Cheat days are a common practice in any diet. But are cheat days on keto really necessary? What happens if you cheat?
Let me be honest with you. Back when I started the keto diet, one of the things I looked forward to was having a cheat day. I anticipated the fact that along the way, I would somehow miss certain high-carb foods and drinks. Desserts, especially.
Yet, these questions popped up in my mind:
- Will cheat days kick me out of ketosis?
- If I take a cheat day, how can I do it right?
- How can I get back on track after taking a day off from the diet?
Here’s what you should know.
Can I Have A Cheat Day on Keto?
When it comes to cheat days, ponder on these two words: Goals and consequences. That will be the basis of whether or not you can have a cheat day.
We’ll dig a little deeper.
If you’re following the keto diet because you have a medical condition which the diet has been recommended for, a cheat day might affect your health. For instance, let’s say that your doctor prescribed a keto diet to resolve your Type 2 Diabetes and lower your blood pressure. This tells us that it is vital for you to adhere to your low-carb diet plan to maintain ketosis(1).
So you might want to rethink a cheat day because of the possible implications. One thing we can be sure of is that it will ruin ketosis.
A recently published study from the University of British Columbia Okanagan showed that re-introducing a dose of glucose, such as a large bottle of soda, causes damage in blood vessel walls. Even if the subjects who took the glucose drink were healthy young males, their findings showed “someone with poor cardiovascular health(2).
Some people, on the other hand, follow the keto diet to achieve personal goals such as weight loss(3). Cheat days may give them a sense of freedom to enjoy “comfort” foods and a boost in motivation. Actress and ketoer Hally Berry once told Healthline that sometimes it’s important to be able to satisfy your cravings, as long as you get back on track immediately.
Will One Cheat Day Ruin Ketosis?
There’s no beating around the bush. Yes, a cheat day will kick you out of ketosis.
Think about what happens when you replenish your glycogen stores as you eat carbohydrates. You could experience keto flu symptoms again — headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, stomach discomfort, and decreased energy(4).
Here’s what happens when you consume more carbs than you need on keto:
- Glucose from your cheat meal builds up in your bloodstream and causes a blood sugar spike.
- Excess glucose gets stored in your muscle and liver tissues.
- Ketone levels drop which means that you are out of ketosis. (In nutritional ketosis, optimal ketone levels are from 0.5 to 3 mg/dL).
Your body will continue to produce only a small amount of ketones unless you limit carbs to get back into ketosis(5).
In addition, it’s possible that cheating will cause you to crave carbs and sugar more than ever. This is something to ponder on. Is it really worth it?
Finally, be prepared to do the work of entering ketosis again. Remember that it will take about 2-4 days to a week to get into this metabolic state. You will probably need to incorporate a fast or be more active to induce ketosis sooner. It’s good practice to check your ketone levels too.
How to Cheat on Keto The Right Way
It’s kind of funny how “cheating” can be done right, don’t you think? But unless your keto diet is prescribed by your doctor, an occasional indulgence may benefit you mentally and emotionally.
Whether you want to satisfy your taste buds or you’re attending a party, here are five cheat day tips to follow:
1. Have a cheat meal instead of a cheat day.
Instead of breaking the rules of the keto diet the whole day, pick just one meal. It could be lunch or dinner on a weekend when you’re more relaxed and less likely to go overboard.
2. Opt for a small indulgence.
Craving for sweets? Here are some comfort foods with less than 50 grams of total carbs that will satisfy you. Having one serving of the options below may keep you from sabotaging all your hard work:
- 1 slice of a 14-inch pizza, regular crust – 36g carbs
- 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream – 23g carbs
- 1 slice of cheesecake – 20g carbs
- 1 small bagel – 35g carbs
- 1 piece (1 oz) of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa – 13g carbs
- 1 medium chocolate chip cookie – 20g carbs
Important tip: If you’re getting a treat at the grocery, always check the nutritional facts label!
3. Choose keto-friendly options.
There is no limit to comfort foods that are keto-approved.
You can, in fact, make your own low-carb dessert at home in less time. For baked goods, use almond flour or coconut flour. They’re popular options. For your sweetener, use stevia or erythritol.
Here are some ideas — coconut and avocado smoothie, no-bake energy balls made with almond butter, and almond flour pancakes.
Why don’t you do a low-carb swap? For example, instead of traditional spaghetti carbonara, make keto carbonara using angel hair noodles. Or if you’re craving for crunchy chips, have cheese crisps or veggie sticks instead.
4. Cheat on macros.
I have to admit that there are times when I want to have an extra serving of keto food. But I can’t because that means going over my specific macros for the day. A cheat day would be an opportunity to take advantage of another bowl of Keto Zuppa Toscana or steak!
You might exceed your macros, but the point is to stick with foods that are keto. This way, you won’t feel restricted and guilty at the same time.
5. Have a plan.
The best way to have an optimal cheat day is to make it a planned one. Don’t do it randomly. Like, for example, you’ve had a tough shift at work and decided to grab some pizza on your way home — and now call it a cheat meal. It doesn’t work that way.
Planning your cheat day allows you to be intentional about your food choices and also avoid food intolerances.
How to Recover from A Keto Cheat Day
Now that your cheat day has come to an end, the next thing you need is to get back into ketosis — also known as a “keto reboot.”
Intermittent fasting is a great way to deplete your glycogen stores and use fatty acids from your fat cells(6). You could start your first meal of the day at lunchtime so that you skip breakfast.
Exercise is another option. Doing it in a fasted state helps your body tap into its stored fat. Try cardio and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts.
While you’re doing these, hit your keto macros daily. Stick to your meal plan. Test for ketosis.
People on strict diets usually incorporate cheat days to avoid feeling deprived. Cheat days can be a tool to reward oneself and increase motivation.
But on a keto diet, it could be a different story. Remember that the goal of the diet is to maintain a metabolic state in which your body produces ketones. A cheat day can easily ruin that. Re-entering ketosis after a cheat day will also subject you to keto flu symptoms.
Most importantly, are you following a ketogenic diet plan because your doctor told you to? Unless your health care provider gives you permission to take a break, a cheat day would not be the best option.
If this is not the case, make sure you have a plan — and implement a cheat day the right way.