One of the most popular ways for women to lose weight, optimize blood sugar, and reduce inflammation all while getting sugar cravings under control and breaking the cycle of unhealthy eating is a ketogenic diet.
But what should you consider if you’re a woman following the keto diet? And what’s the best way to succeed while avoiding uncomfortable side effects like the keto flu or reduced thyroid function?
Read on to learn how women can use the ketogenic diet to improve health and unlock easy weight loss without uncomfortable hunger, counting calories, or unrealistic restriction.
Keto Diet Benefits
Simply put, the keto diet is an eating pattern which involves moderate protein, low carbohydrate intake, and eating the majority of your calories from fat. This allows your body to become “fat adapted”. Most keto diets recommend daily net carbohydrate intake not exceed 20-50 grams. (Net carbohydrates can be found by subtracting grams of fiber from grams of total carbohydrates, i.e. 15 grams of carbs – 5 grams of fiber = 10 net carbs)
A ketogenic diet can also be referred as low-carb high fat (LCHF) eating, and has many benefits when performed responsibly, such as (1,2):
- Weight loss
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Increased autophagy
- Healthy blood sugar balance
- Supports liver health
- Lower triglycerides
- Better ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol
Is the Keto Diet Recommended for Women?
The ketogenic diet is generally suitable for most women, but with a few important factors to consider. As with all eating patterns, the foods that best support your body may not be the same for other women, and vice versa.
To figure out if the keto diet is the right choice for women, there are three main things to keep in mind before and during your keto journey:
- Keto differences in men and women – As a woman, you have hormones and other metabolic signals that are sensitive to dietary changes, which can cause your appetite to decrease (sometimes too low), or trigger hormone imbalance.
- Tailoring your ketogenic diet to your individual needs – Factors such as type of fat consumed, quantity of plant nutrients, and dairy or non-dairy additions are all crucial things to consider that can make your keto diet more comfortable and effective for your goals.
- Protecting important hormones – As mentioned above, hormone production is affected by dietary choices and fat intake. In a moment you’ll learn more about how to support healthy hormones on a keto diet.
A ketogenic diet may not be the best choice for women who have fat malabsorption issues, are recovering from an eating disorder, or who have any conditions in which a high fat intake could cause unpleasant health problems.
Learn more about the weight loss methods I use with patients in my integrative clinic.
Why Is it So Hard for Women to Lose Weight?
And can being in ketosis make weight loss easier? If you and a male partner begin a weight loss journey at the same time, doing the same things, chances are he’ll lose more weight than you will and in a shorter amount of time.
While it’s not fair, rest assured it’s just biology doing it’s job. But why does this happen and what can you do about it?
Women naturally have more body fat than men. Due to higher estrogen levels (and the fact that your body was designed to carry a baby), women naturally have less lean muscle mass and a higher body fat percentage, which means you burn less calories at rest than your male counterparts. Find out how to spot whether or not you have symptoms of estrogen dominance.
Fluctuating hormones can also create an unstable rollercoaster of metabolic dysfunction, which often means difficulty losing weight. With hormone imbalances like PCOS, you may also experience some degree of insulin resistance making it even harder to keep weight off.
Menopause can also change the way your body stores fat as hormones shift. A drop in estrogen and overworked adrenals can cause more fat around your abdomen where there previously was much less.
How Can A Keto Diet Help?
A healthy ketogenic diet will slowly shift your metabolism to become more “fat-adapted” for efficient use of your own body fat for fuel instead of expecting your next burst of energy from glucose–or carbohydrates. How does this help you lose weight?
You’ll use your own body fat for fuel. The reason ketogenic diets work is because high fat and low carb eating keeps insulin levels in check so your body is free to break down fats instead of dietary carbohydrates (3). Promoting insulin sensitivity can also have a major positive impact on PCOS and fertility.
It can promote hormone balance by cutting out excess carbs and refined sugars. Sugar can wreak havoc on hormone imbalance at any age, making everything from PMS symptoms to hot flashes worse.
>>>Tried the keto diet and just don’t like the experience? Find out how integrative medicine does weight loss without keto.
Keto for Women Vs. Men
Even though limited studies exist looking at the relationship of the ketogenic diet on women specifically, here’s what we do know is different for women following a ketogenic diet than men.
A man’s hormones will remain relatively stable compared to a woman’s. Yes, he’ll have daily changes in messengers like insulin and cortisol, but women experience that PLUS daily, weekly, and monthly changes in other hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.
Depending on your hormone levels, this can impact your experience with the keto diet.
Going Too Low Carb Too Fast
One of the most common problems when beginning a keto diet is dropping carbohydrate intake too low and too quickly. Because your diet so closely impacts your adrenal glands, which produce hormones, and your thyroid that controls metabolism, restricting carbohydrates too drastically can cause weight loss to stall and even make you gain weight.
If you’re still cycling, it’s likely you notice you feel differently on different days of your cycle. This is due to hormonal and metabolic changes which create real differences in the body. One of which is a slight insulin resistance during the luteal phase (the latter half) of your cycle.
