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Not losing weight on a low carb diet? Is it that you are not low carb enough… or something else?


This post is blatant theft! The team behind Whole 9 South Pacific in New Zealand – Jamie Scott and Dr Anastasia Boulais, wrote a series of tweets that need a much greater audience. (Whole 9 SP Facebook page)

One of the frustrations about plethora of information on the internet is that many people apply a one size fits all approach to themselves, and then feel a failure if it doesn’t work.

Take Low Carbohydrate diets for example – these could be practically zero carb diets, a ketogenic diet, or a very low carb diet (below 50 grams of carbs a day). They are often touted as the only way to lose weight, and following this logic, if you don’t lose weight on a low carb diet – your carbs are not low enough or you are not doing it right.

I had a female client see me a few months ago whose male partner lost weight and felt fantastic on a very low carb high fat diet, and found it improved his training – mainly long distance running. On the other hand she struggled with energy levels during training and failed to lose any weight. The nutritionist they were working with said she needed to go lower carb and spend more time fat adapting and all would be good. Except that it wasn’t – her energy levels plummeted further, recovery was poor, weight stayed on and her sleep got worse. “Just give it more time”, if your satiety is poor – “”Eat more fat – fat doesn’t make you fat” she was told. This strategy failed to work. Just as an aside – One question I have never had a satisfactory answer to from high fat advocates who say ‘fat does not get stored as fat’ is “If you eat more fat than you need for energy needs and physiological functions, (like hormone production and cell membrane needs), where does the fat go?”

When only one paradigm is seen as the right way – we lose sight of the big picture. Everyone is different, and food is only part of the equation.

Whole 9 SA tweets were in response to one the many blog posts that one encounters in answer to the question – What if I’m not losing weight on a low carb diet?

Ten Reasons You Are Not Losing Fat on a Low-Carb Diet 

Sure the authors give some tweaks one could make to ones diet, however they do not address any other issue that affect weight loss other than diet, and the focus in dietary terms was mainly around tweaking of macronutrients.  While this matters, it is only part of the picture.

For example sleep. When I see a client – three questions I always ask are “How well do you sleep?” “How long do you sleep?” and “If you are on holiday and you get as much sleep as you need before waking without an alarm – how long do you sleep for?” In my observation if you don’t address the sleep issue – all your focus on diet is pointless. Lack of sleep puts you in a state of insulin resistance or prediabetes (1), it increases muscle loss and decreases fat loss (2), it plays havoc with the hormones that regulate appetite, leading to increased desire for and consumption of junk food (3)

Here then are the tweets from W9SP.:

Reductionism in health and weight mgmt -> “if you don’t lose weight on low carb you are not doing it hard enough.”

Fascinating article which embodies people’s reductionism approach: it’s ALL about the diet. Not a single mention of multiple other factors!

Not even a single mention about the quality of food (except advising to eat enough vegetables and fruit). Atkins bars for everyone?

So what to do if you are not losing weight on a low carb diet?

1. Choose high nutrient foods s.a quality meat/fish/eggs/veggies/fruit/nuts

2. Get plenty of quality restful sleep of 8-9hrs a night

3. Move slowly lots and sprint once a week

4. Lift heavy things and get strong

5. Get enough sunlight. Go out during the day, even if it’s cloudy, be outside

6. Manage your stress proactively not reactively

7. Go out in nature, put down your smartphone, take a

8. Be kind to yourself and surround yourself with supportive people.

9. And finally adjust your macronutrient intake around your activity levels. Don’t drink your nutrients, don’t juice, don’t crush your nuts.

Once again, this was the advice for sustainable fat loss. Not weight loss. Not how to get skinny in 30 days. Not for improving performance.

More fat? More carbs? Neither. Eat more FOOD. Let’s not practice reductionism – food is so much greater than its macronutrient content.

Whole 9 Life have a huge resource of free info – so go check it out.

(If you need more advice on eating a high nutrient balanced diet for your body size see my post here)

And for my client above who failed to lose weight, and suffered fatigue eating very low carb? I had her increase her root veg carbs and decrease fat – problem solved!

If you are a New Zealander and have an interest in Ancestral health and living – check out the Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand and come to the next seminar in Wanaka on the 25th October)



  1. Hi Julianne,

    Thank you for the support. As you say, those of us who work with real life actual people know that screwing your carbs down is not the only approach and does not work for everyone. Does the Standard American/Australian/Western Diet have too many carbs? Absolutely. Is it a contributor to obesity, diabetes and other western diseases? Without a question. But it does not follow that “the lower the better” or “lowering carbs alone will make you lean and healthy”.

