Can you have a Cheat Day on the Keto Diet? [What to do to recover]

  • Author: Katie
  • Date: October 9, 2022
  • Time to Read: 11 min.

The keto diet is renowned for being strict in terms of what you can and cannot eat. We’re all rebels at heart, and when somebody tells us we cannot have something, that is all we want to do! This is why some people want the cheat day on the keto diet! Read on to find out whether cheating on keto is a good idea, and if you do decide to be a keto rebel, how to get back into ketosis after a cheat day!

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In case you are new to keto, here’s a quick reminder about how the diet works.

The keto diet works by you consuming around 70% of your daily nutrients from fat, 25% from protein, and 5% from carbohydrates (carbs); this breakdown is often referred to as your keto macros (short for macronutrients).

When you stick to this way of eating, your body will use up its stores of glycogen (sugar) in the body and turn to its next available source of energy, which will be fat.

When your body is burning fat as fuel, this is known as being in ketosis.

Eventually, your body with ‘flick a switch’ and stop looking for sugar for energy, but instead it will default to looking for fat to burn for energy.

This is known as becoming fat-adapted. Being fat adapted is where you want to be on a keto diet.

If there have already been a lot of words or terms there that are new to you, why not check out our guide to keto terms and guide to keto abbreviations

What Is A Cheat Day / Cheat Meal On Keto?

A cheat day or cheat meal is a scheduled period of time in which a dieter ‘cheats’ on their diet. For non-keto-ers, this is normally a fat-filled meal.

A cheat meal for somebody on the keto diet will normally involve eating high-carb foods / high-sugar meal aka a ‘carp splurge’.

Some people will choose to have a single cheat meal, whereas others will choose to have a whole cheat day.

Can I Have A Cheat Day On Keto

On a cheat day – your daily carb intake will be above the 20 grams that are recommended.

Just for note, there is no such thing as a cheat week, this just means that you are no longer eating a keto diet!

Possible Reasons To Have A Cheat Day On Keto

Peer Pressure: We’ve all been in the office when it’s somebody’s birthday, they’re handing out the birthday cake, “it’s only one slice of cake” you think, “how bad could that be? I’ll look rude if I don’t have a slice”. Peer pressure is one of the most common reasons people will have a cheat day on a ketogenic diet.

The easiest way to not fall foul of peer pressure is to tell people that you are not eating carbs because of the numerous health benefits.

Special Occasions: It may be your birthday, anniversary or the special occasion of a loved one, you may be tempted to eat a non-keto meal, either as a treat or because you don’t want to appear ‘faddy’ on somebody else’s special day. If it is the latter – planning ahead with a restaurant can always prevent this, most restaurants will be happy to accommodate your requests.

Emotional Eating: If you had no intention of cheating, but life has thrown a curveball, which sees you eating your children’s birthday chocolate, or the bottom line of the vending machine at work will not be satisfying cheating. We all know that a binge like this only makes us feel good for microseconds before we either feel guilty or we’re looking for more of the same as the first batch did not fully satisfy. Planning for a cheat meal is likely to be a much more satisfying experience.

Bad Planning: This is one of the worst culprits of all, on any diet. You forget that you had a meeting that was going to run late, and then you have to run around and do 101 other jobs before you can eat. By the time you come to eating, you’re shattered and you can’t be bothered to cook a proper meal, so you reach for convenience food.

NOTE: It is important here to question if you are wanting regular cheat days on keto, is it the right diet plan for you? 

Will I Get Knocked Out Of Ketosis If I Have A Cheat Day?

There is the likelihood that if you have a cheat day that you will be knocked out of ketosis. However, if you only have a cheat meal, it is possible that you will not be knocked out of ketosis. If you are going to have a cheat meal, we’ve got some top tips for you below, to ensure that you get back into ketosis asap.

Can I Still Lose Weight On Keto If I Have A Cheat Meal?

