Are Cheat Meals or Cheat Days Allowed on Keto?
Are cheat days allowed on keto? You can include cheat days or meals, but the frequency of these will affect your progress. In this post, we're going to explore how to have cheat days on keto without ruining your progress. Before we get started, let's go over some basics of the keto diet.
“A Keto diet is a diet plan that restricts carbs and allows fats intake.”
Under normal conditions, our body uses glucose to produce energy for carrying out different activities of life but when the level of glucose in the body drops down then the body uses fat stores to produce energy.
Fat stories are used in the form of ketones that's why we say that the body is in the state of ketosis. This is what happens when a person follows a keto diet. When your body uses stored fat to produce energy this leads to weight loss and also maintains blood sugar levels.
In a Keto diet plan, a person typically eats 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates daily. Some people count total carbs while others count net carbs (total carb – fiber). Fiber is an indigestible part it means that body cannot digest and absorb it (1).
Initially, the keto diet was used to reduce the frequency of seizures in people suffering from epilepsy. When the patient's blood sugar level is low, they had fewer seizures so eating a high-fat low-carb diet will help improve the symptoms of epilepsy.
So, Dr. Wilder at the mayo clinic created a ketogenic diet that puts the body in a fasting state. Early evidence indicated that the ketogenic diet help in treating certain cancers, Alzheimer's disease, and other conditions (2) but high-quality human research is needed to confirm this. Soon the marketing media picked it up and advertised it as a weight loss diet plan with the name keto diet/ketogenic diet (3).
Foods that are allowed on the keto diet:
High-fat foods such as nuts, oil, fish, and meats are allowed along with dairy products such as cheese while the low -fat foods such as leafy greens, and sweets are restricted. Cutting off carbohydrates from your diet means that you will not be eating pasta, rice, and most baked goods along with legumes, vegetables and many fruits, and starchy vegetables such as potatoes.
Seafood is an excellent source of protein in a keto diet. Shellfish are keto-friendly while salmons are low carb and rich in vitamin B, potassium, and selenium. Fresh meat is also rich in vitamin B, and other minerals and it is virtually free of carbohydrates.
Cheese is an excellent source of high-quality saturated fatty acids and it is literally free of Carbohydrates. Some people think that eating cheese increases the risk of heart disease but studies have not confirmed it (4). Contrary, some studies suggest that eating cheese will help you prevent these conditions.
Olives and Avocados
Olives and avocados are unique among vegetables in that they are high in fat and also contain fiber along with low carbohydrates. Oleuropein is an antioxidant found in olives that protects the body from free radical damage and has anti-inflammatory properties (5).
Tea and Coffee
Tea and coffee are low-carb drinks. The caffeine present in coffee increases the rate of metabolism which helps you in reducing weight. Another plus point is that coffee also reduces diabetes risk. If you do not like black coffee then adding heavy cream is okay but avoid lattes and light coffee because these are essentially high carbs and low fats.
Similarly, soft drinks are loaded with sugar so these should also be avoided. The best alternative to soda is sparkling water which is not sweet. Some types contain small amounts of fruit juices so the label should be carefully checked to avoid taking carbs unintentionally.
Nuts and seeds are also keto-friendly. Daily nuts intake is linked to reduced risk of heart disease, cancers, and other chronic diseases. These are high in fiber and make you feel full and reduce carbs intake. Among nuts and seeds almonds, walnuts, and flaxseeds, Chia seeds are very keto-friendly (6).
Benefits of the keto diet
The most important benefit due to which the keto diet gained its popularity is its role in weight loss. Keto diet reduces the production of hunger-stimulating hormones by making a person feel full and thus reducing appetite and supporting weight loss. A review of 11 different studies showed that people following a ketogenic diet lost 5 pounds more as compared to the people who were following a low-fat diet (7).
Acne is caused due to different reasons including a diet that is high in processed carbohydrates or sugars. Eating high amounts of refined carbohydrates alters blood sugar levels. This leads to various skin-related problems. A study conducted in 2012 showed that reducing the carbohydrate intake in some people may improve acne (8).
Reduced risk of cancers:
Research has shown that a ketogenic diet reduces the risk of certain cancers. One study found that a ketogenic diet is safe to follow along with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This is because the keto diet puts more stress on cancer cells than normal cells causing them to die. A recent study showed that the keto diet also lowers insulin levels by reducing blood sugar levels. Insulin links to an increased risk of certain cancers (9).
Promotes brain health:
A study published in 2018 showed that Ketones that were produced during a keto diet have neuroprotective functions which means that they protect the brain and neurons. Because of this keto diet is used to help treat symptoms and complications of Alzheimer's disease (10) but more research is necessary to confirm this.
