to cook with coconut and almond flours. I am also learning patience (not my virtue)! lol

  • I am a fast and loose low carber. I allow myself 100 carbs a day but I am usually lower. And I cheat.
    At first I lots a lot of weight really fast…25 lbs in three months. And now I have stalled.
    But I was taking pictures and guess what …I am still losing fat in spite of the weight loss stall…LOTS of fat. I can see my ribs again. I am doing great and I feet great too.
    I have noticed a correlation between my fat consumption and my fat loss. The more fat I eat the more fat I lose. Truely. So here I go to have my coffee with coconut oil…YUM!!!

  • I am losing too much weight. I’m waiting for it to level off, but I’m getting worried. I’m at the bottom of the scale as far as healthy weight for my age, height and age goes. I can’t add too many carbs as a type 2 diabetic. My blood sugar is in great control but I am getting way too thin.. Help?

    • What’s your doc say, Lynda? If you need to keep the carbs about where you are but do not want to continue losing at the same rate, I’d look for calorie dense foods, nuts, heavy cream, cheese, etc…

      • My doc says stop losing already! I eat all sorts of rich foods with lots of calories. Heavy cream in my tea.. Lots of snacks in between. Nuts, I can’t do. I have IBS and they really bother me. I love them, but.. Eggs and bacon for breakfast.. Hamburger and salad made with avocado and black olives and tomatoes for lunch. Steak or pork chops (bone in) for dinner with sweet potato. I eat all the time. Charts for my healthy weight say 98 lbs.as the lowest. I’m at 105 and losing.. I look terrible. Started 3 months ago at 135. Everyone says it will level off. I sure do hope so..
        Thanks so much for your reply!

        • Maybe you need to start strength training to build muscle and boost your metabolism so that you can eat more. Don’t just lose weight, tone it up. That should help immensely.

  • I have a question. I’ve been eating low carb for about two months. My weight is the same, but I’ve lost around 2 cm of my legs. I am not exercising so I can’t be building muscle instead. Any ideas what’s going on?

  • I am eating low carb for 8 months. I lost 15 k but not losing anymore please help. I have another 10 to lose. I don’t do any exercise and sit at the office all day. I do Pilates once a week. last year I had two hip replacements and would like to lose another 10 k.

  • ive been eating ketogenically for 1.5 years. Like the article says I noted in My Fitness Pal every single thing that went in my mouth. The biggest tool for me was checking my glucose levels because I could actually see in numbers what food did in my body. Most shocking to me was my absolute carbohydrate intolerance. For quite some time I really stayed at 10 carbs or less. Unless I make a poor choice (and I do) I can keep my glucose level in the mid 80’s.
    Thanks so much for the article. I was whining about a “stall”

    • Bernadette, I imagine tracking your glucose is an eye-opening experience. You cannot really justify something doesn’t matter much when the numbers are staring you in the face, I’ll bet! Sometimes it’s really helpful for me to get reminders of what other people deal with. Knowing we’re all in this together (and remembering I’ve not got it so bad just because my age has given me a lot less wiggle room) gives me a lot less room for whining myself. Hang in there! ♥

  • Low carb isn’t for everyone. It is a lifestyle choice.
    If you lose a lot of weight and then go off low
    carb, falling out of ketosis, you will bloat up
    like a beach whale. It can take months to get
    over that.
    Low carb is SO healthy. Don’t try to do LC if you
    are seriously addicted to carbohydrates.
    Trying to find LC alternatives for your carb cravings…..

    If you eat for emotional support, get counselling.

    • Well, I would say for any plan, if you go back eating to the way you used to, you will gain the weight back, that’s a given. I do disagree about LC being appropriate for folks who feel addicted to carbs. That was me, and in my opinion, that’s probably the best evidence available you need to make a change and that low carb is a good option. It’s the trying to lose without making significant changes that lead to failure in my mind…okay, from my experience would be more accurate. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dee. I appreciate the discussion.

  • I have been on low carb now for 10 months. I have lost -52 pounds. I work out walk as briskly as my short legs will take me. On weekends I walk a mile and half, do sit ups, leg lifts and arm weights. I recently added weights to my walking. I was on LC five years ago and lost 42 with no exercise. I have to say I feel better this time and have a new respect for the work I have put into it. Working out seven days a week has proven to be something I can’t wait to get out and do everyday. For me the carbs made my joints hurt and the feeling of being a couch potato. I absolutely hate that feeling. When I get to where I want to be which is 48 more pounds I might add in the occasional fruit, nut, or sweet potato, but for me since I have already been through the journey and gained it all back plus some. this experience has taught me so valuable lessons.

    • Karen, it sounds like you have a great attitude and approach. I see people sometimes thinking, since it was easy the first time they tried, it will always be easy. Things change! Sounds like you’ve done great with coming to terms with that and are clear on why you’re doing this. Good luck on your path!!

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