Cheat days are something people on a diet look forward to. When you’re on keto, however, cheating can be tricky since you’re very likely to get kicked out of ketosis. This article explains how cheat days might affect you and different ways to have a ketogenic diet cheat day if you choose to have it.
Can You Have a Cheat Day on Keto?
The short answer is yes. Although a cheat day will likely increase the number of carbohydrates you eat, it won’t greatly affect your progress if your main goal is to lose weight.
Some sources even claim that cheat meals can be used as a tool to raise leptin, a hormone that decreases appetite, which ultimately helps with weight control. A 2021 mini-review article noted a study on healthy women who increased their carbs by 40%. This boosted their plasma ketone levels by 28% and their 24-hour energy expenditure by 7%.
If staying on the keto diet for weeks — more specifically, maintaining a state of ketosis — leaves you feeling hungrier and too tired to workout, cheat meals on your keto diet may be a good idea.
Cheat days may also give you the freedom to sometimes enjoy “comfort” foods, which breaks the monotony of dieting. For some people, restrictions negatively affect their mental health. On the contrary, indulging can also be unhealthy for those with disordered eating tendencies.
However, if you’re following the keto diet as per your healthcare provider’s advice due to a medical condition, cheat days might have negative effects on your health. For instance, following a doctor-prescribed keto diet to resolve Type 2 Diabetes and lower your blood pressure. This makes it vital to adhere to your low-carb diet plan (1).
Before coming off the keto diet, speak with your healthcare provider.
Will Cheat Day Kick You Out of 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 (2).
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 (3).
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.
Tips to Do Keto Cheat Days Right
It’s kind of funny how cheat meals on your keto diet can be done right, don’t you think? But unless your 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 keto diet 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 or buy some low-carb sweet treats. For baked goods, use almond flour or coconut flour. They’re popular options. For your sweetener, use stevia or erythritol.
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 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. 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.
Recovering After 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.”
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. Going off a keto diet by having 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 having keto cheat days 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 healthcare 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.
- Athinarayanan S, Adams R, Hallberg S et al. Long-Term Effects of a Novel Continuous Remote Care Intervention Including Nutritional Ketosis for the Management of Type 2 Diabetes: A 2-Year Non-randomized Clinical Trial. 2019 June 05
- Bostock E, Kirkby K, Taylor B et al. Consumer Reports of “Keto Flu” Associated With the Ketogenic Diet. 2020 March 13
- Dhillon K, Gupta S. Biochemistry, Ketogenesis. 2022 February 10
- Anton S, Moehl K, Donahoo W et al. Flipping the Metabolic Switch: Understanding and Applying Health Benefits of Fasting. 2017 October 31