    Just as we are more than a furnace burning through calories, we are more than just carbs -> raise insulin -> getting fat and unhealthy.

    Instead of fixating of one macronutrient people need to look at their lifestyle as a whole. And as you mention, in many instances “lower” is not only “not better” but can actually be quite detrimental. Let’s hope we can move past the carbohydrate story and address all those other factors which people tend to ignore.

    • Thanks Anastasia, great points. For myself – going light on added fat and eating more starchy root veg and berries (as part of a meal) gives me more satiety, better poops, and great sleep. I often go 6 hours before getting hungry with a meal of protein, starchy and non starch carbs, and just a little dash of added fat if any. And with great satiety – I dont overeat, have cravings or overeat.

  2. Obesity is a vast problem, not simply just due to diet. Overeating has at least five other groups of causes beyond knowing what foods to eat. The insulin issue is one of the physical causes. The causes groups list includes: ingrained habits, willful eating, physical causes, environmental and temptation, maladaptive behavioral, and food addiction like. There are people who suffer from all these, in addition to “food ignorance”.

    There can be other issues also: no or low impulse control, high desires drives, philosophical greed for food, (gluttony), psychological issues, high cravings, frustrated control freak-ism, situational continual bating and priming, and all those who live in an environment beyond their control or influence.

    Unless you acknowledge these and the existence of these other issues, you become just one more “my way is right” ideology pushing blind to reality food religion.

    • Heh, love the jargon, fredt. I’m interpreting some of it to mean: those big morning teas your colleagues bring in and the plethora of cooking books for sale in the tea room plus all the cooking shows on TV. I have a dear relative who is a glutton due to cultural practices such as growing up with a locked fridge and years of poverty on the benefit which no longer apply.

      Another reminder for me to keep the carb intake up is the spectre of my precious T4 converting to RT3 instead of T3. Hopefully the absence of cravings means I’m getting things right. Julianne’s template is an inspiration that I share with people who make enquiries.

  3. I am 5’2 178lbs I have been on a diabetic weight loss plan for 10 days now. I feel awful! I was lifting heavy and macro counting for about 16 weeks. I was pretty good, but not perfect. I saw a fitness trainer once a month for body comps to keep track. I failed my health assessment and my blood work show’s borderline diabetic and my company won’t put the $500 in my HSA until I do something. So I am following a local doctors weight loss plan. 1 week super shakes twice a day, veggie’s for snacks and a protein and salad at night. Week 1 shake, veggies for snack, and 2 meals consisting of protein and salad. 2 tbsp. of regular dressing allowed. Week 3 and beyond 15 carbs per meal. I lost 10lbs off the bat. (I know I know water) My average macro count has been like 100 protein, 45 carbs, and 75 fat. Usually between 1100-1500 cals if I get my veggies in. I haven’t been working out for the entire 1st two weeks of this plan as I hurt my back, but I am ready to return to lifting and moderate cardio. I am seriously miserable. Cravings as strong as the day I started. I am not hungry all the time though, but when I am I feel like I have a painful hole in my stomach! My poor family. I am angry and I get headaches often. Any thoughts? I am going to stick this one out, but I hate life these days.

  4. I know this is an old post, and I just saw it today. But I wanted to respond.

    I wanted to comment about your question regarding what happens to fat if you eat too much? The answer is rather simple, and you know what it is. If dietary fat meets or exceeds energy expenditure, then the excess fat would be stored as fat in the body. The flip side of the equation is that for many people (not all), when eating a LCHF diet, they tend to get to satiety long before they ever eat more fat than they need for fuel. This goes along with the idea that the reasons for obesity are multi factorial. Individuals that would overeat fat to this point obviously have other issues going on.

    I agree that there is no a one size fits all approach to dieting. But research is very clear that the low-fat diet promoted in America is a dismal failure, and the LCHF diets are having great success. There may be a few (comparatively speaking) that the LCHF diet may not work for, but that would be the exception, and not the rule.

    I would hope that healthcare providers would not fail to provide all options to obese individuals.

    • Yes – you are right – excess dietary fat will always be stored as body fat. Also low carb diets do increase satiety. I do not agree though that all people stop eating fat before they eat too much, I see some people who do eat too much and don’t lose weight. Low carb diets increase satiety because they usually markedly increase protein, especially early on in the day. Protein has the biggest impact on satiety for a number of reasons. Combined with dropping carbs – especially the refined white ones which stimulate apppetite, people eat up to 1/3 less calories without noticing. It is a mistake to think it is all about the carbs though as you have to analyse all the diet changes made and the contribution of each to the result.

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