The Stressful Truth About Weight Loss Failure: How Stress Is Killing Your Ketosis

Stress Spikes Cortisol, Which Can Ruin Ketosis. Do This to Avoid It and Start Slimming Down!

When Things Change Inside You, Things Change Around you. Unknown

Losing weight on keto can sound simple. “Cut the carbs, increase the fats, and slim down.” And it can seem simple: You might have a friend or colleague who has shrunk several sizes right in front of your eyes, just by switching their foods.

But there is a whole science to keto, and every single one of us has a unique body and situation. That means that we all face different challenges and need a customized approach to succeed with ketosis.

As a keto coach, I often work with clients who have first tried keto on their own and failed. They ate exactly as their macro counting app advised, they followed all of the guidelines that worked for their friend’s slim-down, and still: No ketosis, and no weight loss. If that situation sounds familiar to you, don’t despair! This blog post is just for you.

Stressing About Your Keto Results Is as Damaging as Pigging out on Cake

Our bodies are like chemistry labs, and sometimes, we need to address several functions to get the intended results. That brings us to this blog post’s topic: stress. Because stress is one of the biggest obstacles to succeeding with ketosis and losing weight!

This is how it works: The goal with the keto diet is to switch the body’s fuel source from glucose to ketones. That’s when we’re burning fat for fuel and drop the extra kilos simply by eating.

When we’re stressed, the hormone cortisol increases. Raised cortisol makes the body release glucose, which lowers the ketone level. This means that you can be eating a perfectly composed keto meal and still, no ketosis! Or you might reach ketosis only to drop out of it quickly.

In today’s hectic society, high cortisol levels are not uncommon. The good news is that it’s treatable. So before you throw in the towel and decide that keto is not for you, explore if stress is the culprit! If it is, it’s about time to make a lifestyle change – not just to get into smaller outfits, but to save your health.

How to Learn If Stress Is Killing Your Ketosis: 

1. Investigate Your Eating

Are you eating enough fats? Are you staying within your daily carb allowance? Is your food clean enough

2. Check Your Ketone Levels

If the answers to the above questions are YES and you’re still not losing weight, something else is probably stopping you. Check your ketone levels at different times during the day, using a ketone meter for your blood or breath for accurate results. If you get kicked out of ketosis for no apparent reason within short periods, it can be a sign of cortisol interfering. 

3. Check Your Cortisol Levels

You need data to know what’s going on in your body. The adrenal stress index test by saliva measures your cortisol levels over a 24 h period, giving you a complete picture of your body’s stress response. If your cortisol levels are higher than they should, it’s time to take action.

How to Reduce Stress to Boost Your Ketosis: 

1. Meditation

For reducing stress, it doesn’t get more old-school than meditation! There are so many different ways to meditate, and I recommend that you keep trying until you find a method that suits you. The app Headspace’s free trial is a good place to start.

2. Heart Rate Variability Training

The frustrating thing about meditation is that it can be difficult to know your progress, or if you’re doing it right. If feedback helps you stick with a habit, heart rate variability training could be for you.

In a nutshell, the space between our heartbeats varies when we are relaxed. emWave2 is a device that guides your breathing by giving you a green or red light depending on how varied your heartbeat is, teaching you how to breathe to relax.

3. Floating

If you get easily distracted when meditating at home, it could be helpful to commit to a meditative session somewhere else instead. Floating means that you float in salty water in darkness in a sensory-deprivation tank. Studies have shown that the relaxation from floating can reduce cortisol levels.

4. Ashwagandha

This herb can lower cortisol levels. Take 500-600 mg per day of a high-quality brand.

Just like this blog post’s cartoon character, it’s easy to get caught in a hamster wheel of chasing results on keto. But remember: Pushing harder and stressing more won’t do any good for your health and weight. So take a deep breath, relax, and start taking the right action!

Now, over to you. Are you suffering from stress? Share it with me!

Alexia Bjarkan
Keto Coach

Alexia Bjarkan

Keto Coach at The Benefactory.

  • L-Ketofan
    Posted at 09:11h, 05 June Reply

    Very interesting post! After being in keto diet for around 9 weeks (with a couple interruptions and stepping out of ketosis for couple days or just few hours) I see no changes in my weight. I have done keto before with great results, losing up to 10kg in two months, so I am not quite sure my body is reacting like this.
    I am below 20 carbs a day, doing intermittent fasting naturally (for 12-16h without forcing it, it just comes naturally), I am in ketosis as I check with urine reactive strips, eating less than 1400kc per day and exercising (fast paced walking) for around an hour every day. Still, my weight hasn’t moved an inch since I started (I only lost 2kg of liquid when entering ketosis).
    Due to Covid-19 my job has been severly affected and my partner got stuck in another country so I haven’t seen him for three months, resulting in a situation of stress and uncertainty. Could this be the reason why I don’t lose any weight? Is my body “keeping me big” to cope with it all?
    Many thanks in advance for your inputs!

    • Alexia Bjarkan
      Posted at 18:54h, 05 June Reply

      Hi L-Ketofan!

      I’m happy that you found the post interesting, and thank you for sharing your question! I’m sorry to hear about your work challenge, in addition to being separated from your partner. It does sound like a very stressful situation indeed.

      However, I still recommend the steps in the post to investigate your situation. Firstly, you need accurate testing of your ketone levels to know what’s going on. Urine strips aren’t accurate, so I recommend a ketone meter for your blood or breath instead. “Optimal” ketosis for weight loss is 1.5-3.0 mmol/l.

      I suspect that you’re not in optimal ketosis since you’re not losing weight. A more common reason to weight stall than stress – in my opinion – is inflammatory foods. I hope my other blog post about that will be helpful for you:

      Intermittent fasting is great! Some studies show that a 6-h eating window gives maximized weight loss, so you might see some results from tweaking your eating times.

      What do you think about starting with the above steps?


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