Risks and complications
As the saying goes “Excess of everything is bad”. Following a ketogenic diet for the short term has many health benefits but for long-term keto diet also has many adverse effects including kidney stones, excess proteins in the urine, mineral, and vitamins deficiency, and buildup of fat in the liver.
The adverse effects of the keto diet are commonly known as “keto flu,” and the symptoms include fatigue, constipation, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and low blood sugar.
Beginners commonly report these symptoms because the body is adjusting to the new energy-producing and survival method. Everyone cannot follow the keto diet. The people who should avoid the Keto diet include diabetes patients who take insulin shots, people with eating disorders, those with kidney stones, and women during pregnancy and breastfeeding (11).
Are cheat days allowed on keto?
Refined and sweetened bakery goods and carbohydrates have become a part of our meals. We can limit their intake but we cannot totally avoid them. We come across them one way or the other. So, the main question is “Are cheat days and meals allowed on the keto diet? The simple answer is yes you can certainly include cheat days or meals in your keto diet but the frequency of these will certainly affect your progress. We will tell you how often to include cheat meals and how to enjoy some extra carbs in the right way.
If the appeal of pasta and a slice of cake is unavoidable then do not stress about it. It will not destroy your progress if you are careful enough. Surely, there are benefits of the keto diet but the main reason you are losing weight is due to calorie control. Carefully controlling your calorie intake with extra carbs does not mean your hard work is destroyed.
On the other hand, if you are following the keto diet due to some other reason cheating may not be the best idea. For example, if you are diabetic and following keto to maintain your blood sugar level then cheat days can increase the risk of heart conditions. In other words, not everyone can enjoy cheat days on a keto diet.
What will happen?
The next question that comes to mind is what will happen if you cheat day on keto? The following things will happen on your cheat days:
- Your blood sugar level will rise.
- This will give you instant energy as your body switches from ketones as the energy source to glucose.
- Do not worry. This will happen only for a day because having a cheat day once every two weeks will not store enough glycogen to through your efforts out the window.
- Once your glycogen stores are depleted and there is no more glucose to replenish then ketone production will resume.
One important thing to understand is that eating carbs is not the reason for gaining weight just eating too many calories is. So, you just have to maintain your calorie count.
How to cheat on keto
Cheat days have become a fashion with many diets. Even scientists are not against it because cheat days teach you the benefits of healthy eating. Nobody can stick to their keto diet perfectly simply because we are humans and not robots. Cheats days may have some benefits: they can help you with cravings and allow you to stick to your diet plan more effectively.
It is better to have cheat meals than the entire cheat day. Because one cheat meal can not drive you off the diet but with an entire day there are more chances of happening this.
If you are reducing your calorie intake then cheating once a week is okay but if you aim to keep your body in ketosis then cheat no more than once every two weeks preferably once every month. Because as soon as you eat high-carb meal your body will switch out of ketosis (12).
Keto cheat days once a week
Cheat days on a diet help you keep your cravings under control, but you mustn't get carried away by it. For the keto diet, it is essential that your body not rely on glucose as an energy source but instead burns fats. So, having cheat days once a week is not preferred because as soon as you eat carbs, your body shuts down ketosis and enters normal glycolysis. That’s why a week cheat day is not ideal.
Keto cheat days once a month
As compared to cheat days once a week, cheat days once a month are the best option. It is very unlikely that a single cheat day in 30 days will throw your efforts out the window. But what’s better than cheat days? Cheat meals. Instead of having a whole day of eating carbs just pick one favorite meal. In this way, your calorie count will be under control and your cravings will be satisfied.
Recovery from your cheat day:
After cheating on your keto, you need to reenter your body into ketosis. This can take days to a whole week. Reentering into ketosis depends on your carbs intake. If you had a whole cheat day of eating carbs then restarting ketosis will take longer.
Intermittent fasting: Intermittent fasting can help your body use glycogen stores rapidly and shift to ketosis.
Exercise: Exercise for short periods so that the muscle glycogen is depleted and your body has no other way to get instant energy.
Calorie intake: Keep your calorie intake under observation and do not exceed the limit.
It is best to make sure that your body has entered ketosis. You can do this by using tools like ketone breath meters and urine strips (13).
Dieting can be hard especially if you are foody but there are ways to enjoy your favorite meals. Keeping everything in moderation will help you in the long term. Following any dieting plan takes willpower and determination. If you have these then the rest will be easy.
While dieting it is important to remember that what you eat is not important but the thing that matters is the calorie count. Track your calorie intake and you can achieve desired results.