After starting a strict low-carb diet, one of the first questions most people ask is – can I have a keto cheat day?
But why does anyone want to cheat on a new diet? That’s because keto is h-a-r-d! Especially if you jumped right in without preparing your body for what’s to come on a high-fat diet.
Keep reading to learn if a cheat day on keto is ok, why most people cheat (so you quit cheating), and how to stay on track. As a bonus, we’ll also talk about the right way to cheat while still getting results.
Can You Have Cheat Days on Keto?
If a week or two in you find yourself saying, “Ugh, I cheated on keto!” – you’re not alone. Sometimes no matter how determined you are to meet your weight loss goals, cheating on keto is inevitable.
But should you have a cheat day on keto?
Having cheat days really depends on where you are in the process. If you’re brand new, it’s important to follow a strict keto diet to get consistent results. However, if you’ve followed a low carb diet for a while, sometimes cheating on keto is a good thing – especially if you’re fat adapted.
Cheating Keto is Cheating Yourself
While you may think a single cheat day isn’t a big deal, if you’re not already fat adapted prior to embarking on a keto cheat day – you could be ruining all of the hard work you put in that week.
Did you know it can take new dieters up to seven days to get into ketosis? And that’s only if you do everything right! So if you aim for a keto cheat day once a week as a reward – all of your hard work could be in vain.
The reason for this is your body prefers carbs as a fuel source since carbohydrates are the easiest and quickest energy source to break down. Switching over to ketones as a fuel source is hard work, which means shifting into the metabolic state of ketosis takes time.
Your body won’t want to make the transition into ketosis if you keep reminding it there’s an easier fuel source readily available. That’s a big reason carb cravings on keto might not go away. And cravings that won’t quit make you want to be a big old cheater, cheater, sneaky carb eater.
Plus, you could gain weight when you add in too many carbs after eating a high fat diet all week.
Whether this is your first time, or even if you’ve attempted keto several times in the past – it can take months of remaining in a steady state of ketosis before you’re able to indulge in even a single cheat meal – at least if you want results.
We’ll talk about the best way to “cheat on keto” while still getting results in a minute. Before we get there, it’s important to understand what happens when you cheat, as well as why you have the urge to cheat on a low carb diet.
Understanding how detrimental even one small keto cheat is might deter you from giving into your favorite foods. Plus, when you stop asking questions like, how can I cheat on keto? – it’s easier to stay consistent with a keto lifestyle long enough to get results.
What Happens When You Cheat
While adding in a few extra grams of carbohydrates seems innocent enough, let’s find out what happens when you have a cheat day on keto.
First, you have a blood sugar spike. A rise in blood glucose makes an abundance of quick energy available. Of course, your body burns this fuel before stored body fat since it’s an easier process. Just like that, you switched back from using fat as fuel to using glucose as your main fuel source.
Once you make the switch to burning glucose, ketone production stops. Then, the majority of sugars you eat are used to replenish glycogen stores. Ketone production won’t return until all of those stores are empty.
Now if you think you’re smarter than the average bear because you’re not indulging in high sugar foods during a cheat day, please understand that all carbohydrates are turned into glucose (aka, sugar) in the body. This is true whether the carbs come from candy, fruits, or even “healthy whole grains”.
The carbs you eat will cause at least a temporary gain in water weight. This gain could also turn into more body fat if you end up eating too many carbs plus too much fat that week.
Even though you restart your carb count each day, fat loss doesn’t work on a daily basis. How much fat you lose is determined by the actions you take over a 10-14 day period.
After cheating, your body continues to use up all available glucose and glycogen stores until you run out. But how long does that take?
According to ruled.me, it takes 18-24 hours to deplete glycogen stores while in a fasted state. Fasted means not eating any food at all – not simply lowering carb intake with keto-friendly meals. Then it takes an additional 2 days to get back into ketosis.
That means it takes even longer to get back into ketosis for those who aren’t following an extended intermittent fasting schedule. That’s the reason many experts believe it takes up to a week to get back into ketosis when a new keto dieter cheats.
Why Cheat on Keto?
Even with lofty health goals and a will of steel, why do new keto dieters have the urge to cheat?
While your reason for cheating on keto will vary, the most common reasons people cheat comes down to three categories:
- How you feel
- Dieting habits
- Not following keto correctly
Since you already understand a keto cheat day isn’t a good idea, let’s figure out the reason you want to cheat in the first place. That way you can stop your keto cheating ways dead in their tracks.
How You Feel
The main reason most people run for the high-carb foods after only a few days or weeks of following a ketogenic diet is based on how they feel. After all, who wants to stick with a diet that makes you feel crappy?
Some of the reasons transitioning into a state of ketosis makes new keto dieters feel bad include:
Keto Flu Symptoms: Experiencing symptoms of the keto flu isn’t any fun. This is even more true if you haven’t put in the research to understand what the keto flu is, and how to ease the symptoms before they start.
Carb Cravings: If your cravings for sugary foods are out of control, will power can only take you so far. Even though sugar cravings subside for some dieters after ditching extra carbs and eating more real food, others aren’t so lucky. This is largely due to digestive issues that haven’t been improved.
