Curious if you can have a cheat meal on keto or if you’re going to get kicked off the keto bandwagon if you have a cheat day? Then you’ve come to the right place. While it is absolutely a possibility to include cheat meals or cheat days on keto, it's important to know that it can have an effect on the overall progress of your ketogenic journey, especially if you are partaking for weight loss reasons.
We’re going to tell you everything you need to know about having a cheat meal on keto if you should have multiple cheat meat meals on keto, and if you should have an entire keto cheat day instead of just a single cheat meal. Prepare to have your questions answered - let’s do this!
What Is The Ketogenic Diet?
The Ketogenic Diet is all about getting your body into the fat-burning state of ketosis. By shifting your caloric intake to high fat, moderate protein, and extremely low carb, your body stops relying on glucose for energy, and shifts to burning ketones. [R] In turn, this helps your body recruit and utilize body fat, instead of the sugar derived from the carbohydrates found in your lemon-poppy seed scone for energy.
RELATED ARTICLE The Ketogenic Diet: An Ultimate Guide To Living Low Carb
How Does The Keto Diet Work?
The Keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet. Instead of eating foods like pasta, bread, and sugary treats, think of high-fat foods like cheese, sour cream, avocados, and coconut oil.
In addition to high-fat foods, you’ll also be loading up the protein, such as eggs, beef, chicken, and pork. Let’s be honest, One of the greatest perks to the keto diet is the bacon.
The fewer the carbs, the more effective the diet can be. You’ll need to keep your carb intake under 50 grams of net carbs per day, and ideally below 20 grams for full ketosis.
It’s important to note that quitting carbs does not mean quitting real food. You’ll also be eating (or should be eating for good health) low-starch veggies, like asparagus, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, and peppers. Don’t worry though, there are tons of great recipes and keto-friendly foods you can have My all-time favorite, are keto meatballs smothered in parmesan, and tomato sauce!
Is The Keto Diet Right For You?
It’s important to be realistic. The keto diet is not for everyone. It takes planning, preparation, a formidable mindset, and dedication. When we say this diet is low carb, it’s the lowest of low. Figuring out how you can keep yourself below 20-30g of carbs per day, is tough considering nearly every food on the planet has carbs in it, besides protein like chicken, beef, fish, and pork.
But, if you’re looking to drop some major weight in a hurry, then going keto might just be the short-term answer to what you’re looking for. That being said if you’re looking to create a long-term, maintainable, and sustainable lifestyle where you can enjoy the foods that you love without restriction or feel like you’re missing out because ‘I can’t eat that’ then maybe you should consider working with a nutrition coach instead, like the ones from The Swole Kitchen.
Cheat Meals - What Are They?
When following a specific diet or way of eating in order to reach a goal, such as weight loss, body fat loss, or muscle gain, a cheat day is a strategic break in the diet. It’s essentially the same idea as the 80/20 rule where 80% of the time you’re eating on plan and hitting your targets, whereas 20% of the time you buffer for a cheat meal or cheat day.
Cheat Meal Benefits
The general idea without going too much into the science of it, is that when we restrict ourselves calorically or follow a specific pattern, our metabolisms adapt, dwindling sources of leptin, a hunger hormone. Leptin is responsible for telling our brains across the gut-brain axis that it's time for us to stop eating.
By having a cheat day, you can increase the amount of leptin released, giving your metabolism a little break from caloric restriction, all while balancing energy and boosting the metabolism. Think of it like an oil change for a car - the car drives better because it’s more in tune. Same same, are you following?
Cheat Meals On Keto - Will One Ruin Ketosis?
If you’re doing keto for the sole reason of weight loss, I’m going to burst your bubble. The reason why it works? You’re in a caloric deficit. You’re consuming fewer calories than you’re burning and in turn, you’re losing weight. It’s not much different in theory than any other diet out there.
So having a cheat meal or cheat meals on keto? They’re not going to ruin your progress. Have a piece of cake for your nephew's birthday. Indulge every once in a while and you’re not going to completely blow a gasket here. Remember: losing weight is all about calorie control. As long as you’re not indulging all the time and maintaining good caloric control on a regular basis, there’s no reason to throw the diet out the window on the freeway.
That being said, if you’re being extremely diligent about staying in ketosis for other reasons, like medical reasons, then having a cheat meal or cheat meals on keto might not be the best idea. Think about it this way - if you’re trying to manage blood sugar levels as a diabetic, or to control seizures, there may be some major risks to your overall health if you’re indulging in your diet and spiking blood sugar levels from cheat meals on keto. We’d recommend speaking with your attending physician or nutritionist for more information on this one.
Some research suggests that reintroducing high-carb meal(s) to a keto diet may cause significant damage to your blood vessels, sabotage your weight loss efforts, and promote unhealthy eating habits and relationships with food. [R, R, R]
What Happens If You Have A Keto Cheat Meal?
