Any person on any diet will, at some point, be tempted to have a cheat day. Low carb dieters are no exception. Unfortunately, since the keto diet tends to be strict, it’s not obvious to most keto dieters just how detrimental — if at all — taking a keto cheat day can be. After all, it’s just a few carbs, right?
The answer to the question, can you have a cheat day on keto, is yes, you can. However, it’s very likely to set you back in your progress and could have lasting effects on the success of your dieting in the future.
Below, we’ll discuss why cheat days and cheat meals are so common on diets, the pros and cons of cheating on keto, whether or not a cheat day will ruin your progress, and how to recover from a keto cheat day quickly to get back on track. Let’s get started!
Why Do Keto Dieters Take Cheat Days?
People on a ketogenic diet take cheat days and cheat meals for the same reasons as individuals on other diets: dieting generally isn’t fun, and a cheat day allows you to enjoy your food and get the physiological response you crave from eating food.
There’s a bit more to the “science” of keto cheat days than just getting pleasure from food, though. 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, one’s will to diet will break, and bad habits from before the diet started will resume.
Taking a cheat day or cheat meal is a way to stay motivated on most diets, keto included. The idea is that you’re far more likely to remain strict and stick to your keto diet if you know that next Saturday, you’ll be enjoying some well-deserved carbohydrates. Dangling the proverbial carrot — your next cheat day — in front of yourself is a way to stay committed to your low carb lifestyle between cheat days.
What Are The Downsides of Cheating On My Keto Diet?
Get to enjoy some carbs every once in a while and potentially improve your chances of staying committed to your ketogenic diet long-term…cheat days on keto sound pretty good. Unfortunately, there are numerous downsides to increasing your carbohydrate intake, even for a single day while you’re on a ketogenic diet.
Most importantly, eating above 50 grams of carbs for your cheat day will very likely take you out of ketosis. Starches and sugars both create a spike in blood sugar levels. Since your body naturally prefers to use carbohydrates for energy, it will rapidly begin using the available carbs as its primary source of fuel rather than fat.
As the name suggests, the point of the keto diet is to remain in a state of ketosis so that your body burns fat for fuel. When you introduce carbs into your diet, even for a single day, you’ll no longer be in ketosis.
The main problem with dropping out of ketosis is getting back into it! After a cheat day, it can take a few days and even up to a week to get back to using fat for fuel. That means that a single cheat day will really impede your progress for up to seven days.
Although some keto dieters use cheat days as a form of motivation to stay committed to their generally low carb lifestyle, other people may find that it deters them from getting back to limiting carbohydrates. You likely know which group you belong to, so you can decide for yourself if a cheat day from keto will help or hinder you.
Finally, there is some evidence from scientific research to suggest that going off of your keto diet and consuming large quantities of carbohydrates could do damage to your cardiovascular system.
Are Cheat Days Or Cheat Meals Better for Keto?
Some keto dieters believe that, while cheat days might not be acceptable, cheat meals every once in a while are fine and won’t impede progress much. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
Whether you consume 50 or more grams of carbs in a single meal or throughout an entire day, you’ll kick yourself out of ketosis and cause your body to turn once again toward carbs for energy. A single cheat meal may not sound like a big deal, but it can be just as damaging to your progress on keto as an entire day of eating carbs.
With that being said, one of the biggest downfalls to a keto cheat day is that caloric intake often isn’t monitored. Many people use cheat days to binge eat, and packing in thousands of calories into one day will most likely be detrimental for both your weight loss journey and your likelihood of reverting to a strict keto diet.
However, cheat meals on keto are significantly better if you limit your carb intake and calories for the cheat meal, making it more of a pseudo cheat meal.
Suppose you have one meal once every two weeks where you eat 40 grams of carbs, but the rest of the day you limit your carbs to zero grams and ensure your total calories for the day remains at a deficit. In that case, a single cheat meal may not bring you out of ketosis or do any lasting harm to your keto diet.
Will One Cheat Day Ruin My Progress?
