Plenty of evidence suggests that low-carb diets can be very effective for weight loss.
However, as with any diet, people sometimes stop losing before they reach their desired weight.
This article looks at 15 common reasons why you might not be losing weight — or might not feel like you’re not losing weight — on a low-carb diet.
1. You’re losing fat, you just don’t realize it
Weight loss isn’t a linear process. There will be days the scale goes up and others when it goes down. This doesn’t mean that the diet isn’t working overall.
Many people lose a lot of weight in the first week on a low-carb diet, but this is mostly water weight. Weight loss will slow down significantly after this initial phase.
Also, losing weight is not the same as losing fat.
It’s possible, especially if you have just started lifting weights or building muscle, that you’re gaining muscle weight at the same time as you’re losing fat.
To see if you’re losing fat, try using measurements other than scales. Try using a measuring tape to measure waist circumference. Additionally, you can ask a healthcare provider to measure your body fat percentage every month or so.
You can also try taking pictures to chart your weight loss and notice how your clothes fit. These are indicators of weight loss as well.
Summary: Weight loss isn’t linear. You might gain muscle while losing fat and stay the same weight. Be patient and try out other ways of measuring changes in your body besides the scales.
2. You’re not cutting back enough
Some people are more sensitive to carbs than others.
If you’re eating a low-carb diet and your weight starts to plateau, you might want to further reduce the number of carbs in your diet.
You can follow a healthy, low-carb diet by eating plenty of protein, healthy fats, and low-carb vegetables.
To make sure your diet is low in carbs, try using a free online nutrition tracker.
Restrictive diets can come with health complications. Always talk to a dietitian or your healthcare provider before making any big changes to your diet.
Summary: If you’re sensitive to carbs, you might want to try temporarily reducing carb intake further, but always talk to a healthcare provider before making big dietary changes.
3. You’re feeling stressed
It isn’t always enough to just eat healthily and exercise. Taking care of your mental health is an important step in healthy weight loss.
Stress keeps the body in a state of “fight or flight” and increases the amount of stress hormones, like cortisol, in the blood.
Having chronically elevated cortisol levels can increase feelings of hunger and cravings for unhealthy foods.
Try meditation, deep breathing exercises, journaling, and other ways to manage stress.
Summary: Chronic stress can have negative effects on your hormones, increasing hunger and working against weight loss.
4. You’re not eating nutritious food
A low-carb diet is about more than just eating fewer carbs. For healthy weight loss, people need to replace those carbs with whole, nutritious foods.
Avoid all processed low-carb products. Whole foods have far greater health benefits.
Replacing some carbs with lean meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, and healthy fats can help you lose weight.
Eating occasional treats is fine, but eating treats every day — even if they contain healthy ingredients, like paleo cookies — can slow down or prevent weight loss.
Healthy fats are an important part of a healthy diet. Avocados and walnuts are high in healthy fats.
Trying to cut back on carbs and fat at the same time can make you feel overly hungry.
Eating a diet with nothing but protein can be bad for your health.
A low-carb, high fat and moderate protein diet can bring your body into a state of ketosis, in which it burns fat for energy.
Summary: For a healthy low-carb diet, replace some carbs with nutrient-rich foods. Eat plenty of lean meats, fish, eggs, healthy fats, and vegetables.
5. You’re eating too many nuts
Nuts are whole foods, but they’re also very high in fat. For example, almonds are around 50% fat.
Nuts have a high energy density. You can eat large amounts without feeling full.
It’s very easy to overeat nuts. You might eat a bag of nuts without feeling satisfied, though that bag might contain more calories than a typical meal.
Snacking on nuts or nut butter every day can increase the total number of calories more than expected, preventing weight loss.
Summary: Nuts have a very high energy density and are easy to overeat. Stick to the recommended serving sizes for nuts and other high-calorie foods.
6. You’re not sleeping enough
Sleep is incredibly important for overall health. Studies show that a lack of sleep is linked to weight gain and obesity.
A lack of sleep can make you feel hungrier.
It can also make you feel tired and less motivated to exercise or eat healthy food.
Sleeping disorders are fairly common and often treatable. Talk to your healthcare provider if you feel like you may have a sleeping disorder.
Some tips to improve sleep include:
- avoid caffeine after 2 p.m.
- sleep in complete darkness
- avoid alcohol and physical exercise a few hours before sleep
- do something relaxing before bed to help you sleep, like reading
- try to go to bed at a similar time each night
Summary: Sleep is important for optimal health. Studies show that a lack of sleep can make you eat more and gain weight.
7. You’re eating too much dairy
Dairy is a low-carb food that can cause problems for some people.
Dairy products are often high in protein. Protein, like carbs, can raise insulin levels, which encourages your body to store energy.
The amino acid composition of dairy protein makes it very good at spiking insulin. Dairy proteins can spike insulin as much as white bread.
Even if you feel your body tolerates dairy well, eating dairy often can negatively affect your metabolism. This can stop you from getting the full benefits of a low-carb diet.
You might see benefits from avoiding milk and cutting back on cheese, yogurt, and cream. Low protein, low lactose butter doesn’t usually spike insulin.
