Returning to a Ketogenic Diet?

Here's What You Need to Know to be Successful!

12 Low-Carb Weight-Loss Strategies for Second TimersCredit: Vickie Ewell


Does this sound like you?

I did a low-carb diet about 5 years ago, and it worked really really well for me. I dropped a ton of weight, super fast, and I enjoyed the food. I'm really embarrassed to say that I didn't stick with it and eventually gained back the 50 pounds I lost, plus more. Recently, I decided to give low carb another try. Since it worked so well the first time, I thought it would work just as well again. It's been 4 weeks now, and all I've lost is 2 pounds. I don't understand what's going on. Last time I lost 10 pounds on Atkins Induction. This time? Nothing. Do you have any weight-loss advice that you can give me? I don't know how much longer I can keep this up.

That letter is typical of the emails I get from people who have been on a ketogenic diet before and have decided to return to the low-carb lifestyle because of the extraordinary results they got the first time. Almost all of them expected to receive exactly the same low-carb weight-loss rewards as before. That rarely happens. Each time you go off of a low-carb diet, and return, the process gets more difficult. Weight loss is slower and the diet gets more restrictive.[1] But don't despair. There is still hope. You can still reach your weight-loss goals. Here are 12 low-carb strategies you can use to improve your chances for success.


1. Don't Expect the Same Results

Don't Expect the Same Results on Keto that You Had BeforeCredit: Public Domain from

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Expectations set us up for disappointment. And once you're disappointed, it's really hard to stay motivated and focused on why you wanted to lose weight in the first place. To make a low-carb diet work the second or third time around, you need to keep your attention firmly on your goal. The body's survival mechanisms will remember that you have traveled this path before and begin to adapt sooner and stronger.[1][6]

You're older now. You might have a little more insulin resistance than you had before.[1] Food sensitivities might have multiplied. Speed of weight loss won't be the same. It's always slower each time you go off of a low-carb diet and then return. That's the cold hard fact. The good news is that most of the time, what the body is doing is storing water inside your fat cells, so it doesn't have to shrink them if more carbs will be coming in soon.

That makes it simply a waiting game because eventually, the body won't have any choice other than to dump the water. The body takes the path of least resistance. It doesn't want to shrink your fat cells if it doesn't have to, so it sits back and waits. Eventually, it figures out that you aren't going to feed it all of those sugars and starches it's used to getting. Keep it up and you will win that battle. Don't give in too quickly. Give it a good 8 to 12 weeks before throwing in the towel and looking for a different solution.


2. Don't Depend on Memory - Read the Book! 

Low-Carb Diet Mistake: Not Reading the BookCredit: Vickie Ewell


Another mistake I see quite often is assuming you remember everything that you can and can't eat on Atkins Induction. The Induction diet is very restrictive for a reason. It's designed to help almost everyone get into dietary ketosis quickly and easily. The faster you enter dietary ketosis, the quicker the weight will start coming off. If you start with the foods that you remember eating for the majority of your weight loss, such as low-carb tortillas, Dreamsfield pasta, mixed nuts, and sugar-free ice cream, you could be eating far more carbs than you think. Beginning with low-carb products is setting yourself up to fail.

In fact, I've even had people tell me that they're eating apples, oranges, popcorn, or a glass of wine with their dinner every night, but can't figure out why they aren't losing weight. Except for an "occasional" glass of wine, those foods are not allowed on a low-carb diet until you're almost at maintenance.[6] So you really do need to read the book and refresh your memory on what a ketogenic diet is. Otherwise, your basal insulin levels might never come down low enough to help free up your fat stores.[1] There will be plenty of time to tweak your diet later on.

The second time around usually requires a much stricter diet. You won't be able to pinpoint problematic foods unless you add them back one at a time, just as Dr. Atkins recommended.[6]


3. Be Realistic About Your Food Preferences

Be Realistic About Low-Carb Food PreferencesCredit: Betsssssy at Liscensed CC BY-SA 2.0

 Photo Credit: Betsssssy at license CC BY-SA 2.0

If you hate salad, it doesn't make sense to restrict yourselves to doing Atkins '72 where you're required to eat salad every day. That's just not practical. No matter what low-carb diet program you choose to follow, it needs to fit your food likes as well as your lifestyle. If you're always around the high-carb foods that you love -- either because you work around those foods or your family insists on eating them in front of you -- that can trigger cravings and even a binge if you aren't mentally strong enough to resist temptation.

