You had a rough day at work. Your car broke down.
You didn't get time to go for a lunch because Susan thought that it was a good time to mess up at work.
It's evening now and god that pizza sounds good. Then that Ben&Jerry's ice-cream at the bottom of your fridge starts screaming your name.
Soon, everything went from bad to worse very quickly.
We all have been there. More than once. Probably more than hundreds of times. You are probably here because you are wondering if it's okay to have a cheat day while on keto.
Or you already had a weekend full of a binge-eating carb fest.
Either way, you are in the right place.
We will cover everything: from where does cheat days fit in keto diet, what happens to your body after you cheat and what is the fastest way to get back into a ketosis.
Let's dive in.
Can I have cheat days while on Keto?
No, you don't get a short answer for this one. Keep reading.
The term cheat day sounds ambiguous and somewhat self-destructive. Who are you really cheating? Are you cheating yourself out of great results?
Look, I get it. Sometimes you feel like shit and life happens. Sometimes you just want some treats and there's nothing to do about it.
The problem with cheat days is that it often sounds like a comforting plan B if things don't work out. In some ways, we often want to keep the door B open, just in case.
This also means that you are not going full-in. Which in turn can sometimes mean that you are not getting the results because you are keeping the door B open?
The same is with the keto diet. You may be wondering if just one cheat day will kick you out of ketosis and ruin your weight loss efforts?
Why cheating while keto is different?
Let's be honest for a second. Cheat days will bring more complexity to your diet than good. At least this is the case with the keto diet.
I am not starting to discuss, if cheat meals or even days, are good for you or not. This is a whole other topic.
But what I will say is that cheat days during keto diet will usually postpone your weight loss efforts. Opposed to high-carb diets.
Keto diet is pretty simple: cut out carbs and eat lots of fats. But unlike many other diets, keto diet does not have so much wiggle room. This is thanks to the ketone bodies that you need in order to be in ketosis and burn fat.
And getting into and staying in ketosis takes time and effort. In order, to take full advantage of the keto diet, you need to be in the state of ketosis and your body needs to be running solely on fat.
The carbs you eat will stop your ketone production until they are burnt out or stored away.
Achieving ketosis is not rocket science, but it takes time and effort. Every time you cheat, you most likely reset your progress and need to start again. This back-and-forth hopping will stretch the weight loss process and it will take more effort to burn fat.
This is the reason why we don't suggest using cheat days while on keto. Cmon, you can eat full-fat whipping cream and bacon as a breakfast. This is life.
Why do cheat days happen?
Cheating during diet usually happens because of two main reasons: emotions and alcohol.
Comfort eating is something everyone does, and this is often the easiest and fastest ways to deal with difficult times.
You could be stressed, angry, a social event or hundred other things, and you may seek comfort in alcohol or sugary foods. After all, they will raise your mood and maybe make you forget, although temporarily.
The ability to recover quickly after a horrible binge eating is essential to ketogenic success.
Once you accept, that occasional cheat day is not the end of the world (but not suggested also), you can use the extra energy to your advantage.
After you will experience cheat days couple of times, you will start understanding how your body works.
How to offset the damage and how to live with that, because at the end of the day, you cannot follow your strict diet always fully for the next 40 years.
What happens if I cheat while on Keto?
Now, let's go over some consequences of having cheat meals. Here are some things to consider, before kickstarting into the deep end of high-carb junk food and emotional binge eating.
You will be kicked out of ketosis
Before you get all emotional and worked up, on a topic if you will be kicked out of ketosis or not. Let's go over some basics.
First, there is a difference between a light cheat meal (e.g. ice-cream or a small burger) vs. full weekend of eating whatever you see the festival.
For example, what is the difference between eating a single Oreo cookie versus a whole plate of pasta?
One cookie will have a lot less amount of carbs as the whole plate of pasta has. One cookie will be digested and used up pretty quickly.
Whereas the plate of pasta will be digested several hours (normally meals takes our bodies around 4-6 hours to digest (source). So your body needs to start digesting all the carbs now. Also, a large part of the glucose will end up as liver glycogen.
A full plate of pasta can kick you out of ketosis at least 16-21 hours. This is assuming, your ketone production takes about as long as ketone clearance.
Another part of the equation is if you are keto-adapted or not.
How your body responds comes down to if you are keto-adapted or not. Keto adoption essentially means that your body is running on ketones for fuel (as opposed to glucose).
If you are keto-adapted, and you are well deep in ketosis over 8-12 weeks then eating a one-time cheat meal probably will not spike the blood sugar as high as one would expect.
If a person is not keto-adapted and will eat for example a pizza, then their blood sugar will skyrocket very fast.
If you are keto-adapted, your blood sugar will spike but it will go down pretty quickly. If you are just starting out with ketosis then you will have a problem.
Let's not be too dramatic here. It really depends how much and what you eat. Probably the most convenient ways to know if you are in ketosis or not is to use a breath meter.