If you have a cheat meal on keto it may slow down your weight loss progress slightly, however, it is unlikely to completely stall your weight loss progress. However, if you have too many cheat meals in close succession, you are likely to damage your weight loss and fat loss progress.

How Many Grams Of Carbs Will Knock You Out Of Ketosis?

If you are reading this, it is likely that you are already living a keto lifestyle, so you will be used to eating fewer than 20 grams of carbs per day.

How many carbs will take you out of ketosis will differ for everybody. 20 grams of carbs is the standard number of carbs, however, I am aware of people who can remain in ketosis up to 35 grams of carbs in a day (lucky people!). 

Other factors that influence how many carbs you can eat before knocking yourself out of ketosis will include how long you have been in ketosis already and whether or not you are already fat adapted

If you have been living a keto lifestyle for a period of months, and then decide to have a ‘cheat meal’ the impact is likely to be less than if you have only been eating keto for a short period and are not in ketosis yet, or you have only just transitioned into ketosis.

What Will Be The Side Effects Of A Cheat Meal?

There are a number of possible side effects; the extent to which you may experience any of these will depend on how many carbs you have eaten and over what period of time; i.e. was it one meal or a whole day of carb-indulgence!

Some of the side effects you may experience may include;

  • Fat Adaptation – you may be knocked out of your fat-burning state if your ‘cheating’ becomes a regular habit and you are eating too much glucose. This could slow you down in you fat loss and weight loss goals.
  • Spike in Blood Sugar Levels – you will feel a ‘woosh’ of quick-release energy available, followed by a ‘sugar crash. This is especially important if you are following a keto diet as a response to a health condition such as diabetes.
  • Increase in Hunger – eating carbs makes you hungry, so be prepared to be hungry and want more and more after your ‘cheat’
  • Increase in Cravings – in line with the above, once you have eaten carbs, you are more likely to start craving other carb/sugar-laden foods; at this point, it is unlikely that you are actually hungry, you just want sugar; the old cravings are back.
  • Weight Gain – your body will start to replenish its glycogen (sugar) stores, this may result in a gain in water weight
  • Keto Flu – if you knock yourself out of ketosis, it may be that you get all of the side effects you had initially when transitioning into ketosis. If you don’t know what keto flu is, check out this article, which will take you through the short-lived side effects of keto.
  • Keto Breath – As above
  • Keto Sweat – As Above
  • Damage to Blood Vessels – scientists have argued that having a cheat day on keto can cause damage to blood vessels, although this study only had a small sample size and requires further validation.

No Cheat Day

Some scientists and dieticians have argued that cheat meals in moderation, can be healthy on any diet, as it removes the pressure of having to stick to the same rules every day.

Psychologists have argued that allowing occasional cheat meals by reducing the cravings for specific foods as mentally, you are aware that you can have the food you ‘crave’, this will keep you motivated for the rest of the time.

Hally Berry is famous for being a fan of the keto diet and is also a proponent of cheat meals. She states that knowing a cheat day is coming, helps her stick with the diet for the rest of the time.  (healthline.com) 

The one thing Hally Berry does say, and it is important that it is just one cheat meal and then you get straight back on keto. Take it from somebody who has been there; if you let your cheat meal go into a cheat day, which leads to a cheat few days, YOU WILL STRUGGLE TO GET BACK INTO YOUR ‘NORMAL’ KETO EATING HABITS.

If you cheat meal turns into a cheat few days, you will struggle to return to your keto eating habbits

Minimizing The Impact Of A Cheat Day

Firstly, you should not have a cheat day, but a cheat meal! We have been through why this is essential above.

This may sound like a cheat in its own right, but why not have a keto-friendly substitute cheat meal? If it was pizza you were craving, why not spend the time making the perfect keto-friendly pizza? Or if it’s a Chinese takeaway you’re wanting, why not splash out on a few ingredients to make your own keto alternative? 