It's a good idea to sincerely examine your motives for wanting to return to low carb, but don't be too hard on yourself. Being too rigid can be just as defeating as being too lax with the carbs. Flexible dieting on holidays and at social gatherings is often a better choice for those who have problems sticking to keto diets long term.[3] You didn't get fat because you ate a piece of chocolate cake on your birthday. But you do need to find some new comfort foods to replace your old favorites. Indulging in low-carb alternatives can work to keep you solidly on plan.

One of the most favorite low-carb alternatives that can help with lunches and burgers is the Revolution Roll developed by Dr. Atkins back in the early '70s. The low-carb roll was simply served on the dinner plate back then, but today, creative dieters have found more uses for the roll. The recipe is a bit tricky, but the following video explains the process very well and gives you the updated recipe made with cream cheese, rather than cottage cheese. When following Atkins '72, I had good success with making the rolls using 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, rather than the cheese.

How to Make Dr. Atkins Revolution Rolls with Cream Cheese

To keep the rolls from sticking together, store them separately in individual zip-lock bags in the refrigerator overnight. That will change their crumbly texture into a useful sponge-type bread. You can turn the rolls upside down, and use two rolls to make a great sandwich or burger bun, laying the sandwich filling or burger on the smooth, flat surface.  The rolls are super soft, so you won't want to make your sandwich or burger until just before you eat it.


4. Take Food Triggers Seriously

Take Your Food Triggers Seriously: Start a JournalCredit: Public Domain from

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Since you've already gone off a low-carb diet before, you might want to start a food journal this time. Record how you felt before you ate, what you ate, your emotional state while eating, and how the food affected you for the next several hours. Record how hungry you were before you ate, after you ate, and whether the meal was satisfying or just okay. Were you hungry again in a couple of hours? Did you just polish off a full plate of food, but the sight of the kids reaching for a chocolate chip cookie two-hours later kicked your emotional hunger or craving for pleasure back on again?

You can learn a lot about yourself when you practice mindful eating and write it down. Once you know what your food triggers are, what the patterns are, you can develop practical and useful strategies to deal with those problems. For example, you might discover that you need to bring your own food with you when you go to parties or have Thanksgiving Dinner and that big Christmas bash at your house.  

5. Consider Your Eating Style

Restricting Carbs? Consider Your Eating Style!Credit: Vickie Ewell


Low-carb weight-loss advice is only useful if it fits your personality, so don't listen to how other people are doing the diet. Look at yourself instead. Do you enjoy having lots of variety in your meals? Or would you be much happier eating the same simple menu day after day? A lot of low-carb dieters eat only a very small group of foods for breakfast, lunch, and snacks, and then get a greater variety at dinner. But that doesn't work for everyone. If taste is important to you, it's better to imitate the style you are used to eating, rather than trying to make too many changes all at once.

There's no reason why you have to give up low-carb snacks or stop munching while you watch your favorite television show.[6] Just make those snacks and nibbles from the list of allowable foods. Likewise, there's no reason why you have to eat the same foods every day if you find that boring. Take the time to create a weekly or bi-weekly menu that takes advantage of all of the low-carb foods you really love. When it comes to low carb, being bored is deadly. So take the time to examine your eating style, and use it to your advantage.


6. Stop Looking for Blame When You Cheat

Stop Looking for Blame; Get Right Back on PlanCredit: Vickie Ewell


The idea is to turn your diet into a lifestyle and start taking personal responsibility for your food choices, so you don't have to look for blame when you cheat. Each of us does whatever we feel is right, proper, or justifiable at the moment we do it, so you must have felt that eating that slice of pizza your hubby brought home on Friday night was the right thing to do at the time. Just accept it.

The bloating, nausea, and water retention are signs of a food sensitivity -- probably to wheat or gluten or dairy -- and not the carbs. You don't have to demonize carbohydrates. That only sets you up for an unhealthy, unrealistic relationship with food. Carbohydrates are not the enemy. There are lots of healthy, nutritious foods that have carbs. Brown rice, sweet potatoes, starchy vegetables, and fresh fruit are not evil. Many people can eat them just fine without having physical symptoms that are uncomfortable.

