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From family reunions and holidays to backyard barbecues and friendly potlucks, wherever people gather for fun and merrymaking, you are bound to find less-than-keto-friendly options that are calling your name. Whether you fall prey to your Nana’s famous biscuits, give yourself the freedom to take in the whole Thanksgiving spread, or just feel like ordering a pizza, remember to focus on the fact that it’s possible to recover from cheating on keto.
Because of the sugar and insulin spike your body goes through when you take in more carbs, it’s likely that a cheat meal (or a cheat week) will come along with a few negatives. Many people will experience some undesirable side effects from cheating on keto that can include everything from food cravings and uncomfortable bloating, to a foggy head and a dip in energy. All of these symptoms are perfectly normal and are able to be corrected provided you follow some important recovery tips.
Is Cheating on Keto Okay?
So, is it even okay to indulge in a cheat day? If you are keto-adapted (or fat-adapted), meaning that your body’s cells are using ketones as fuel as opposed to glucose, and you’ve been consistently restricting the intake of carbohydrates and sugars for between 6-8 weeks, your body will actually respond to the sugar of a cheat meal in a much more positive way. While your blood sugar will rise from a cheat meal, your keto-adapted body is much better at regulating it down again and you will likely not be knocked out of ketosis depending on how crazy you get.
However, the opposite is true for those who are just beginning their keto journey. If you have been on a path of consistently lowering the amount of carbs you’re eating, but you cheat before the body is truly keto-adapted, your body will have a much more difficult time rebounding from those carb-heavy cheats, and you may be knocked out of ketosis completely.
Consider the original phase of keto as a ‘learning phase’ for your body, where your body is reorganizing itself to metabolize ketone bodies, rather than glucose. During this preliminary phase, where you are establishing ketosis, it is much more beneficial to resist any urges to cheat. Cheating before your body is fat adjusted can also bring on the keto flu all over again, something that is best avoided.
Get Back on Track
You’ve taken a detour on the keto path (it happens to the best of us!), so whether it was intentional or not, now you need a little help to get back on track. Luckily, there are a number of recovery tips that will help you curb those sugar cravings and gently push your body’s metabolism back into ketosis.
Here are six recovery tips to use following a cheat meal.
1. Don’t Let the Momentum Slip
While not so much about recovery, if you are committed to the keto diet and you are already fat-adapted, reaffirm your commitment to the keto lifestyle. Visualize your desired goals and acknowledge that they are attainable. Putting yourself into a positive mindset can be a great first step to getting back on track, and ensuring that a cheat meal doesn’t turn into a daily cheat meal that will knock you out of ketosis and derail you from your goals!
Extended fast, 18-hour fasts, or various other intermittent-fasting schedules can be just what your body needs to get a quick reset back into ketosis. A fast helps your body to burn through that excess glucose quickly and get you back to feeling great and moving forward. It’s also important to remember to break your fast with a high-quality meal that’s loaded with healthy fats to jumpstart proper ketogenic metabolism.
3. Don’t Restrict Calories and Eat More Fats
In the days following a cheat meal, not restricting calories and eating more fats than normal can help promote a return to ketosis, while also preventing the sugar cravings that you’re likely to experience. Remember that the key to success is to get back on track, so go ahead and allow yourself to have more than you may normally eat. The days following higher carb consumption provides a perfect opportunity to indulge in delicious fat bombs or a slice of cheesecake.
4. Get Moving
All exercise, including cardio and strength training, can help you burn off and get rid of any glycogen stores and help you rebound effectively from a cheat meal. Exercise and increasing your activity level naturally increases the level of circulating ketone bodies (1), and can be instrumental in curbing cravings, reducing sluggishness and anxiety, and getting you back to burning fat for fuel in no time!
5. Balance Electrolytes
Similar to minimizing the negative side effects of the keto flu, electrolytes can be very beneficial for recovering after cheat meals. Adequate intake of water and fluids, along with beverages that help maintain homeostasis of the body’s electrolytes and salts, can help to reduce any negative side effects the cheat meal may have caused and shorten the time it takes to recover. (2)
6. Use Supplements
Exogenous ketones, or ketone supplements, result in an increased circulating concentration of beta-hydroxybutyrate (BoHB), as does the keto diet. While they have a similar effect, they are associated with different patterns of ketosis, and it should be known that ketone supplements can not replace the necessary dietary changes. (3)
With that in mind, exogenous ketones can be particularly useful for vacations and other longer periods of time where you may be allowing yourself to enjoy more carbs than you normally would. Taking a ketone supplement on the day of and the day after a cheat meal can aid your body in getting back into ketosis and help offset feelings of hunger or cravings that can be difficult to manage. Supplements can be very beneficial in helping to make the keto diet more sustainable in the long-term by providing additional support on any cheat days.
While you’re likely working very diligently to stay on your keto diet -- researching and preparing new recipes, learning about different products and making many lifestyle changes, it is important to remember that it is also emotionally healthy to enjoy life to the fullest, and that may mean occasionally partaking in a cheat meal or a carb-laden feast. The important thing to keep in mind is that your health or weight loss goals require you to get back on track. Progress is all about putting one foot in front of the other and cheating on keto is not the end of the world!
You may also find these articles helpful:
- Ketosis Signs and Symptoms - What to Expect
- The Glucose Ketone Index (GKI) Explained
- 8 Top Macro Tracking Apps
- Clean Keto Diet Beginner's Guide
1. Dashti HM, Mathew TC, Hussein T, Asfar SK, Behbahani A, Khoursheed MA, et al. Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients. Exp Clin Cardiol. 2004 Fall;9(3):200-5.
2. Masood W, Uppaluri KR. Ketogenic Diet. StatPearls Publishing Treasure Island (FL) [Internet]. [cited 2 February 2020] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830
3. Harvey CJ, Schofield GM, Williden M. The use of nutritional supplements to induce ketosis and reduce symptoms associated with keto-induction: a narrative review. PeerJ. 2018 Mar 16;6:e4488.