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One question that I get fairly regularly is, "can I have a Keto cheat day?"
By cheating, that simply means going off-plan.
Short answer... yes. But there are some things to consider.
The reality is this -- we're human. We can't expect ourselves to be perfect 100% of the time, especially in the carb-loaded world we live in.
This is my take on the Keto cheat day and some strategies I use to minimize the damage.
What to expect on a Keto cheat day
While it's okay to go off-plan sometimes, it's best to keep it at a minimum. I find that it typically derails my progress on losing weight by about 5 days. Sometimes it's totally worth it. Other times -- not so much.
Typically, you can expect a cheat day to result in being kicked out of ketosis. Some symptoms you may experience include:
- brain fog
- weight gain (this will be water weight mostly)
- sugar cravings (thanks to high carb foods)
It can take anywhere from 24 - 72 hours to get back into ketosis. There are a few factors that can determine this including:
- activity level
- amount of carbs consumed (and stored as glycogen)
- level of fat adaptation
The period of time it takes is dose dependent, meaning it will ultimately depend on how many carbohydrates you consumed and how long it will take to burn through your excess gylcogen stores.
I cheated. How do I get back into ketosis?
You just polished off your meal, and the initial state of panic has probably set in. But don't worry, you'll be just fine.
It's important that you:
- Be kind to yourself. Don't dwell. You're not a failure because you deviated slightly from your plan.
- Start fresh tomorrow. It's a slippery slope, so get right back on the wagon the next day. Or next meal, if possible.
- Take note of how you feel. Is it just like how you remember it? Do you have carb cravings? You may feel uncomfortable after your cheat meal. Personally, I like when I feel this way because it serves as a great reminder of how much better I feel on Keto.
You don't have to do anything drastic to recover. We're not punishing ourselves for deviating from our plan. Just get back to eating your low carb foods and keep your carbs under 20g.
Fasting and exercise can help, but it's not required.
Intermittent fasting and HIIT is another way to speed up the process of getting back into ketosis, though it is not required by any means. If this is something you are unfamiliar with, do not worry about it at this point.
You may see supplements being marketed (like exogenous ketones) that claim you can cheat all you want and remain in ketosis if you use their products. These are gimmicks and their aggressive marketing tactics often outshine their true therapeutic purposes. For a majority of people, these are a money pit. Save your cash for more bacon.
Strategies to lessen effects of a cheat day
While going off-plan isn't ideal, it happens. Here are some strategies I use to lessen the effects of a cheat day:
Change your mindset
Instead of "cheat day on Keto," try use phrasing like "going off-plan."
The word cheat often has a negative association with it. I like the phrase "going off-plan" because it suggests that I made a conscious choice to deviate from my Keto lifestyle. It also reinforces that I'm in control of my choices.
Loosen up your food choices
If you are someone that follows a strict Keto diet (I don't), loosening up your food choices might be enough of a change that you can feel indulgent, while still remaining in ketosis.
For example, make a Keto-friendly version of your favorite dessert -- especially if you've been avoiding things like sweeteners.
If you feel like going out to eat, make a low carb choice from one of my Keto Eating Out Guides. Sometimes a bunless Baconator is all I need to feel indulged.
Minimize carb damage
If you do decide to consume carbohydrates, can you do damage control?
What I mean by that is this -- if you were to temporarily increase your carb limit (as opposed to going hog wild), would that be enough to satisfy your desire to go off plan?
Ask yourself some of these questions:
- While I typically follow 20g net carbs daily, would 50g be enough to satisfy my need to indulge?
- If 50g isn't enough, how about 100g of carbs?
Sometimes these limits aren't enough, I get it. But most of the time, they totally are. You can eat some pretty indulgent food for 100g carbs!
Indulgent, lower carb foods
Just to give you some examples, a Big Mac (with the bun) is 43g net carbs and a 10-piece Chicken McNugget is 24g carbs. Foods like this are exactly what I reach for when I want to go off-plan.
Some additional things to consider:
- at 50g carbs, some will still stay in ketosis. It varies from person to person.
- at 100g carbs, you are still considered "low carb." You will likely not be in ketosis anymore, but there are still plenty of benefits to a general low carb diet including: reduced inflammation, better blood sugar levels and even weight loss!
Do you have a strategy for going off-plan when following a ketogenic diet? Comment below!
I am doing 20g per day at the moment. What do you use to measure if you are in keto please? I’ve seen many people Use different devices but I’m unsure what to get that works best!
Thank you for posting this. I completely agree with the phrasing "going off-plan" it is much better than a cheat day. I went off plan last weekend for a day or two and was able to get back into ketosis with a 24 hr fast. I was pleasantly surprised as I thought it would have taken me longer but granted, I did not go off the rails and stuff myself full of Cinnabon!
I love this way of eating, it fits my lifestyle well and keeps me in check. The last time I went off the rails and ate a huge meal with 2 desserts, it made me so sick! I felt like I was hungover for 2 days!! And I don't drink...It was a memorable experience that helps me to stay on track.
Thanks for your posts and recipes!!
Exactly! Finding a method that works for YOU and YOUR lifestyle is what will keep you ahead in the end. Consistency will always outweigh perfection!
Great guide! I was under 20g a day before getting pregnant and now I’m not quite sure, 20g some days, 50 some and even 100 some. Not ideal but I try to use the tactics you mention above. Not call it cheat, not go crazy when I do indulge (the family split one fries for instant which is just enough to feel that little extra). It’s a little bit difficult measuring weight gain while pregnant of course but it does seem like i’m following the excepted weight gain for a preggo and I’m happy with that. Before pregnancy (on the under 20g a day) I didn’t do much “off plan” since I had a lot to loose in weight but I could easily have 5 chips (this was enough to not feel left out and for the rest I enjoyed cucumber and dip) on an evening with friends and some sweetener drinks and still loose aprox 0,5 kilos a week. I did plan however, having very little carbs the rest of that day “saving myself” for the 5 chips ?. It’s all about finding your balance I think and as you’ve written- being nice to yourself. I feel like low carb/Keto diet should be a healthy road, not one of shame. Thanks again for a great guide! ??
Thank you! You're so right, it's all about balance! I think when we have methods of dealing with situations like this, it makes the lifestyle much more livable.
Glad you're finding your stride too, friend! And it must be exciting to have a little one on the way 🙂