If you can't, that's okay. Step up to the plate, take personal responsibility for the backsliding, pick yourself up, and get right back on plan with the very next bite.


7. Keep Treats for Special Occasions

Keep Treats for Special Occasions if Struggling with Weight LossCredit: Kim at license CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo credit: thegirlsny at license CC BY-SA 2.0

One way to cut way back on temptation is to keep your low-carb treats for special occasions. If you are still on Atkins Induction and are already thinking about low-carb desserts, cakes, cookies, pies, and sugar-free chocolate, then you're not seriously looking at making low carb a lifestyle. For second and third timers, adding low-carb treats too early can be risky. You need to do a "clean" Induction by following all of the rules of your particular ketogenic diet plan, and add back new low-carb foods and ingredients when you are supposed to.

While it's not a good idea to remain at Induction level of carbs for too long (unless you're just that sensitive to carbohydrates),[6] low-carb products and baked goods are the fastest way to stall your weight-loss progress. Most people discover that they cannot eat low-carb goodies all the time and continue losing weight. In fact, a lot of people find they can't eat them at all. So it's best to keep the treats for special occasions and concentrate on eating whole foods instead.


8. Decide to Make This Your Final Restart

Make This Your Final RestartCredit: Public domain from

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Going on-and-off of a low-carb diet doesn't work. The body won't put up with going in and out of the alternative metabolic pathway without fighting back. Each time you leave a low-carb diet, move to higher carbs, and then come back, weight loss gets slower, the metabolism slows down sooner, the insulin resistance gets worse, and eventually, the body rebels.[1] You have the knowledge and strength to accomplish your weight-loss goals, but you can't do that if you haven't empowered yourself to take control of your health and your life.

Dr. Atkins warned his readers not to move in and out of Induction because of the body's ability to adapt to what you're eating. In 2002, he warned those who didn't value the principles and ideas he'd given them that the diet could actually backfire when misused. "It's likely that your metabolism will adapt at a certain point -- in a sense developing a tolerance," he wrote.[6]

And the same holds true for yo-yo dieting. You are setting up a pattern that the body is going to remember the next time you decide to try a low-carb diet. Once the body adapts to whatever pattern you've set up, there's no where left to go. "People who repeatedly regain weight and go back to Induction sometimes find that they do not experience the dramatic and easy weight loss they initially enjoyed."[6]

So decide to make this your final restart. Take control of your health and mind. We always do what we value, so do the mental work to make this permanent. According to Dr. Atkins, the body pays a price when you consistently switch back and forth between the two major metabolic pathways. "You may be be in for a nasty surprise," he wrote, as the diet won't always work the same for you.[6] Deciding to make this your last restart will eliminate any worries about whether a low-carb diet will completely stop working for you.


9. Avoid the Scale

Weight Loss Strategy: Avoid the ScaleCredit: Public Domain from

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One of the most frustrating experiences for those coming back to a low-carb diet is the scale. The scale represents an ideal, which usually results from an expectation of how much we want to lose that day or week. The mind travels back to how things used to be, how easy the weight fell off the first time you did this, and when the scale tells a different story, we start looking for blame or start beating ourselves up. Don't do that.

The number on the scale is just a number. The scale doesn't reveal how much body fat you've lost. It can only share your total weight. Weight includes skin, bone, water, muscle, organs, and other bodily fluids and cells.[3] It is not just fat. And since we lose or gain water, muscle, body cells, hair, and other stuff, weight isn't an accurate measurement of how well you're doing.

A better way of gauging your low-carb weight-loss progress is to look at your clothes. Are they getting looser? Are they starting to fit you better than they were before? Inches is what you want to lose. Inches is what other people see. People don't see pounds. They see you getting smaller.

  • How do you feel?
  • Do you have an upsurge in energy?
  • Do you feel better than you did before?
  • Are you still craving sweets?
  • Or has your appetite now come under control?
  • How is your health doing?
  • Are your cholesterol numbers good?
  • Is your blood glucose level more stable?
  • Has your indigestion and heart burn gone away?

