Staying in ketosis can be difficult, so you may be wondering how strictly you have to follow a keto diet in order to stay in that state. If you’ve been following a keto diet, or just want to learn a little more, here’s all the information you need to know if a cheat day can ruin ketosis.
What Is a Cheat Day?
A cheat day is a day when you allow yourself to eat foods that are not keto-friendly. This means indulging in high-carb foods that are off-limits on your keto diet. Examples include high-carb snacks such as pasta, pizza, bread, desserts, chips, soda, etc.
Why do Keto Dieters Take Cheat Days?
People on a ketogenic diet take cheat days and cheat meals for the same reasons people on other diets do: dieting is usually no fun, and cheat days allow you to enjoy food and get the physiological response you crave from eating.
However, there is more to the “science” of keto cheat days than getting pleasure from food. Some diet experts believe that dieters will eventually lose their focus and dedication if they continue to restrict calories, fat, or in the case of keto diets, carbohydrates. The idea is that eventually, a person’s will to diet will break down and the bad habits from before the diet began will return.
Cheat days or cheat meals are one way to stay motivated on most diets, including the keto diet. The idea is that if you know you’re going to enjoy some well-deserved carbs next Saturday, then you’re more likely to stay strict and stick to your keto diet. Dangling the proverbial carrot – your next cheat day – in front of yourself is one way to stay committed to a low-carb lifestyle between cheat days.
Pros and Cons of Cheat Days on Keto
Here, we’ll break down the pros and cons of keto cheating to help you determine if and when to deviate from your low-carb routine.
You Won’t Feel Like You’re Missing out with Family and Community
Really practicing the keto lifestyle? Then allowing yourself some flexibility to join in celebrations with friends and family can reduce the stress of feeling like you’ve been missing out.
As with any addictive substance, be honest about your relationship with sugary foods. Pay attention to when and if having something can fuel cravings for more food and make it difficult or impossible to stick to your high-fat, low-carb lifestyle.
You’re May Be More Likely to Stick with the Program Long-term
Allowing the occasional cheat can eliminate feelings of failure, guilt, and shame when you do eat non-keto foods.
It’s a bit of an oxymoron, but if you plan spontaneous hospitality/cheating, then you haven’t done anything wrong when you get there. This short-circuiting of “doing something wrong” is important because we know that shame and wrongdoing are the main drivers of the addiction cycle.
Reactivates Sugar Addiction
Sugar and carbohydrates stimulate the same “happy” chemicals that make us feel good when we are with our friends and the people we love.
A 2013 study found that even though people didn’t know what they were eating, those who consumed high GI carbohydrates had higher activation of opiate and dopamine receptors in the craving and reward centers of the brain.
The study also showed that repeated stimulation of your brain’s reward centers with high GI carbohydrates can reset your body fat levels. When your fat levels are set, your body will try to preserve the fat you accumulate by secreting hunger hormones and slowing your metabolism.
High-carbohydrate meals like the kind that constitute keto cheats or even treats can lead to mood swings. One study made rats fast after consuming sugar. Cutting off the source of sugar – which is what happens when you get back on the keto wagon after a diet – reduces dopamine and increases anxious behavior.
If you feel anxious and sad after a keto cheat day, you’ll be more likely to crave sweets. In a remarkable study, researchers induced women into sadness and gave them a choice between a high-carb or high-protein drink. Even when they didn’t know which drink was which, they were more likely to choose the carbohydrate-rich drink.
Overeating and Binging
For many people, cheating doesn’t just mean eating carbs, it also means binge eating! In a 2018 study of more than 248 young adults, it was found that the more often people ate cheat meals, the more likely they were to experience “binge eating.” And the findings were much stronger for men than for women.
You won’t get back into ketosis if you don’t take important steps. Here are things to consider when trying to get back into ketosis after one or more cheat meals.
Go low carb
This is the most important part of recovering from cheat day! This may sound obvious, but the main thing you can do right now is cut out the carbs and go full fat again.
This may sound obvious, but the main thing you can do right now is cut out the carbs and go full fat again. Your glycogen stores are already full from the cheat meals and carb-rich foods of the previous days.
Try intermittent fasting
Combining keto foods with intermittent fasting can pick up the pace.
When you fast, your insulin levels and glycogen stores drop which leads your body to naturally choose fat as its fuel source. This is because fasting limits calories, and your body uses energy in other ways if glucose or glycogen isn’t available.
Getting some extra exercise in your day will also help your body use those extra carbohydrates. When glycogen is available, your body will use it for your cells. Exercise requires more fuel, so it will use carbohydrates from pizza and cookies more quickly.
Don’t punish yourself by pushing too hard. Instead, just jog around the block one more time, or add 10 minutes to your typical routine.
Cheat Day – for any diet – there are risks. When you cheat, you move backwards and negatively impact any progress you make on your diet, which may or may not be worth it, depending on what you are trying to achieve or any medical conditions you may have.