The wheels fall off the car and you crash and burn! No, I’m just being facetious here. If you’re considering having a cheat meal or cheat meals on your keto diet, here are the things that you should probably know are going to happen, before you do it. After all, ketosis is hard to get into, and it may or may not be worth it to you.
Here's What Happens After A Keto Cheat Meal:
- Ketone production stops
- Glycogen stores will be replenished with the sugars, potentially causing weight gain from water weight
- Your blood sugar spikes and the body will switch back to using glucose as your energy source instead of ketones
- Your body will continue to use up the stores of glucose and glycogen until you run out
- Ketone production will kick back in once you deplete them
It might take some time to switch back to using ketones as an energy source after a cheat meal. After all, it does take anywhere from a single day to an entire week to get into ketosis in the first place.
RELATED: Keto Peanut Butter Fudge Recipe
Avoiding Weight Gain With Keto Cheat Meals
Going back to the caloric deficit thought process, as long as you’re on top of your calorie control and you’re eating less than you’re burning, a cheat meal on keto or cheat meals isn’t really going to ruin your overall progress. Yes, you will experience elevated blood sugar levels and most likely water retention along with it, but you shouldn’t end up gaining any significant weight outside of it.
Keto Sugar Cravings And Cheat Meals
What’s another thing that happens after you have a keto cheat meal? Well, you’re probably going to experience as fallout from a cheat meal on keto is an intense sugar crash. This is due to the blood sugar spike when you eat off your diet plan. Crashing from the spike and trying to head back into ketosis often causes the keto flu or other symptoms of it, like nausea, fatigue, and intense headaches.
Cheat meals on keto do not really sound like something you want to do. If you’re not into throwing your body through this yo-yo process of an extremely restricted diet, then consider not following a diet at all, and rather just eating the foods that you love in the amounts that support your physical and health goals.
What About A Keto Cheat Day vs. Keto Cheat Meal?
As we’ve already explained, there are some positives and negatives to a keto cheat day. While yes, it’d be nice to have a piece of cake or go out to dinner and not feel restricted, the downsides of doing so include intense blood sugar spikes and drops, getting kicked out of ketosis, and increased cravings. An entire day of this might actually wreak havoc on your mentality and your emotional state, making it extremely hard both mentally and physically, to go back to a state of ketosis. Even more, you might have issues with digestive issues and problems with overruling the body’s natural cues, like being hungry or overly full.
Keto Cheat Day Plateau
Alright, look, if you’re going to go cold turkey on carbs, if you have a keto cheat day it’s going to be hard. So hard, it might even send you head first into a keto cheat day plateau - meaning you stall your weight loss and get high-centered. Talk about frustrating. What do you do? Get back in the car and keep driving, even after you crash. Another technique is keto carb cycling.
Keto Cycles or Keto Carb Cycling
Another technique to reel it back in after a cheat day plateau is to try keto cycles or keto carb cycling. It’s another way to ‘cheat’ the keto diet by thinking of ketosis as cycles rather than a 100% constant state to be in. The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD) is a week of a standard diet followed by several days of higher carb intake
For example, you could do your standard during the week and higher carb intake on the weekends. It’s important to note that this does still bring you out of ketosis, however, it can make the keto diet more manageable and to try and prevent muscle wasting.
Another idea is to dump the keto diet entirely and create a lifestyle that is sustainable for you and the things you like to do, drink, and eat. Just a thought here.
All in all, if you find yourself in a keto cheat day plateau, and you’re determined to go back to being keto, then stick with it. Get through the first week or two, brave the keto flu, and make it happen. Then, once you’re back in, evaluate if cheat meals are right for you and your body.
Keto Cheat Day Recovery
If you cheated, you’re out of ketosis. You’re here, accept it, now what do you do? Here are some of our ideas to enhance your journey back into ketosis that isn’t just nixing carbs alone:
- Intermittent Fast: Combining this pattern of eating may help you shift from carbs as an energy source back to fat [R]
- Track Your Carb Intake: Being diligent about tracking the food that you’re eating is much more accurate than guessing or eyeballing
- Get Some Exercise: When you move the body you deplete glycogen stores, promoting a quicker journey into ketosis
- Try A Fat Fast: such as an egg fast, which might help expedite getting back into ketosis [R]
At the end of the day, if you find yourself cheating too often and having a hard time sticking to the diet, then it’s probably not right for you. And that is okay!
Keto Cheat Meals: Takeaway
We don’t think cheat meals on the keto diet are a good idea. In fact, if you find yourself needing to cheat on your diet because of restriction, desires to indulge, cravings, or your lifestyle, then the keto diet probably isn’t right for you in the first place. While consuming cheat meals on keto can kick you out of ketosis and it can take up to a week or two to get back into ketosis while probably experiencing the keto flu, you might want to consider if that journey back in is worth one cheat meal.
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