There are lots of ways to judge your progress on a low-carb diet other than the scale. The number on the scale can be dangerous if it isn't what you're expecting to see. That number can actually control your mood for the entire day, even though it doesn't mean anything. It's not important. What's important is your health, your size, and your mood.


10. Don't Ignore Those Hidden Carbs

Watch Out for the Carbs in Whip CreamCredit: Public Domain from

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Some people are able to look at a list of low-carb foods, pick foods from that list, and shed the amount of fat they want to lose each and every week without actually counting how many carbohydrates per day they are eating. But not everyone is so lucky. A lot of people have to be very picky when it comes to counting the number of carbohydrates they're eating. Plus, manufacturers don't make that choice very easy. Serving sizes on the can, package, or carton can be very deceptive and make it look like something doesn't have any carbs, when it does.

Heavy cream is a good example of that. There are 6.6 grams of carbohydrate in a cup of heavy cream,[4] but the label says less than 1 gram per tablespoon. Some brands even claim 0 carbs, since the amount in a tablespoon is sometimes less than .5. So how do you find those hidden carbs? You do need to read the nutritional info on the label, and do a little math, but the following video makes that quite easy:

How to Find Hidden Carbs on the Label

In addition to hidden carbs, there are also carbohydrates that a lot of dieters forget to count. One example of that is pouring the heavy cream from the carton straight into your cup of coffee. And the same goes for all of those little packages of sugar substitute. Atkins recommends that you count 1 gram of carbohydrate per package,[6] but a lot of low-carb dieters don't count them at all.

While we're on the topic of coffee, you might want to know that coffee has a little more than 1 gram of carb per 8-ounce cup.[4] And who drinks only a single cup of coffee? My travel mug holds 16-ounces. That's 2 cups right there, and I usually have two mugs before breakfast. Because of that, many low carbers have found themselves trapped in a stall for weeks before they discovered that they were drinking their entire day's carbohydrate allowance just in coffee.

Even sugar-free powdered soft drinks have 1.25 grams of carbohydrate per cup. That's 10 carbs per 2-quart pitcher.[4] Not a lot, but if you drink large quantities of soft drinks, the count can add up quickly. Eggs also have a tiny bit of carb, about .6 carbs for a large-sized egg. Herbs and spices are another place that a lot of dieters overlook. Herbs and spices are not carbohydrate free. In fact, some of them have quite a lot comparatively speaking. For example, both onion and garlic powders have 2 carbs per teaspoon.

When I was on the Atkins Diet toward the end of 1999, it was common practice to count up all of those minute amounts of carbs in your spices. No one tried to get away without counting them. Today, most dieters ignore those carbohydrates, but the body does not. The body knows exactly how many carbs per day you are eating and drinking. Pretending they do not exist won't change that. So pay attention to the hidden carbs, and know exactly what your daily limit is -- and stick to it.


11. Don't Trust the Maximum Carbohydrate Level You Used Last Time

Recalculate Your Maximum Carb Level for LosingCredit: rpavich at license CC BY 2.0

Photo Credit: rpavich at licence CC BY 2.0

Don't depend on the carbohydrate number you used before. Go through the steps that the Atkins Diet recommends for finding your personal maximum daily carbohydrate limit that you can eat and still lose weight. Unfortunately, it might not be the same number you used when you were doing keto the last time.

As the years go by, your sensitivity to carbohydrates can get worse. That makes finding those hidden carbs and counting those hidden carbs even more important, but it also means that the maximum carbohydrate number you use can change before you reach your goal weight. Don't take anything for granted. Don't assume that because you were able to eat 40 grams of carbohydrate per day 5 years ago that you'll be able to eat that much today. Always check it out for yourself.


12. Beware of Sugar Alcohols and Other Sugar Substitutes

Beware of Sugar Alcohols and Other Sugar SubstitutesCredit: Vickie Ewell


This one cannot be stressed enough. Sugar alcohols and most sugar substitutes are not calorie free. If you don't get sick from using the sugar alcohols, if you don't have any bathroom issues, then you are metabolizing them exactly the same as you would metabolize sugar. Most people don't understand that. The reason why they cause gastrointestinal issues for most folks is because you are not metabolizing them. So it's sort of a Catch-22 situation. If you can use them without problems, your body is digesting them and the carbs count.

