Cheat meals. Everyone thinks about them, and the ketogenic diet is no exception. But is a keto cheat day really worth it? Or will it mess up your progress completely?
Intellectually, you know a cheat meal won’t help with your weight loss goals or allow you to experience the positive impact of the keto diet. At the same time, you don’t want to feel restricted, or develop a bad relationship (or fear) of any food. For these reasons, you may know people who purposely (and regularly) schedule treats, including on the weekends or at the end of the month.
Below, you’ll learn how to treat yourself on the keto diet. This allows the occasional indulgence that benefits your physical and mental health.
Hopefully, you’re following the keto diet as part of a healthy lifestyle — one that makes you feel good, gives you energy, and doesn’t make you feel restricted. That said, the occasional indulgence outside a keto diet meal plan might have physical side effects, including those that follow.
It Could Take You Out of Ketosis
Eating a high-carb food — even as the occasional treat — could take you out of ketosis. For this reason, try to take a look at your overall carb intake of the day when indulging. For example, if you enjoy a slice of birthday cake at a friend’s celebration, be sure to stock up on plenty of leafy greens and high-quality protein throughout the day.
It’s a good idea to test your ketone levels to know if you’ve been kicked out of ketosis.
Cheating Affects Your Fat Adaptation
Your body has to make changes (such as altering specific hormones and increasing enzyme production) to transition to a fat-burning state[*]. Having a regular dose of glucose can prevent your body from becoming fat adapted. This, in turn, could slow any progress made toward weight loss and fat loss goals (i.e. the reason you started keto in the first place).
It Could Spike Your Blood Sugar
One of the reasons keto is popular for those with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or poor cardiovascular health is that it can stabilize blood glucose levels[*]. If you’re following the keto diet because of these health reasons, it’s important to know that eating cheat meals can cause blood sugar levels to spike. Plus, since your glucose tolerance has depleted on keto, chances are you’ll experience a nasty sugar hit. If you eat a dessert or high-carb food and don’t feel well the next day, it’s probably best to avoid it.
Cheating Causes Cravings
One study finds that a low-carb, high-fat diet like keto has been shown to reduce appetite and hunger cravings[*]. While it does take an adjustment period to achieve these benefits, once your body becomes fat-adapted you are less likely to feel hungry and experience sugar cravings throughout the day.
By veering away from your keto meal plan and removing your body from a ketogenic state, you may find yourself craving carbs and sugar more than before.
You Could Experience Keto Flu (Again)
Fatigue, headaches, low energy, headaches, and bloating are all symptoms you might experience when transitioning to burning fat (instead of glucose) for energy. If you choose to eat a high-carb food, know that you could experience these unwanted symptoms of keto flu again. (If this happens, supplementing with exogenous ketones may help.)
Whether you’ve been following keto for a few weeks or a few months, it can be a lifestyle transition. While you may have started keto as a means to achieve weight loss, fat loss, or improved body composition, hopefully you’re experiencing other mental, physical, and emotional benefits. These could include improved energy, heightened mental clarity, and feeling good about your food choices.
Most of all, the keto diet can teach you to listen to your body. You’ve probably noticed you feel better when you eat a diet based on fresh, green produce, high-quality protein, and healthy fats than you do when eating lots of carbs and highly processed foods
In other words, once you’ve followed keto for a significant period of time, you probably won’t crave the high-carb, sugary foods you once did. If you do — whether it’s a special occasion or you simply would love to get your hands on a slice of pizza — know that there are plenty of ways (including delicious keto-friendly recipes) to enjoy these foods.
Follow a Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
On the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD), you would only eat a strict keto diet for five days within a seven day period. Many times, people choose to eat a standard keto diet during the weekdays, and following a high-carb approach on the weekends.
While this will still likely kick you out of the metabolic state of ketosis, following a CKD can make eating keto more mentally manageable for some people.
Enjoy Keto Desserts and Comfort Foods
With the growing popularity of paleo, keto, and low-carb diets, the number of keto-friendly dessert recipes is endless. These recipes recreate your favorite treats and comfort foods with healthy ingredients with a low net-carb count so you don’t have to feel restricted.
For example, baked goods are often made from almond flour or coconut flour instead of white flour, and sweetened with monk fruit or stevia instead of white sugar.
On this site, you’ll find keto-friendly versions of some of your favorite desserts and comfort foods, including:
- Low-carb pizza
- Keto fudge
- Low-carb French fries
- Sugar-free homemade ice cream
- Crispy, gluten-free fried chicken
Experience Life Without Feeling Restricted
A diet that causes physical or emotional deprivation cannot be considered healthy. Therefore, if you’re experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime moment, such as eating Italian pizza in Rome or eating a slice of cake at your grandmother’s 90th birthday, then it’s your choice as to whether you want to deviate from strict keto.
Ideally, following keto will help you to eat intuitively, knowing when you want to treat yourself and when you want to stick to green veggies, protein, and healthy fats. When faced with an opportunity to deviate from your keto meal plan, no matter what the occasion, hopefully you take the time to pause, assess the situation, and ask yourself if that particular food (and the experience that goes with it) is worth it.
A slice of homemade apple pie from your grandmother? That might be worth it. A store-bought candy bar over your lunch hour? Maybe not.
There Are Plenty of Conscious Ways to Have a Keto Cheat Day
When it comes down to it, it’s ultimately up to you whether you want to have a keto cheat day. It’s your responsibility to assess the situation, weigh the physical side effects, and consider whether there may be a healthier, alternative approach.
For example, if you’re throwing a birthday party, offer to bring a cake that you can enjoy. Or, if it’s Thanksgiving, don’t offer to cook green beans or turkey (which are already keto-compliant). Instead, bring a low-carb pumpkin pie or make mashed cauliflower instead of potatoes.
Part of a ketogenic diet is learning to listen to your body, taking note of which foods make you feel good and which don’t. And you know what? Sometimes you may choose to indulge on a food — like dairy ice cream or a slice of pizza from your favorite pizza joint — that doesn’t make you feel your best. And that’s OK. But make sure it was a conscious decision to do so — not one done in a moment of sugar-frenzy cravings.
For plenty of ways to implement keto-friendly comfort foods and desserts, be sure to check out the recipe library on this site. Chances are, your favorite foods have been recreated into low-carb, keto-friendly versions that you can enjoy time and time again.