Whether you’re just starting out on the ketogenic diet or you’re a seasoned veteran, more than likely you have experienced cravings after going keto.
So is it okay to have a keto cheat day?
Are you allowed to have carbs on the weekend and get back into ketosis during the week and still see good results?
In this article, I talk about everything you need to know about how to handle a keto cheat day, and if you should even have one!
But before I show you the right way of doing a keto cheat day, let’s go over the potential downfalls to having one…
The Downsides to Having a Keto Cheat Day
Sure a cheat meal here and there won’t be too detrimental in the long haul, but making a habit out of frequent cheat days (like once or twice a week) could ultimately end up taking much longer before you reach your goals.
Here are some disadvantages to giving into your cravings and having a cheat day:
It Takes You Out of Ketosis
This may be the most obvious but having a cheat day once in a while will knock you out of ketosis and will have your body start using glucose for energy again.
While you may only be kicked out of ketosis for a short period of time, being kicked out weekly will set you back on achieving your goals.
Negatively Affects Your Fat Adaptation
When you restrict carbs to get into ketosis, you are making large changes to your body’s hormones and changing the source of fuel your body uses for energy.
Having regular keto cheat days will alter your body’s ability for fat oxidation. So with all of the work you put in to start burning fats for energy, having consistent cheat days will confuse your body as to which type of energy — fats or carbs — it should use[*].
Staying in a ketotic state is one of the most important priorities because it allows you to burn both dietary fats and your own fats for energy. Eating too many cheat meals can reverse all of the efforts you put in.
Increases Unhealthy Cravings
Think about the last time you were in deep ketosis. Chances are, you weren’t ever hungry for any junk food. This is because your body regulates its hormones when going keto. One of these hormones is ghrelin which directly affects hunger.
Now when you decide to have a cheat day, you are resetting your taste buds. You begin to crave the carbohydrates and sugars. Ultimately, you are reversing all of the hard work you initially put in to stop eating the unhealthy foods.
Everyone is different — but for the most part — having a keto cheat day more than once a week is going to negatively affect your body’s ability to stay away from junk food. Consistent cheat days will produce a compound effect and will make it harder to eat healthy.
Falling Into Keto Flu
Experiencing headaches, fatigue, bloating and sleepiness are all symptoms of having the keto flu. When you constantly go back and forth from eating carbs, your body gets confused as to which energy source it should be using.
This can lead to the “keto flu” where you start experiencing fatigue, lethargy, dizziness and other flu-like symptoms. If you begin to experience the keto flu, supplementing with exogenous ketones can help mitigate these effects.
The Correct Way of Having Keto Cheat Days
Yes you read that right, there is a right way of cheating on keto. Let’s face it, it is near impossible to not have a keto cheat day. We’ve been raised to eat carbs our whole lives so to go full on cold turkey will make you crash and burn.
With that said, the best approach you can take to your keto cheat day is by mitigating the harm you do. In fact, it’s certainly possible to use your cheat day to your advantage so further increase the amount of muscle you gain and still enter ketosis afterwards.
Here are some of the best ways to approach your keto cheat day:
Adopt a Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD)
The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet is a type of ketogenic diet where you allow yourself to eat carbs one to two days out of the week while restricting fats and keeping protein the same as your standard ketogenic diet days.
By following a CKD, you are replenishing your body’s glycogen storages for those one or two days so that you can use those glucose stores to increase strength and improve athletic performance when you go back to a standard ketogenic diet.
Timing your carb days for the weekend will allow you to indulge on some of the carbohydrates you’ve been craving so it doesn’t feel like you are eating too much of a restrictive diet.
Note: It’s extremely important that you keep your fat intake down to a minimum during your carb days to see the best results. This is because your body can only run on one energy source at a time — from fats or carbs — so when you carb up, you need to minimize fats otherwise you’ll just be storing any excess fats on your body.
Cheat With Ketogenic Friendly Foods
If you are craving a certain type of food and you have no mental fortitude to ignore the craving, the next best option is to cheat with ketogenic friend foods.
There are several low-carb options you can find online that substitutes the real thing.
For example, low carb pizza uses fat based ingredients rather than carbohydrates to help you stay in ketosis while still satisfying your craving for pizza.
Fat bombs using coconut oil and cacao powder with stevia will satisfy your chocolatey sugar craving with a keto-friendly alternative.
Craving rice? Use cauliflower rice with seasoning instead to turn that rice-based meal into a low-carb ketogenic approved meal.
So whatever your craving is, there is always a low-carb, ketogenic substitute out there. It’s best to have at least one recipe on hand for every craving you would usually have. But remember, you should never turn this into a habit and should only be used sparingly.
Cheat After Eating a Keto Meal
Often times, whenever your body is craving something unhealthy, it’s out of sheer habit and eating keto foods beforehand can help drastically.
A nice hack to use is to eat a healthy keto meal like a fatty porterhouse steak with avocado and asparagus first. Most of the time, you’ll find yourself fully satiated after that and you won’t need to cheat and if you’re still craving a cheat meal, you won’t eat anywhere near the amount as if you were to eat that cheat meal by itself.
Cheat After Exercise
You can use meal timing to your advantage when it comes to your keto cheat day. The best time to eat that carb-laden donut or pasta is before or after exercise.
This is because your body can use that extra glycogen and burn it directly for energy rather than having it stored as fat. So if you eat carbs before your workout, you’ll be able to push yourself more with your exercise.