Digestion: A low carbohydrate diet is already hard enough. If you haven’t taken time to improve digestion problems that arise from years of following mainstream diets, or taking medications to deal with the adverse effects of following those diets, sticking to keto might be impossible. Not properly digesting foods that are necessary on keto is a good reason to end your keto journey early.
Weight Gain: Most dieters lack patience and want results right away. If you step on the scale within a few days, or even a few weeks – you might not lose much weight. In fact, you could even gain weight. That makes most keto dieters feel bad enough to cheat.
How to Stay on Track:
- Put in the research prior to starting keto: Understand what the keto flu is and how to avoid the unpleasant symptoms.
- Work on improving digestion to make keto easier to stick to.
- Have patience: Keto isn’t as magical as most people think. Results take time and effort.
- Learn the right ways to track results: Results show up in different ways. Learning the right and wrong ways to track is vital so you don’t give up too soon!
Ditching the standard American diet in favor of a keto meal plan isn’t the first rodeo for most dieters. Since most of us have been around the dieting block before, you’ve likely developed habits which trigger food choices that aren’t ideal.
Some of these habits include:
A special occasion: Doesn’t it feel like every time you start a new diet, there’s always a reason to stray. With 365 days a year filled with holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries – you can find plenty of excuses to take a day off.
Feeling Left Out: While it’s a great idea to stay social, you may feel left out in social situations where none of your friends follow strict diets.
Bad Habits: Any new diet can lead to a vicious cycle of the best intentions, followed by returning habits that hinder weight loss. One example is a keto cheat on weekends. If you follow the keto rules perfectly during the week, then give yourself the weekend off as a reward – that’s a great way to destroy the gains you made.
Reward Meals: Many diets allow for weekly cheat meals to help you stay on track. Unfortunately a cheat meal on keto doesn’t work the same way. Even though you believe one high carb meal won’t harm your weight loss efforts, the truth is – that single meal could mean starting from scratch.
How to Stay on Track:
- Instead of cheating with high carb foods, learn keto-friendly alternatives that still make a special day special.
- Kick bad habits like reward meals and weekend keto cheats to the curb.
- Create new habit connections. For example, instead of associating weekends with indulging in a high amount of carbs – view weekend days the same as weekdays.
Not Following Keto Correctly
Finally, you could be cheating on keto without even realizing it! Keto has become quite popular. As a result, there are plenty of experts teaching different ways to follow keto.
Even when you stick to the rules, following some popular advice can lead to a keto diet cheat day – even if you don’t know it. Examples include:
Too Many Keto-Friendly Foods: While eating keto-friendly versions of your favorite comfort foods could help you stay on track, it’s a great way to lead to more cravings for others. This is especially true when you overdo processed treats – like keto bars and low carb candy. However, even foods made with keto-friendly ingredients like almond flour can be detrimental for some.
Not Enough Healthy Fats: Keto is a high fat diet. While you never want to overeat fat, you need to eat enough fat to trigger ketosis. Even though many experts still warn to keep caloric intake low, you could have a hard time getting into ketosis if your body doesn’t feel safe enough to let go of stored fat. This happens when you don’t fuel yourself with enough healthy fats in the name of weight loss.
Too Many Grams of Carbs: You could unknowingly cheat by following net carbs instead of total carbs. When you don’t count carbs that your body does, you’re cheating on keto without even realizing it.
Carb Cycling: Even though a cyclical ketogenic diet can help with metabolic flexibility in the long run, as a general rule you need to wait until you are fat adapted prior to adding this method to your fat loss plan.
How to Stay on Track:
- Focus on following a real food diet most of the time.
- Calculate macros correctly so you don’t under-eat fat or overeat carbs.
- Learn the tell tale signs of fat adaptation before adding in a keto cheat day once per week with a carb cycling method.
Can You Have Cheat Days on Keto?
Even though many believe a single day filled with your favorite foods isn’t the end of the world, hopefully you see how going over your carb limit even once each week can lead to you spinning your wheels.
If you still want to know how to cheat on keto while getting results, I have good news! There’s an easy way to make it feel like you’re cheating on keto – even when you’re not!
Remember all of those keto fun foods we talked about? Things like processed keto bars, low carb candy, and even keto-friendly versions of your favorite meals, like french toast or pizza?
Even though many keto dieters go into a low carb diet looking for replacements of all of their old favorites, that’s not the best approach to keto. Instead of looking for the best low carb bread for everyday use, train yourself to eat more real foods like meat, eggs, and vegetables. This can help both your palate and mindset adjust.
When you spend less time looking for low carb replacements, and more time eating the real foods humans are meant to eat – you get better results!
Then, you can save low carb replacements for when cravings strike. This makes you feel like you’re having a keto cheat meal without actually cheating!
Make Keto Easy
Even though following keto the right way is an adjustment – it doesn’t have to be hard. I finally learned this after struggling with low carb diets for more than 20 years!
Learn all of the tricks I used to lose 100 pounds and finally make a low carb diet stick. Since then, hundreds of women have used this same info to lose weight with keto – even when every other plan failed.
Keto Cheat Day