Can you have a cheat day on keto?

posted in: Enhancing Ketosis

If you are not doing the ketogenic diet for medical reasons, (for example, if you are doing it for weight loss or weight management), you can indeed have a cheat day.  In fact, some people recommend having a cheat day now and then just to be able to address cravings. On the other hand, if you use a ketosis enhancer like KetoSavior™, you likely won’t get kicked out of ketosis at all. 

However, before having a cheat day it is important to understand what will happen so you can make an informed decision.  There are really four things to consider before cheating: what are your goals, what happens to your body (and thus ketosis), how can you lessen the damage, and how do you recover ketosis afterwards.

What are your goals?

Why are you considering a cheat day? I know that sounds like a “duh” question, but why you cheat can help you determine how you cheat. Admittedly, most people have a cheat day to enjoy something they have been craving and can’t have on keto. Some people cheat to “shock” their body out of a weight loss plateau. Others feel pressured to eat a “normal” meal with friends and/or family. Sometimes people cheat due to frustration with the diet itself. Finally, some people find themselves in a situation where there is no keto-friendly options to eat and cheat for calories alone (gotta eat something, right?).

First, let’s discuss what a cheat day is. Technically, it is cheating for multiple meals over the course of a day. However, many people use the term interchangeably with a cheat meal. The reason this is important is that three cheat meals in a day does NOT equal the same amount of damage to ketosis as one cheat meal’s damage X3. We will get into the why later, but understand that the effects of cheating on a keto diet are higher when done back to back.

If your goal is to simply enjoy something you haven’t had and cannot eat on keto, then to go back on the diet, then it is relatively easy to get back into ketosis and it won’t damage your overall progress. In effect, you basically just need to burn off the carbs eaten during that meal. Once they are burned off, your body will convert back to ketosis. The more carbs you eat, the longer it will take. Simple.

This is also the same concept for metabolic “shocking”, where you disrupt your normal diet to make your body re-equilibrate afterwards. In theory, this should reset the potential to lose weight and break the plateau. In this case, you would go immediately back on the diet without much difficulty.

Conforming to social norms is a major reason people cheat on the keto diet. Food has been part of social rituals from the beginning of human civilization. When your friends or family are not on a ketogenic diet themselves, it can be difficult to maintain the diet during social gatherings. Quite often, the social pressure to cheat is pretty high. However, this is something that can be planned for and the damages minimized (we’ll discuss further in the third section).

Very similar to the previous example is finding oneself in a situation where no keto-friendly food is available. The main difference is that it would be harder to plan for, so you are less likely to be able to minimize the impact. In these situations, the best you can really do it choose the best food option and then recover your ketosis once you have keto food available again.

Frustration with the diet is the final reason for cheating that we will discuss in this article. For this reason, the why is extremely important. If you are discouraged by lack of progress, you may not actually be in nutritional ketosis (see “I’m in ketosis, why am I not losing weight?“). There can be multiple reasons for this and they should be explored before giving up (and cheating as a result).

If you have been doing keto for less than 3-4 weeks straight, there is a good chance you are not fully adapted. If you have only been doing keto for a couple of weeks, you shouldn’t even consider cheating yet. Contrary to popular belief, ketosis is not just turned on or off. There are relative degrees of ketosis and those generally increase over time on ketogenic diets.

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What happens to your body when you cheat?

The biochemistry of ketosis is complicated and well beyond the scope of this article. However, to learn more about the specific changes that happen, see “What happens to your body during ketosis?“. That being said, below is a summary of the changes in the short-term.

  • You eat carbohydrates in any amount (the more you eat, the greater the impact)
  • Your blood glucose levels rise which sets of a chain of reactions
    • Your insulin levels increase
    • Your liver stops producing ketones
    • Your fat cells stop releasing fatty acids and start conserving excess energy
    • Your body starts reverting back to glucose-first metabolism
  • Circulating carbohydrates are converted to glycogen for storage or stored as fat if there is enough circulating
  • During the formation of glycogen, water is bound up leading to immediate weight gain (which only lasts until you start burning through glycogen again)
  • There is a good possibility that there will be rebound hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) due to increased sensitivity to insulin, which can cause a “sugar crash” and fatigue

These are the changes that result from one cheat meal. However, that does not mean that your diet is ruined or that all your progress is lost. At this point, your diet is on hold until you are back in ketosis and you are only going to be out of ketosis as long as it takes to burn through those “excess” carbohydrates.