Plan Ahead

If you know you are going to have a cheat day, having a plan is essential. If you don’t have a plan, a cheat meal can soon roll into a cheat day, which can soon roll into a cheat week, and so on.

If you know you are going to have a carb splurge, why not plan to eat fewer carbs than normal for a couple of days before and maybe do some additional exercise to ensure that your carb deficit is as low as possible before you carb splurge.

Getting Back Into Ketosis After A Cheat Day

How long it will take you to get back into ketosis will heavily depend on how many carbs you have eaten and what you have done to prepare for going ‘off plan’ as discussed above.

Alongside this, it will depend on how deep you are in ketosis and how long it has been since your last cheat meal, or since starting keto.

If you have been on keto for more than 12 weeks, it is more than likely that you will be fat adapted. If this is the case and you have a cheat meal, it’s likely that you can get back into ketosis within 48 hours, and possible within 24 hours.

How To Get Back Into Ketosis

Accept that you’ve had a cheat day and move on!

If your cheat day was not intentional, except that it happened and move on. There is no point in you dwelling on the fact or beating yourself up over it and move on.

It’s in the past and there is nothing you can do to change what has happened, just move forward.

How To Get Back Into Ketosis Quickly

The best way to get into ketosis quickly is to plan ahead, as discussed above, and then plan for the day after. In order to get back into ketosis, you will need to reduce the number of carbs (glycogen stores) in your body.

The quickest way to do this is to combine fasting and exercise.

The day after your cheat meal, plan to spend the morning doing exercise; this should be vigorous enough for you to be out of breath.

This exercise will force your body to use the glycogen in order to produce energy, once these stores have been depleted, your body will return to burning fat as its primary energy source.

Try to fast until the evening, if possible. This will give your body further opportunity to burn through the glycogen stores.

Test Your Ketone Levels

The only way to know if you are back in ketosis is to test your ketone levels in order to check.

If you need more information on how to check your ketone levels, and whether you are in ketosis, check out this article for more information.

How To Avoid Having A Cheat Day On Keto

  • Find keto alternatives for your favourite foods, every high-carb food will have a keto-friendly substitute
  • Keep keto-friendly foods at hand so you’re less tempted to cheat, especially if you have some carb cravings or general hunger cravings
  • If you are going out and may not be in for your usual mealtime, pack up on keto snacks
  • Consider how far you have come and how a cheat meal may derail your progress, do you really need to cheat?
  • Keep a recipe folder (physical or virtual) of all of your favourite recipes, so you’re never lost for ideas of what to eat.
  • Meal plan, so you know what you are eating in advance, and are less likely to want to cheat, and have healthy eating meals planned
  • Remember what your weight loss goals and health goals are, will a cheat day help you achieve these?
  • If you are going to plan cheat meals into your keto diet, do it proactively. Look at the months/year ahead and plan them in; your birthday, your partner’s birthday, your annual girls nights out, you know when the events are in your own life. Sue from accounting’s birthday cake in the staff room is not an ‘event’ in YOUR life.
  • Try not to plan these in more than every 6 weeks to give your body time to get back into ketosis in-between; ideally, further apart if you can.

Summary: Can I have A Cheat Meal On Keto?

Committing to a keto diet is possibly one of the best things that you will do for yourself in life. The science behind the keto diet does not advocate for cheat days or even cheat meals. However, if an occasional cheat meal will keep you on track with your diet, and you have the self-discipline to only have one meal, it may be possible to do without undoing all of your hard work.

If you are insistent on having a cheat meal, take our advice and plan for it and make a plan for what to do after it. This way you stand the best possible chance of minimizing the impact of the meal.

REMEMBER: A CHEAT MEAL IS NOT A CHEAT DAY OR A CHEAT WEEKEND!

Do you plan cheat meals into your keto diet? If so let us know in the comments below how this works for you and your top tips for getting back into ketosis quickly!  ???

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