Summary: The amino acid makeup of dairy proteins means they may spike insulin levels. Try eating less dairy.
8. You’re not exercising effectively
Exercise is critical for both physical and mental health.
Exercise can help you to lose weight by:
- improving your metabolic health
- increasing your muscle mass
- improving your mood
It’s important to do the right kind of exercise.
A mixture of cardio and muscle building can be an effective combination:
- Weightlifting. Lifting weights can greatly improve hormone levels and increase muscle mass, which may help you lose fat and keep it off over the long term if you maintain your exercise regime.
- Interval training. High-intensity intervals are an excellent form of cardio that boosts your metabolism and raises your levels of human growth hormone (HGH).
- Low intensity. Being consistently active and doing some low-intensity exercise each day, including walking, can make a big difference.
Summary: Exercise can improve hormone levels, increase muscle mass, and do wonders for your mood.
9. You’re eating too many “healthy” sugars
When following a low-carb or ketogenic diet, eating sugars marketed as “healthier” alternatives — like coconut sugar or raw cane sugar — isn’t necessarily good for your health.
All sugar is high in carbs and can prevent your body from adapting to the low-carb diet.
This also applies to:
- agave nectar
- other sugars
Low-calorie sweeteners are fine for most people, but you may want to consider limiting them if you have trouble losing weight. Some products contain digestible carbs as fillers.
Summary: Despite being natural, sweeteners like honey and raw cane sugar are just as high in carbs as regular sugar.
10. A medical condition may be preventing weight loss
Many hormonal conditions can cause weight gain or prevent weight loss, particularly hypothyroidism.
If you suspect an underlying medical condition, see your healthcare provider. Explain that you’re having problems losing weight and that you want to rule out any medical issues.
Certain medications can stimulate weight gain. Check the list of side effects to see if weight gain is on the list. You may be able to take an alternative drug that doesn’t have this side effect.
Summary: Certain medical issues and medications can make it more difficult to lose weight. See a healthcare provider to discuss your options.
11. You’re eating very frequent meals
Many people in health and fitness circles believe that everyone should be eating many, small meals throughout the day.
Researchers have studied this thoroughly and haven’t confirmed the benefits of frequent, smaller meals.
Many dietitians believe it’s natural for humans to eat fewer meals per day and sometimes go long periods without food.
Some people use intermittent fasting, an eating pattern where you only eat within a certain time window. This may be an 8-hour window each day or occasional 24-hour fasts.
Intermittent fasting can help some people lose weight. However, this eating pattern isn’t for everyone, and restricting food can trigger negative emotions in many people, especially with a history of disordered eating.
To stay safe, talk to your healthcare provider before trying fasting.
Summary: There’s no proven benefit to eating many, small meals throughout the day. Eating less frequent meals and trying intermittent fasting may work for some people.
12. You’re eating too many unhealthy foods
For people who find it easier to follow a strict diet, having “cheat meals” or “cheat days” every now and then may be fine.
For others, these meals can build up and prevent weight loss. Eating unhealthy foods too often can slow down weight loss.
If someone feels out of control around unhealthy foods, they may have a food addiction. Speaking to a healthcare provider can help you manage your relationship with food.
Summary: Some people can eat junk food from time to time without slowing down weight loss, but this may not work for everyone.
13. You’re eating too many calories
The number of calories you eat can affect your weight gain and loss.
One of the main reasons low-carb and ketogenic diets lead to weight loss is that they reduce appetite and make you eat fewer overall calories without trying.
If you’re not losing weight despite following the diet, try reducing the number of calories you eat in a day.
Online nutrition calculators can help you to work out which foods are higher in calories than others.
Some experts recommend reducing calories by around 500 calories per day for a weight loss of 1 pound (0.5 kg) of weight per week. This may not work for everybody.
Summary: The number of calories you eat affects weight gain and weight loss. A deficit of around 500 calories is often enough for healthy weight loss.
14. You set expectations too high
You might feel frustrated if you don’t see results as fast as you expect, but weight loss takes time.
In many cases, losing around 1–2 pounds (0.5–1 kg) per week is a realistic goal.
Some people lose weight faster than that, while others lose weight more slowly.
Eating a healthy diet, eating less junk food, and exercising are great for your mental and physical health, even if you don’t see weight loss right away.
Summary: It’s normal to want to see results quickly, but weight loss takes time. Keep eating healthy foods and, over time, you’ll start to feel the physical and mental benefits.
15. You have been cutting carbs for too long
If you eat at a calorie deficit for many months or years, your metabolic rate may start to slow down.
If you have been dieting for a long time, try taking a 2-month period where you aim to maintain your current weight and gain some muscle. This might help with long-term weight loss.
Summary: Following a restrictive diet may slow down your metabolism. Try taking a couple of months’ break from the low-carb diet.
Everyone’s weight loss journey is different, and losing weight takes time.
It can feel frustrating when you aren’t losing weight as fast as you had hoped. However, eating a healthy diet, cutting out unhealthy carbs, and exercising are great for your mental and physical health, even if don’t see weight loss right away.