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How can you lessen the damage caused by cheating?

There are only a couple of things you can do to decrease the damage caused by cheating. Utilizing one of more of these can help you get back into ketosis quicker than just restarting keto (see “How can I get back into ketosis after a cheat day?“).

⦁ Choose keto-friendlier food choices during the cheat meal
⦁ Increase carbohydrate utilization
⦁ Use a keto enhancing supplement before cheating

This first one is relevant in situations where you are “forced” to eat carbs, either by peer pressure or when there are no keto food options. The results of cheating on keto are determined by the amount of carbs ingested, so if you choose lower carb options, you will have less to burn off later.

In these cases, it is important to remember that ketosis is not all nothing. If you have to cheat, do it to the least amount possible. This is not the time to binge just because you might get kicked out of ketosis anyway.

Increasing utilization is something else that can minimize the impact eating carbs has on the body. As discussed earlier, the body will store excess carbohydrates when not in ketosis. The word excess is important here.

If you exercise or even just get physically active, your muscles will burn up the carbohydrates quicker and there will be less storage and less recovery later. The more energy you use, the more carbs are burned, which leads to less time out of ketosis.

The last way is to use a keto enhancement supplement like KetoSavior™. KetoSavior™ works by interfering with the carbohydrate processing after eating carbs, among other things. This isn’t an ad for these products, so we won’t go into detail on how they work here, but it is worth noting that there is a product on the market specifically formulated to decrease your risk of being kicked out of ketosis from a cheat meal.

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Getting back into ketosis after cheating

There are six different things that determine how long it takes to get back into ketosis after cheating. For a full discussion, see (“How to get back into ketosis after a cheat day“). The six things are:

Pre-cheat ketosis status
Amount of carbs consumed on cheat
How long the cheat lasted (cheat meal, cheat day, falling off the keto wagon)
Underlying metabolic rate
Activity levels
What meals you eat during re-induction

If you cheat before you are completely fat adapted, you will most likely be kicked out of ketosis and it will almost be like starting over in order to get back into ketosis. If you were fat adapted prior to cheating (meaning your body has adapted to using fat as a primary fuel source), you will get back into ketosis much faster. In that case, it is only a matter of burning off the excess carbs stored during the cheat episode. See “What happens to your body during ketosis?” for more information on the different phases of ketogenic diets.

The amount of carbs you eat during the cheat episode also matters. Your body has been without carbohydrate stores (assuming you have been doing keto for a while), so any carbohydrates not burned immediately during the cheat episode, will be converted to glycogen and stored. You will have to burn through all of your carbohydrate stores before getting back into ketosis. The more in storage, the longer it will take.

Based on above, it should seem pretty simple that the longer you eat carbs, the more will be stored. This is indeed the case, up until your glycogen levels max out. Then additional carbohydrates are converted to fat. That being said, from a ketosis perspective, once your glycogen levels are maxed, you will be starting over to get back into ketosis.

Your underlying metabolic state will also play an important role. As discussed earlier, you have to burn through all the carbohydrates you ate during the cheat episode. The higher your metabolic rate, the faster that will happen.

This leads us to activity. In the same fashion, the more active you are when recovering your ketosis, the faster you will burn though carb stores. For athletic people, a robust workout can dramatically reduce glycogen stores. In fact, if you can handle strenuous exercise for 90 minutes, you can probably burn through all of your glycogen stores. For those less active (not able to sustain high levels of strenuous exercise), it will take longer.

Finally, what you eat as you get back into ketosis matters as well. Some people prefer to fast their way back into ketosis. If you are not opposed to the stress, it is an option. However, most people find that they can just keep their carbs as low as possible and that works as well. For every gram of carbs you eat during re-induction, that is one more gram you have to burn above the number of grams stored during the cheat episode.

For example, if you had stored 100 grams of carbohydrates during your cheat episode and you eat three meals with 15 grams of carbs each, by the end of the day, you will have to have burned 145 grams of carbs to reach ketosis. If you ate 5 grams per meal instead, you would need to burn 30 grams less than the person eating the 15 gram meals. That is 120 fewer calories to get back into ketosis. For more information see “How do you get into ketosis?”.

I hope this helps you make an informed decision about whether or not you should cheat on the diet. You must decide if the cheat itself is worth the extra work of getting back into ketosis. Of course, if you took KetoSavior™, as long as you had a reasonable number of carbs during your cheat, you wouldn’t have to wait to get back into ketosis because you wouldn’t get kicked out in the first place.