Also pay attention to the bulking ingredients found in sugar substitutes. They are loaded with carbohydrates. For example, bulk Splenda has 24 grams of carbohydrates per cup full. That's a lot of carbs, and it drives the carb count up for most low-carb baked goods. For that reason, a lot of dieters have switched to liquid substitutes that have no carbs, or Stevia.  


Is the One Golden Shot Theory Real?

This question doesn't come up very much anymore because low-carb experts and gurus have done their best to shoot down the theory. The theory is that you get one good shot at making a low-carb diet work for you. After that, if you choose to return to low carb, the diet doesn't work as well as it did before.[5] Each succeeding try gets more and more difficult, until eventually, you reach a point where low carb stops working completely. I've been doing low carb off-and-on since 1972, when the original Atkins book came out, and I can honestly say that in my experience, the One Golden Shot Theory is true. Plus, the Atkins quotes above definitely back up the idea that a low-carb diet can stop working.

The first time I went on a low-carb diet, I lost the weight effortlessly. I lost about 40 pounds in a mere 6 weeks. Years later, when I went back onto a low carb diet, it was much harder, but not impossible. Weight loss was quite slow, but I still managed to lose a pound or two per week. The third time I tried to do a low-carb diet, it was pure torture. I lost only 2 pounds the first month and about a pound a month after that. Since I had over 100 pounds to lose, that was much too slow, so I adapted the diet to something that worked better for me.

A low-carb diet does not cure metabolic defects. Insulinemia and insulin resistance get worse each time you leave a low-carb diet behind.[1] That's why the goal of a low-carb diet is to teach dieters how to make healthy food choices a part of their lifestyle. It was never designed to be a temporary solution to the problems of overweight and obesity. "If you want to be healthy and free of surplus body fat, then you cannot return to a perfectly random and careless pattern of eating," Dr. Atkins warned.[6] That type of eating will never be a permanent solution to the problem.  


Additional Cautions, Tips, and Suggestions

Although low-carb weight loss will be difficult the second time around, that doesn't mean impossible. I've heard the exact same story from a lot of people I hung around with in the late '90s. What was easy for us back then, is not easy today, but that just means you have to do a lot more adjusting and tweaking than those who are new to low carb. Some people have to give up dairy products. That can be quite rough when it comes to low-carb diets because most recipes are loaded with cheese, cream, and butter. Dairy can be quite inflammatory, and anything that causes inflammation can interfere with weight loss.

The same goes for wheat, which is why adding low-carb products in the beginning of your diet is not a good idea. Most low-carb products are loaded with wheat proteins and wheat starches. Low-carb baking ingredients are high in wheat as well. While there are a few cookbooks around that specialize in gluten-free low-carb cooking and baking, keep in mind that food allergies and sensitivities will raise your cortisol levels and thereby increase insulin production. High insulin levels will shut down your body's ability to mobilize your fat stores.  

It's better to get your diet running smoothly before attempting to add wheat protein or starches to your menu, and then add just one low-carb product or ingredient to see how you do. Overloading your body with lots of wheat is only asking for trouble.

Although most people who follow low-carb diets find calorie counting not essential, those who come to the table with a yo-yo dieting background, often have to watch their portion sizes, count their calories, make sure to get adequate amounts of protein, and even cut down on the amount of fat they are eating in order to lose the weight. While in general, the low-carb community supports a low-carb, high-fat diet, that diet won't work for everyone, especially those who are older and having trouble dropping the pounds.

If you're serious about turning low carb into a lifestyle, don't be afraid to tweak the diet to fit your own metabolism. Finding the exact reason you're not losing weight on low carb often takes time. Some people do need higher carbs, lower fat, and lower calories in order to lose, so focus on making permanent lifestyle changes, rather than worrying about the specific rules or what someone else is doing. That's much wiser than continually cycling between low-carb and haphazard food choices.

The body is smart. It will eventually figure out the cycle, and once it adapts to that cycle, the only choice you'll have left is to go somewhere else.[6] Don't let that happen. Decide today to make low-carb a part of your healthy lifestyle. Decide to do what's to your advantage. And decide that you're worth the time, money, and effort to be everything you can be.