The day comes when you want to reward yourself for all the progress you've made on the keto diet so far.
It’s your best friend’s birthday, and the birthday cake looks oh-so good.
You’ve had a week… to say the least, and all you want is a classic comfort meal.
You’re now at a crossroad. Do you stay keto or do you have a cheat day? However you’ve found yourself at this crossroad of staying keto or indulging in carbs doesn’t really matter, what matters is what you do next. Know that this time will come for all keto dieters and now there is only one question you need the answer to.
The eternal question: Can you have a cheat day on keto?
In short, there is no short answer. The most obvious answer is it’d be better for your keto success if you didn’t. While that’s true for most diets, the ketogenic diet is especially unique because immediately when you start putting a high amount of carbs back into your system, your body is knocked out of ketosis, the very state that was helping increase your overall well-being and weight loss.
We fully understand that still leaves you with a lot of questions, though — like, “What if I cheat on keto?” or “How many grams of carbs will take you out of ketosis?” or even “How can I get into ketosis instantly?” Wouldn’t that be nice… more on this later. Here’s what you need to know before (or even after) you cheat on the keto diet.
Consequences of Cheating on the Keto Diet
We all probably know by now that a keto diet is the pathway to achieve ketosis. When you’re in ketosis, fat is the primary source of fuel and not carbohydrates. Even a single day of high-carb eating will right away turn the body into a glycolysis state. This means that most of your cells will again use sugar for energy.
Here are other things that may happen to your body on cheat days:
Experience Keto Flu Symptoms
First-time keto dieters experience what is known as “keto flu.” This happens with the drastic change your body goes through — from glycolysis to ketosis. The common symptoms felt during a bout of keto flu range from gastric issues, headache, low energy levels, and bloating. Going off the wagon with the keto diet and then returning to ketosis may cause you to experience this again. However, not everyone experiences keto flu symptoms.
While real weight gain may not be seen immediately, water weight and water retention generally come about quickly after eating carbs. The water weight you lost while on the keto diet will most likely be gained back — and if you stray from the diet long enough, additional weight may be added on.
If you’re able to transition from eating carbs back to ketosis quickly, with only a slight hiccup in your diet, the water weight will fall back off once you enter ketosis again.
Low energy levels
Ketones are a potent fuel source for your brain, so when your body starts running off of them, many people begin experiencing greater mental clarity and increased energy levels. When carb re-enter the picture, you can begin experiencing lower energy overall and the familiar mid-afternoon crashes, also partly due to blood sugar not being as regulated.
Cravings and Hunger
Hopefully you made it far enough along into your keto diet before cheating that you’d felt the powerful satiation of healthy fats and stopped experiencing those dreaded sugar and carb cravings — thanks to well-regulated blood sugar levels. When you start eating carbs again, you’re welcoming those cravings back into your system, so tread carefully.
Keto Cheat Recovery
Accept and Move on
Let’s face it: the keto diet can be hard, especially when you’re busy, on the go, or have just had a bad week. The first thing to recovering from your cheat day on keto (or cheat days) is to accept that it happened and move on. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Slip-ups happen… Premeditated slips happen. Toss out your bag of potato chips and get right back on the bandwagon to experience the benefits of keto you were drawn to in the first place.
Restock on Keto Foods
The most obvious step to recovering from a cheat day is to start eating “keto” again. You can’t get into ketosis without this step. Say goodbye to carbs and hello to healthy fats again to find your way back to that optimal fat-burning and energy-providing state.
Have you ever heard of intermittent fasting? It’s a way of eating with distinct and planned out periods of not-eating and eating. There are a number of different variations of intermittent fasting you could play around with. The most common of all is skipping breakfast and simply enjoying water and coffee (if you drink it) for the first five or six hours after waking up. Intermittent fasting will not be for everyone, and if it’s not for you, that’s okay! But if you want to give it a try, it can help aid your body in reducing the glycogen that was restored during your cheat.
Take Exogenous Ketones
While the most important part of a successful diet is the food you eat, supplementing can help you achieve the results you want quicker and more easily. BHB exogenous ketones provide your body with instant ketones and have been clinically shown to raise blood ketone levels. This helps you shift into ketosis and sustain a ketogenic state. That makes them a great option when starting out on a keto diet to help you avoid the keto flu or after a heavy day of carbohydrates to help quickly return to ketosis. Once your body burns through the exogenous ketones, it will start looking for other sources of ketones through... yep, you guessed it, fat stores.
The Idea of Low-Carb Cheat Days
Now, if you’ve been asking yourself, “Can I have a keto cheat day once a week?,” there is a way to have routine cheat days without having to feel guilty about it… but you have to rethink what you consider a cheat day.
One option is carb cycling, which is actually a great option if you’ve hit a keto diet plateau. When done correctly, you’ll jolt your metabolism and body to get over that lull in fat loss. When considering eating carbs for benefits, though, keep in mind you can’t go wild with ice cream or half a loaf of bread, but if your typical keto day includes 20 grams of carbs, a low-carb cheat day could include 50 grams of carbs. Then keep that cycle going.
Conclusion about Taking a Keto Diet Cheat Day
Cheating on any diet is never the best option, but if you have a special event or just want to try a carb, your keto diet isn’t doomed. You’ll more than likely fall out of ketosis, but there is always a way back. And if you’ve given keto a try for over a month and are really struggling, it’s okay (and may even be better) to try a cyclic keto approach. Swap between keto days and low-carb days to watch the pounds fall off and enjoy the benefits of keto without totally stressing yourself out over it.