If you eat carbs after, your body is experiencing increased insulin sensitivity from the workout. Insulin sensitivity is your body’s ability to turn glucose (from carbohydrates) into energy rather than storing it as fat[*].
Make it a habit to exercise immediately before or after your workout regimen to ensure your body properly uses those calories for fuel.
Side Effects to Keto Cheat Days
Think back to the last time you were in strict ketosis for a while and decided to have a cheat day. Do you remember how you felt? Chances are, you felt like absolute crap for a while.
But as I’ve mentioned before, there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach your keto cheat day.
Here are some of the negative consequences that could happen to you if you overindulge on the tasty sweets and treats:
#1: Hunger Cravings
Eating carbohydrates are known to make you hungry. When you eat carbs, it fluctuates your insulin levels which will make you hungry just a couple hours after eating your meal.
This is why when you eat a carbohydrate-heavy meal for breakfast like a bagel with orange juice or cereal, you find yourself craving more food just a few hours after your meal. This leads to the next side effect…
#2: Weight Gain
Eating more food simply leads to more weight gain. Here’s why, when you eat carb and sugar-laden junk food, your body has to do something with those calories.
You will either convert those carbs into glucose and turned into energy to burn off or you will store it as fat. Here’s the thing, your body is only capable of storing up to 2,000 calories as glycogen and when you don’t burn it off (through exercise), it’s stored as fat instead[*].
#3: Spikes in Blood Sugar
If you’re going on the ketogenic diet to help with your diabetic symptoms, it’s best to steer away from cheating as much as possible. This is because when you eat carbs, your blood sugar increases to high levels.
Every time you cheat with carbs, you run the risk of exacerbating any negative health side effects.
#4: Skin Issues and Bloating
Many people have reported increases in acne breakouts, dry skin, and bloating after a cheat day.
The next time you are thinking about cheating, think to yourself whether it’s really worth the detriment to your health.
#5: Carb Addiction
For people who are recovering carb addicts (I know it sounds worse when you put it that way), cheating can be very dangerous for you.
The reason the ketogenic diet works so well for many people is because it puts your metabolism back to its original state. You’re no longer craving unnecessary amounts of food just for the taste.
This can lead to a relapse and you can end up binging out heavily. Sugar addiction is a real epidemic and if this sounds like you, it’s best to avoid having keto cheat days often.
Preventing a Keto Cheat Day
Now that you know the side effects of cheat days and the correct way of approaching them, lets go over a few things you can consume to minimize your cravings of having a keto cheat day.
Here are four highly effective drinks you can use to help satisfy your cravings:
Caffeine is known as an appetite suppressor which means it helps satisfy your cravings. It’s important that you don’t add any sugar with your coffee as this can just make you crave sweets even more.
You can also benefit from the extra fat effects and energy boost that comes with it.
Tip: To further enhance the appetite suppressing effects of coffee, try to hold off on drinking your first cup until you start to feel hungry. Then you can use it to curb your appetite. Use this technique if you are trying to decrease calories and lose weight.
Supplementing with exogenous ketones is the fastest way to get yourself into ketosis. Think about it, by ingesting ketones, you are literally providing your body with ketones that your body creates when you restrict carbohydrates.
When your body is in ketosis, your hunger hormone (ghrelin) is regulated and you don’t feel nearly as hungry. In fact, many people find it difficult to even eat anything when they are in deep ketosis simply because they aren’t hungry.
Potassium and Sodium
Consuming more potassium and sodium will help with satiety. Salt (sodium) helps regulate your insulin levels and is a common electrolyte that gets flushed out when you first start ketosis.
Also, be sure to have proper amounts of potassium through whole food sources such as avocados, kale, broccoli, and spinach as this will help with energy levels and staying fuller longer.
What to Do After a Keto Cheat Day
So you’ve had your cheat day and it’s the day after. You’re feeling bloated, maybe your stomach hurts, and you feel generally demotivated because of it.
Don’t worry, it happens to everyone and it’s perfectly fine to cheat here and there.
What matters is what you do after your cheat day. One of the best ways to get back into ketosis after cheating is to use intermittent fasting.
This means you want to avoid eating any food or drinks that contains calories for at least 16 hours after your last cheat meal.
For example, if your last cheat meal was at 8PM, you won’t eat anything until 12PM the next day. I typically like to hold off and perform a 24 hour fast depending on how severe the cheat day was.
Then, you want to break your fast with a ketogenic based meal. This means you should aim to have a meal that consists of very low carb, moderate protein, and high fats. My go-to is breaking the fast with a fatty steak like porterhouse and eggs.
The Severity of Keto Cheat Days Differs For Everyone
Now that you know the consequences to having a cheat day and how to approach your keto cheat day, you should have a better grasp as to how you should be approaching your cravings.
It’s important to remember that you can have more or less cheat days depending on what your current situation is and how far you are from your goals.
For instance, if you are a diabetic, you should probably try to minimize the number of times you cheat because it can cause detrimental side effects.
The same goes for people who have a significant amount of weight to lose. Having frequent cheat days can hinder you from reaching your goals.
But, if you are already relatively lean and healthy, you can get away with more cheat days.
Be sure to follow the advice above for when you do have a cheat day to help minimize the harmful effects that may come with excessive amounts of sugar and carbohydrates.
And if you’d like a comprehensive step-by-step program on how to start burning fats for energy and dropping weight, check out my popular guide – the Ketogenic Diet Roadmap!