While the majority of people begin the keto diet with the intent to lose weight, it’s not uncommon to experience sudden weight gain after cutting out carbs.
Sudden weight gain on keto can arise due to a variety of reasons, some of which are not as obvious as you may think. (And some of them may even be out of your control, biologically speaking).
If you’re in a situation where you recently began the keto diet and are gaining weight instead of losing weight, this article will walk you through the possible causes and how you can fix them.
Weight Gain on Keto: 5 Possible Causes
This section details five of the most common causes of sudden weight gain on keto and some pragmatic ways to address them.
#1 Gallbladder Complications
The gallbladder is a small, oval-shaped organ that works in conjunction with the liver to move bile into the small intestine.
Bile is an alkaline fluid that helps your body digest and absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E and K. Bile is also necessary for helping your body eliminate toxic waste products, such as bilirubin.
Unlike the liver, though, the gallbladder isn’t necessary for proper health and longevity. In fact, gallbladder removal (known as cholecystectomy) is a fairly common medical procedure, especially if the organ becomes infected or produces stones.
The conundrum that you face if you don’t have a gallbladder and are on the keto diet is that your body is lacking the bile it needs to break down large masses of fats so that they can be digested effectively.
Intuitively, eating a high-fat diet (like the keto diet) without a gallbladder can exacerbate symptoms such as indigestion and gastrointestinal discomfort.
Does this mean you can’t flourish on the keto diet without your gallbladder? Certainly not, but you will have to make some changes and be very particular about the foods you eat.
See below for a list of the foods to steer clear from (and the foods to eat) on keto with no gallbladder.
Foods to Avoid on Keto with no Gallbladder
In general, you’ll want to greatly limit intake of greasy, oily, and processed foods.
The good news is that after your gallbladder has been removed for a few months, you may be able to slowly eat more of these foods and not experience any digestive complications.
Fatty Animal Meats
Animal meats that are high in fat and/or processed should be avoided on the keto diet after having your gallbladder removed. These meats include:
- steak and fatty cuts of red meat
- ground beef (especially 85/15 or 80/20)
- pork products
- deli meats (e.g. bologna, salami, pastrami, etc.)
In the first few months after having your gallbladder removed you’ll want to avoid fatty dairy products on keto as they can be tough to digest. These foods generally include:
- aged and fresh cheeses
- butter and ghee
- full-fat sour cream
- heavy whipping cream
- half n’ half
If you’re following the keto diet, chances are you aren’t eating processed foods regardless if you have a gallbladder or not. Nevertheless, here are some foods you definitely want to avoid on keto without a gallbladder:
- foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans-fat)
- sugary breakfast cereals
Caffeine can exacerbate stomach pain symptoms after having your gallbladder removed since it increases acidity in the gut. As such, you’ll want to limit/avoid beverages such as:
- coffee (decaf is okay)
- tea containing caffeine (opt for caffeine-free herbal tea)
- low-carb energy drinks
- chocolate/cocoa (Check out our article on: 10 Cocoa Powder Benefits! The Best Ways To Incorporate It Into Your Keto Diet
- diet soda that contains caffeine
Best Foods to Eat on Keto with no Gallbladder?
Naturally, it may seem like the keto diet is impractical if you don’t have a gallbladder. In reality, there are still plenty of healthy food options that make keto doable even after having your gallbladder removed.
Lean Animal Protein and Meat Alternatives
One of the staples of the keto diet is meat and animal proteins. If you had a recent gallbladder removal, you can still eat animal meats on keto, they just need to be the leaner varieties or plant-based alternatives, such as:
- skinless chicken breast
- lean ground turkey (or turkey breast)
- extra-lean ground beef
- lean fish (tuna, shrimp, tilapia, halibut, etc.)
- tofu (Tofu: A Popular Vegan Option But Is It Keto Friendly?)
Dietary fiber is crucial for supporting digestion, with or without a gallbladder. Remember, just because you’re on the keto diet doesn’t mean you need to avoid fiber;
In fact, you should be eating plenty of fiber every day (20 grams or more for most people). If you had a recent gallbladder removal, fiber (in moderation) is great for helping digestive processes in lieu of bile.
Don’t get too carried away though, as eating excessive fiber can cause bloating and gut distress.
Here are some of the best fiber sources on keto:
- raw nuts, such as almonds, Brazil nuts, macadamia, walnuts, etc.
- raw seeds, such as chia, flax, hemp, sunflower, etc.
- cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.)
- leafy greens (spinach, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, etc.)
- fibrous fruits (berries, kiwi, etc.)
Healthy Fats, Eggs, and Select Low-Fat Dairy Products
When you are on keto without a gallbladder, you’ll want to avoid vegetable oils, such as canola, corn, and soybean oils.
Instead, opt for things like extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil when you’re cooking. Still, you should limit your intake of all food oils when you’ve had your gallbladder recently removed.
Here are some more foods we recommend for someone following keto without a gallbladder:
- Greek yogurt
- eggs (whole or whites only)
- low-fat cottage cheese
- MCT oil/MCT powder
Micronutrient-Rich Vegetables and Fruits
As well as providing the necessary fiber for healthy digestion, micronutrient-rich veggies and fruits are great for boosting immunity, cardiovascular health, and a myriad of other vital processes in the body.
As such, you should be consuming plenty of low-carb vegetables and fruits on keto after a gallbladder removal, including:
- Brussels sprouts
If you are still experiencing complications on keto after having your gallbladder removed, it might be best to lower fat intake a bit until your body can tolerate larger amounts of fatty foods.
You may also want to consider supplementing with pancreatic enzymes, particularly lipase to help support fat digestion.
Also try eating smaller meals throughout the day, as your body will not be equipped to break down large amounts of food or fats in one sitting after you’ve had your gallbladder removed.
#2 You’re Not Tracking Your Food Intake
It can’t be emphasized enough that tracking your food intake and portion sizes is imperative to your success on the keto diet (or any diet for that matter).
If you’re just “eyeballing” all the food you eat and not diligently keeping track of what your total energy/macronutrient intake is, chances are you’re overeating; thus, you experience sudden weight gain on keto.
The solution to this is quite simple and straightforward: track your food intake and measure your portion sizes!
We live in a digital age that makes tracking food intake a breeze, especially if you’re using a mobile app like MyFitnessPal.
There is really no excuse for not tracking what you’re eating, it takes less than 10 minutes per day and can make all the difference in your progress and success.
Moreover, you should be measuring out your portion sizes and paying attention to food labels.
Investing in a food scale for your kitchen is highly recommended, as this will allow you to be precise with your portions and ensure that when you want to eat six ounces of something, you eat six ounces and not 10 ounces.
Sure, a few ounces of food extra here and there may not seem significant, but if you’re consistently eating an extra three ounces of almond butter per day, that’s nearly 60 grams (540 calories) of fat that you’re not accounting for!
Just think, if you do that every day for a week, you’re eating over 3700 “hidden” calories; no wonder the scale seems to be moving in the wrong direction for people who don’t know how much food they are actually eating.
#3 – You’re Eating Too Many Calories
In similar fashion to the preceding cause of sudden weight gain on keto, some people simply eat too many calories and think it won’t impact their body weight.
It’s key to remember that no matter what type of diet you follow, if you eat too many calories you will gain weight.
It doesn’t matter if those calories come from carbs, fat, or protein, your body will have a propensity to increase in weight when there is an energy surplus.
The main thing to note is whether you’re overeating deliberately or incidentally. Are you tracking food intake and overshooting your calorie goals? Chances are you’re not measuring out food portions correctly.
In such a case, you should try planning out your meals ahead of time and logging them in a food app so you can see exactly how much your calorie intake for the day will look like.
If your planned diet is going to go over your daily calorie goal, then simply cut down the portion sizes until you are within the appropriate range.
Are you truly burning as many calories as you think?
Another reason you might be eating too many calories is that your body is burning less energy than you think it is.
Did you use a basal metabolic rate (BMR) calculator to determine your energy intake? It’s very possible your true BMR is lower than what you calculated.
Remember, BMR calculators are not perfect or exact; your actual BMR is something that can really only be determined through trial and error (or indirect calorimetry, which can be pretty expensive).
If you use our keto diet macro calculator, you can be confident that your starting calorie intake will be within 10-15% of your true BMR. Will there be outliers? Of course.
We are all unique in terms of genetics and some people burn way more calories than others simply because their body is programmed that way. However, using our keto diet macro calculator is a great way to at least get off on the right foot.
If you find that you’re experiencing sudden weight gain on keto after the first week or two, simply reduce your calorie intake by about 10-15% and reassess your progress after another week.
Keep reducing your calorie intake as necessary until you’re achieving consistent weight loss (or weight maintenance if that’s your goal).