You will gain weight
Cheat meals, as well as cheat days, almost always lead to immediate weight gains. Carbohydrates will put your body back into fat storing mode and you will swell up.
Also, with carbs, there comes hunger and more cravings, thanks to what you probably eat even more.
Depending on how much you eat and what, but usually the weight gain for first days will come from water weight that comes from high-carb foods.
Once you go low-carb the water weight will be flushed out.
Cheating causes hunger and cravings
One of the best perks of the keto diet is that it is very low craving or almost craving free diet. Once you are fat adapted and well deep in ketosis. Why? Because it's perfect for stabilizing blood glucose.
Once you start eating pizza, your blood sugar will spike, and you will start wanting more. Carbs will make you hungry.
From there, it's very easy to step into a downward spiral.
The interesting thing about food cravings is that scientific studies have shown, that when we are craving junk food, we actually are craving fat.
Wait, that is what keto is about right? Yes. But, most people mistake these cravings for a carb craving, because it's everywhere.
The problem with cheat meals is that what starts out as a moderate carb snack, will quickly end up a weekend binge eating contest which will often start a physical as well as an emotional downward spiral.
Fortunately there are more keto-friendly snacks available.
Cheating will affect your fat adaption
Getting into ketosis is no simple task for your body. It has to make changes like altering hormones and increasing enzyme production in order to optimize the fat burning state.
Having cheat days can prevent your body continuing this process long enough to stay in ketosis. If you are not maintaining ketosis, your body will not start the fat-burning process.
Think about it. You spend so much time and effort, to turn your body into a crazy fat burning state. But once you are kicked out of ketosis, you will need to start that process all over again.
Usually, immediate next day weight gain, after cheat meals is water weight. But the more cheat meals you have farther you sail from fat ketosis and fat adaption.
You can enjoy the keto flu again
You remember your first time you experienced fatigue, low energy, headaches - keto flu? Yeah, that wasn't very enjoyable.
Depending on how often and how deep you go with the cheating, the keto flu is a thing to consider.
When you start going back and forth between cheat meals and ketosis, you probably will start seeing keto-flu symptoms again. In this case, yes, using supplemental ketones can help, but this is not a sustainable way of eating.
Keto diet can already be challenging at times - strict eating rules, challenging emotionally and so on.
If you add a weekly keto flu on top of this equation, then the weight loss process doesn't sound so appealing anymore.
I had a cheat day. How to get back into ketosis?
First, verify if you truly are kicked out of ketosis or not. You may have a small cheat meal that didn't affect your body much and is all well burned out by now.
If you truly are being kicked out of dear ketosis, it's time to start recovering damages.
Actually, offsetting a horrible cheat day is not as hard and time-consuming as one can think.
Its harder emotionally than physically. Everyone wants to get into ketosis ASAP, but the good news is that you can speed up the process.
Now let's see what we can actually do to speed up the recovery process and get you back into ketosis in no time.
How long does it take to get back into ketosis?
The time, how much it takes to convert your body back into the fat burning state, rather than glucose, is slightly different for each person. This depends on how much you cheated.
Did you ate one tub of ice-cream or went overboard and did a binge eating marathon during the weekend?
In general, people get back into ketosis around 1-3 days (sometimes more). Now the time can vary depending on how you act on the day after.
Do you work out, how do you eat, do you take supplements and so on. All of them have their own role to play in the recovery game.
If you are cheating weekly, then just do the math and think about it: you will achieve the optimum fat burning mode once a week, at best? Is it worth it the hassle?
What to do next?
So, you cheated on your keto diet? Maybe you got drunk off whiskeys last night which ended with eating a bag of M&M’s or even extra-large pizza? Fast forwarding to this morning and you feel awful?
No worries, all is not lost.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
Before you do anything, understand this. Life is a messy thing and things don’t go always as planned.
Sometimes you just need that pancake and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.
Sometimes things go bad and you cannot follow your keto diet or even your daily plans.
Following a ketogenic diet is a “lifestyle”. You cannot be 100% correct in everything. The good thing about eating carbs is that you can always stop eating them and start following keto diet again.
First times are tough but after a couple of keto cheat days, you start thinking differently.
Shame, guilt, and apathy are one of the worst emotions you can experience because they keep you in this miserable state of negativity and self-criticism.
With these emotions, it’s almost impossible to achieve anything.
Go low carb
This is the most important part of recovering from cheat days!
This may sound obvious, but the main thing you can do now is to cut off carbs and go full-fat again. Your glycogen stores are full, from previous days cheat meals and carbohydrate-rich foods.
It is time to start eating ketogenic again.
Start focusing again on high-fat foods and keep your protein intake moderate, with very low or zero carbs.
This means eating fatty meats, coconut oil, leafy veggies and so on.
You may be wondering, how much should you eat?
We suggest, lowering your post cheat day calorie intake. If you eat a caloric surplus during your cheat day, then you should compensate eating less during the next day.
Typically it's a good start to have a 20% deficit from your maintenance. This will boost your recovery process.