This is a challenging question to answer because it’s based on the individual and not generalities. You know yourself best, so if you’re certain that you can use cheat days every so often as a form of motivation to stick to your keto lifestyle in between cheat days, then one day of eating carbs might not be detrimental.
Your weight might spike because carbs cause you to retain water, but as long as you limit carbs after the cheat day and get back into a state of ketosis quickly, your cheat day probably won’t have any long-term negative effects on your weight loss goals.
If instead, you know that a cheat day might be a slippery slope and lead you to give up your low carb lifestyle, then avoiding cheating altogether is your best bet.
How Do I Get Back Into Ketosis Quickly?
Most keto dieters estimate that they need to eat fewer than 50 grams of carbs to remain in ketosis. If you go above this limit during your cheat day, your goal should be to get back into ketosis as quickly as possible to minimize negative effects on your progress. There are a few things you can do to help return to ketosis quickly.
Restrict Carbs More Than Usual
Your first goal to expedite your return to ketosis is to limit carbs even more than you normally do. If you typically eat 50g of carbs or less per day, drop it down to 15-25g for two or three days following your cheat day. This will help limit the amount of stored glycogen in your body, which will help you turn back to fat for fuel more quickly.
Increasing how much you exercise in the days following your cheat day will also help deplete glycogen stores, which will help you reach a state of ketosis more quickly. Adding 15-20 minutes of medium-to-high intensity exercise each day after a cheat day should help you get back into ketosis more quickly.
Your best course of action is to not worry about getting back into ketosis quickly. Just get right back on your plan and before you know it you will be in ketosis again. With anything diet related, you are usually better off taking a more measured approach instead of going to the extremes.
What’s the Best Way to Do a Cheat Day On Keto?
If you’ve read through the potential downsides of doing a cheat day on keto and you’re still considering taking one day to break your keto diet, there are several guidelines you should follow to minimize the progress you’ll lose and maximize your chances of getting back to ketosis quickly.
Cheat WITH Keto, Not ON It
The best way to have a cheat day on keto is not to have one at all. Instead of digging into an entire box of sugary cereal or housing a whole tray of brownies, try some keto friendly foods and recipes that will make you feel like you’re having a cheat day. Opting for a keto cereal or our extreme fudge keto brownies will leave you satisfied and won’t compromise your state of ketosis.
Count Calories and Carbs
Maybe keto brownies just aren’t cutting it for you, and you really do need a cheat day. One of the best things you can do to limit the adverse effects and potential weight gain is to continue to count carbs and remain at a caloric deficit.
Instead of going to town and eating everything you can get your hands on, try sticking to fewer than 150g of carbs, and ensure that you don’t go overboard with calories. Weight loss is mostly a numbers game, so if you remain at a deficit, you should continue to trend downward in your weight.
Additionally, the more carbs you consume on your cheat day, the more likely your blood sugar will spike. Excess blood sugar will get stored as glycogen, and more glycogen means it will take you to return to ketosis afterward.
Sugars and starches will both cause a spike in blood sugar and take you out of ketosis in excess, but sugar can be even more dangerous because it triggers cravings for more food — specifically, more sugary food.
Avoiding sugary foods altogether on your cheat day might be challenging, but you’re better off going for a starchy carb fix than a sugary one.
Craving fast food? Instead of going off plan, why not learn about your keto fast food options.
Using fat bombs as a tasty and filling dessert is a great replacement for high sugar foods.
Wrapping Up: How Bad Is a Cheat Day for Keto?
Having a cheat day on keto will very likely bring you out of ketosis, and it can take up to about a week to get back to using fat for energy. For this reason, many keto dieters avoid cheat days altogether and instead use keto friendly recipes that satisfy cravings for certain foods without delivering 50+ grams of carbohydrates.
With that being said, a cheat day here and there could be good for you and your diet. Some keto dieters even use cheat days as motivation to stick to their diet long-term. As long as you plan ahead and get back into ketosis quickly with increased exercise and further restricted carbs, cheat days aren’t the end of the world. Use them wisely, and they could benefit you overall.