#4 You’re Not Being Active/Exercising Enough
While exercise is not inherently necessary for you to lose weight on keto, it is undoubtedly beneficial. It really doesn’t need to be stated that regular physical activity is great not only for supporting weight loss but a multitude of other facets of your health and well-being.
Rather, something as simple as a 30-minute bike ride or a 40-minute walk with your dog can burn upwards of 400 calories if you’re moving at a modest pace.
Moreover, exercising is much more than just a way to burn calories, it also releases endorphins and alters your physiology in a manner that supports better mood and appetite regulation;
These are all positive factors for controlling body weight and helping you meet your goals.
Intuitively, if you experience sudden weight gain on keto and haven’t been active/exercising, then you should start incorporating some form of physical activity in your daily routine.
It’s always best to start slow when you begin any sort of exercise regimen, especially if you’re not familiar with certain movements or weight machines.
The last thing you want is to injure yourself by trying to do too much all at once. Your body needs time to adapt to the mechanical stress of different exercises, so stay within your limits.
That being said, it behooves you to put diligent effort into the exercise that you do. Again, you don’t need to obliterate yourself, but you should be working up a modest sweat.
If you’re training with weights, you will feel some “burning” in the muscles you’re working, but that’s simply lactic acid building up (which is ultimately a good sign).
If you need some help understanding more about weight training on keto, be sure to check out our Guide to Bodybuilding on Keto.
#5 You’re Eating Cheat Meals Too Frequently
Unfortunately, these cheat meals can quickly turn into binges on sugary and processed foods that take you out of ketosis and lead to glycogen retention and bloating. The result is the scale jumps way up, often 10+ pounds in a matter of 6-8 hours.
Naturally, this sudden weight gain can make people feel like they “ruined” all their progress and it’s not even worth it to try anymore. So what happens? They stop keto and revert back to previous eating habits.
The keto diet isn’t going to work if you’re not actually sticking to it, just like any other diet would fail if you are frequently binging on unhealthy foods.
As stated numerous times in this article, energy balance is critical for weight management. There really is no way around this, if you want to lose weight, you have to expend more energy (calories) than you consume.
In some ways, this is a liberating fact, in that weight loss isn’t as complicated as some people make it out to be.
One of the main reasons the keto diet can be so beneficial for weight loss is that it tends to help people control their appetite better, which leads to less calorie intake. The key is to really stick to the diet and cheat as little as possible.
Now, does this mean you can’t enjoy a slice of cake or a few pieces of pizza on some occasions?
Absolutely not. We realize that life is short and if your family is having some delicious celebratory pie for Thanksgiving, then chances are you want to join them.
But don’t misconstrue this to mean that you should be having a cheat meal every week, as this can result in sudden weight gain on keto and is not conducive to optimizing the benefits of ketosis.
The good news is that there are ways to quickly get back into ketosis after you have a cheat meal, which you can learn more about by clicking here.
Sudden Weight Gain on Keto: Key Takeaways
- Sudden weight gain on keto isn’t uncommon. If you’re actively trying to lose weight and the opposite happens, it’s generally something that you can fix rather simply.
- In the event that you experience severe gut pain and bloating shortly after starting the keto diet, be sure you don’t have any gallbladder issues as a high-fat diet will make them worse.
- If you recently had your gallbladder removed, you need to restrict your intake of processed foods, certain dairy products, and fatty meats. Use the recommendations in this article to make the right food choices for keto without a gallbladder. (As always, you should listen to your body and keep your primary doctor apprised of your dietary habits if you have had a cholecystectomy.)
- Be sure you’re not cheating often on the keto diet, especially when you’re first starting out. On special occasions, it’s okay to indulge, but binging on sugary foods should not be a regular thing.
- If you aren’t tracking your food intake and can’t seem to lose weight, you need to invest in a food scale and download a food-tracking app. Don’t guess how much you’re eating; know how much you’re eating!
- Exercising isn’t absolutely necessary, but if you’re experiencing sudden weight gain on keto, it behooves you to start. Even a daily, modest-pace walk or bike ride can help you burn more energy and shift your calorie balance in favor of weight loss.
- If you aren’t sure how many calories and macros you should eat every day, then try using our keto diet macro calculator as a starting point. If you gain weight after the first two weeks, reduce your calorie intake by 10-15% and reassess again after another week. Repeat as necessary until you’re consistently losing 1-2 pounds per week.