You may found it difficult to get back into ketosis after a cheat day. The mental and emotional struggle is real and will sabotage your efforts. You will start self-rationalizing and it may take days to get back on track.
The real question is, how much willpower do you have to get back on the keto horse?
If there would be only one thing to take from this article, then this is it: "To recover from cheat day, just start all over again and go low carb. That's it."
If you gained weight
The day afterward is probably the most important time you can act to offset your binge eating damage.
If a cheat day happened, it happened, no need to go overboard or your 1 keto cheat day will go over 1 week of binge eating and feel bad about yourself. From there it’s way harder to recover.
Now, you want to set aside the cheat meals and focus back on your keto diet. In the following morning, you probably want to avoid the scale. Why? Because it probably makes you more nervous than it’s worth.
Also, you will probably get a good muscle pump out of carbs, because all your glycogen stores are full now.
If you gained weight then it’s probably water weight, so no worries. There is nothing you can specifically do about it. Just cut down your carbs.
Ignore your weight and move on.
Intermittent fasting is gaining more and more popularity and it's a perfect tool to supplement your diet. The idea behind intermittent fasting is to time your food intake.
Intermittent fasting is way deeper topic itself than described here. There are many variations of this.
The most value you can get from it during your recovery phase is if you just postpone your breakfast. In the simplest terms don’t eat anything 5-6 hours after waking up, just drink water or black coffee.
This helps your body to deplete all your body’s glycogen stores. Your liver needs to be emptied first before it can start converting fat to fuel.
PS! Fasting is not required for the keto diet. If it doesn't suit you then no problem. Just ignore this.
Do a fasted cardio
In order to help your body to deplete your glycogen stores from carbs, it would be beneficial to do some kind of training.
As with intermittent fasting, this is not a must, but this will speed up the depletion of energy stores.
Low intense cardio is perfect together with fasted state. Do an hour of walking or jogging at normal speed.
The only thing to consume before a workout, if you really need something is caffeine.
Caffeine will provide you enough energy if you are in a low state.
What to consume?
There are various products that can help you recover and achieve ketosis less painfully and faster. Now, these are not everlasting fixes, but more things that will help and support your ketogenic journey.
Do you need to take supplements to get back into ketosis? NO!
Do they help? Yes.
Black coffee makes it easier to do intermittent fasting. It is a perfect appetite suppressor, it gives you an energy boost and makes you burn more fat at the same time. It's ideal tool in your keto diet regimen.
You can also spice things up with bulletproof coffee by adding MCT oil to your hot beverage.
This is probably the fastest route to ketosis. As a caution, I will suggest supporting your diet with exogenous ketones, not rely on them. Fat loss comes from the diet itself, not from supplements.
Exogenous ketones are man-made ketone supplements, which are ingested through a nutritional supplement. There are numerous positive effects of using exogenous ketones like avoiding keto flu, improving athletic performance, cognitive benefits, improved focus, speeding up ketosis.
Regardless of your goals to increase performance, cognitive abilities or something else, exogenous ketones should be a part of your diet regimen. These supplements will add some wiggle room into your diet and help to overcome any downfalls you may get.
There are many ways to take advantage of exogenous ketones. Our favorite ketone product is Perfect Keto which is no doubt the best tasting keto supplement out there. You do know that most of exogenous ketones taste like soles right?
PS! If you want to give Perfect Keto a shot, then use a special code "BODYKETOSIS" and save 15% on your order.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is overall one very powerful product, regardless if you are on keto or not. It will help to lower your blood sugar, it will improve digestion and it helps your body to create more ketone bodies. This is an awesome product to take every day, not only after cheat days.
We suggest using only unfiltered, unheated, unpasteurized and organic apple cider vinegar, like the one below.
Sodium and potassium
This will help you to start balancing your electrolytes. Salts will help to regulate insulin levels in the body, and through that reduce common side-effects of the keto flu, such as headaches, moodiness, and dizziness.
By now, you have a pretty vast overview how cheat days and keto diet work together - they don't, at least not well.
Never the less, it's ultimately up to you, what you eat and how often.
If things hit the fan and you fell off the keto wagon, then it's not the end of the world.
You just need to go low carb again, maybe spice it up with some exogenous ketones and you will be in ketosis and burning fat in no time.
Look, we understand. There are times when following a strict ketogenic diet may be hard, when you want a cheat meal every day, especially when you are a beginner and the holidays are coming.
Our bodies are complex organisms which are very adaptive to our environments. Lucky us!
So, the longer you follow the keto diet, the easier it gets.
Just don’t be too hard on yourself. Beating yourself down doesn’t get you anywhere.
If there would be one suggestion to take out of this, then just cut down carbs again and soon you will be back in fat burning mode.
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Alex is the founder of Bodyketosis, an author, low-carb enthusiast, and a recovering chubby guy who reclaimed his health using the ketogenic lifestyle. The need for the keto life began after his aunt and cousin were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and he was next in line. Through personal experience and extensive scientific research, Alex offers insightful tips for everything keto.