You may notice more carb cravings and be less likely to be inclined to intermittent fast.
A ketogenic diet often naturally suppresses your appetite, which is great for cutting sugar cravings and making healthier choices, but sometimes it can decrease it so much that you actually aren’t eating enough.
And while this doesn’t seem like the biggest problem, your body still needs nutrients to carry out all the metabolic processes to keep you healthy. Prolonged low food intake can reduce thyroid function and place stress on your adrenal glands which can leave you feeling fatigued, stressed, and unable to cope in the long-term.
Keto Diet and Women’s Weight Loss: Tips to Succeed
Even though you have some extra biological considerations if you’re a woman, that doesn’t mean that you can’t make a keto diet work for healthy weight loss. To support healthy hormones, and metabolism during the keto diet, follow these tips:
Transition to Keto Gradually
Depending on what your diet looks like now, you may want to begin your journey to keto with a few weeks of paleo-style eating.
Omit processed carbohydrates (bread, cereal, pasta) and get your carbs from plant sources like sweet potatoes, beans or unprocessed grains like quinoa. Because these options are higher in fiber, they won’t spike your blood sugar as much, and can help you more easily transition into a keto diet.
Eat quality protein from animal foods and plant sources alike. Prioritize high-quality fats from nuts and seeds, pastured butter, eggs, meats, dairy, avocado or coconut.
Supplements for Keto
Many women follow a healthy ketogenic diet without using supplements at all, but a handful of the right supplements can speed your potential weight loss and create a more comfortable keto routine for your lifestyle.
- Belly Fix can help address digestive issues and reduce inflammation within the gut.
- Hormone Helper supports healthy blood sugar balance and proper hormone function, the gateway to easier weight loss (and especially around your midsection).
- MCT oil has been shown to support healthy levels of fat in your liver, as well as provide fuel for your brain and muscles without contributing to overall caloric load (4).
- Collagen can help you meet your protein needs, and supports healthy skin, hair, and nails.
- Electrolytes in the form of mineral supplements or bone broth can help fuel cellular recovery and function.
Try Intermittent Fasting
How to ignite your metabolism and kick it into high gear to level the playing field of fat loss between you and your male counterparts? Try fasting.
This ancient practice of delaying mealtimes can help your cells more efficiently burn your body fat for fuel, and even optimize the health of your mitochondria, which play a big role in healthy aging, energy production, and metabolism.
The most common way to get started with intermittent fasting is to eat a balanced, low-carb dinner 6 pm or before, and delay your breakfast the following day as long as is comfortable. Often, you’ll find once you’re fat adapted, you can comfortably fast until lunchtime or beyond.
Types of Intermittent Fasting:
16:8 (most common) – An overnight fast of 16 hours, and an eating window of 8 hours during the day.
24-hour fast – Better utilized after you’ve tried other, shorter fasts, the 24-hour fast is a full day without consuming food. During this time it’s important to stay hydrated with bone broth or other electrolyte-rich drinks.
OMAD – The one-meal-a-day fast can work well for busy professionals or parents with little time to stop and refuel, but shouldn’t be relied on long-term, as this eating style can drastically restrict nutrient intake and lead to deficiencies.
5:2 – A 5:2 fast consists of five days of normal eating–a balanced 3 meals, plus desired snacks–followed by one to two days per week of 500-600 calorie intake. This is also a more sustainable type of fast for the beginner to intermediate faster.
Hormone Balance and The Keto Diet
Hormone balance is one big factor if you’re following a ketogenic diet. In many ways, the keto diet can actually help with hormone imbalance if you have PCOS or excess inflammation. But here’s what to keep in mind to support hormone balance on the keto diet:
Protect your Thyroid and Adrenals by Keto Cycling
Some people do report changes in their thyroid panels after following a ketogenic diet. There are a few reasons why this could be.
First, calorie restriction has been shown to lower thyroid hormone, simply because your thyroid acts as a metabolic barometer (5). In times of excess, your thyroid is active, and in times of restriction, it’s less so.
Prolonged low-carbohydrate intake can also place stress upon both your thyroid and adrenal glands. A healthy ketogenic diet will provide appropriate carbohydrate refueling periods.
For example, following a ketogenic diet during the week and allowing a more paleo-style, higher carb intake on the weekend.
Listen to Your Cycle to Increase Carbs
If you’re still cycling, or getting your period, you may find during certain days of the month you still have carb cravings, and increased appetite, or find it hard to fast.
This is because during the luteal phase (after ovulation) your body is working hard to produce progesterone and can be slightly more insulin resistant for a short period.
The best rule of thumb? Make sure you’re getting adequate protein and choose minimally processed, high-quality fats to fuel hormone production and ovulation.
Making Keto Work for You
It might take a little bit more considering and listening to your body, but you can make the keto diet work for healthy weight loss with the right planning.
The keto diet for women can help you optimize blood sugar levels, kick cravings, and even support cellular health all while giving you increased mental clarity and energy.
Want to find out which weight loss methods I use for patients in my clinic? Learn more here.