How many times have you had to admit you cheated on keto?
Since a ketogenic diet eliminates carbs — aka the foundation of the Standard American Diet — it can be challenging for most carb-raised people to follow all the time.
So whether you had a chocolate chip cookie or cheated with a few drinks for a special event, no one’s perfect.
But what does cheating actually do to your previously fat-fueled body?
Today we’ll break down everything you need to know about cheat meals and cheat days on keto, including:
- Why good ketoers cheat
- What happens after one cheat meal
- What happens after one cheat day
- What happens after a cheat week
- How to get back in ketosis ASAP
To start, let’s get to the bottom of why you may have or want to cheat on keto.
What constitutes a cheat anyway?
To stay in ketosis, many people need to limit their net carbs to 25g per day.
Since most Americans eat an average of 275g of carbs per day, the easiest and most common way ketoers cheat is by blowing their carb allotment[*].
So let’s say a cheat is anything that goes over your net carb allowance.
This could happen with a single snack, meal or weeklong eating bonanza.
Before we talk about how to get back in ketosis, it’s important to address the issue of cheating to rule out any underlying snags with your diet.
If you’re chronically craving carbs, you may need to adjust your keto macros to make sure you’re actually burning fat for energy and reaching ketosis, and not in a metabolic limbo that has you dreaming of high carb foods. Check out this guide for more help calculating these.
Are you a social cheater? Do you feel weird eating or drinking keto around your work colleagues, new dates or more traditional family members?
You can work around these obstacles by finding the best keto-friendly drinks or eating before you meet up, for example.
Are you prepared for keto life? Because this diet isn’t for the lazy.
While you can make it on convenience foods and the drive-thru lane, the healthiest plan of attack is batch cooking several meals in advance so you always have a keto meal ready to go and cheat less out of convenience.
Do you have a huge event, holiday or celebration? Since weddings, vacations, holidays and special occasions are the hardest for most people to stay on keto, you may have more luck working around them.
With a definite start and end date, a targeted keto diet or a cyclical keto diet may help you deal with those extra carbs the smart way instead of ghosting ketosis.
Do you still have major FOMO when it comes to carbs and sugar? Calling something a “cheat” automatically makes it more desirable. And since so many carby comfort foods trigger happy feelings in the moment, ditching them is even harder and you feel guilty when it’s over.
Instead of looking at cheat foods as what you can’t have, think about how you’re saving yourself from what that junk food will be doing to your body, as you’ll see next.
I Cheated On Keto — Now What?
Being on a ketogenic diet isn’t simply trying to eat healthy foods most of the time like other diets.
It’s a fundamental shift in eating you need to practice consistently so it becomes your new way of life.
Since your body has to make a complete metabolic shift from using glucose from carbs to running on fat for energy, it’s not a light switch you can turn on and off whenever you want — at least not in the very beginning.
The process of getting into ketosis can take anywhere from 24 hours to a week depending on your metabolic health
Furthermore, becoming fully fat adapted (aka keto-adapted) can take you 3-6 weeks.
So if you cheat, you may literally undo days of hard work.
Let’s talk about how much you can really get away with and what actually happens to your body when you cheat on keto.
Let’s start with the good news first: one cheat meal may not be enough to kick you out of ketosis.
But that’s not your green light to start cheating once a day.
Whether you stay in or out of ketosis all depends on several different factors, such as:
- Your body type
- Your normal daily net carb amount
- How much over you went in cheat carbs
- How long you’ve been in ketosis
- Whether you’re fat adapted
- Your activity level
If you’re a veteran to ketosis or can say you’re fat adapted (which is not the same as your body being in ketosis), you may be able to use the occasional carbs from a cheat meal instead of causing damage.
Plus, your body won’t revert back to using carbs as its main source of energy so easily since it’s been adapted to using fat.
However, most ketoers aren’t this lucky. Anything over their daily 25g of net carbs limit will kick them out of keto.
And that’s really easy to do considering the carb counts in just one of these popular cheat foods:
- Slice of pizza: 34g
- Banana: 27g
- Doughnut: 22g
- Burger bun: 21g
- 1 oz. potato chips: 15g
- 8 oz. beer: 13g
So now it’s time for the bad news: when you have a cheat meal on keto, you may experience:
#1: High Blood Sugar Levels
As your body works to process the carbs and sugar from your cheat meal, more glucose releases into your bloodstream.
When your body senses this surge of glucose, it sends out insulin to push that glucose out of your blood and into your cells to be used for energy.
But if you’re insulin resistant, pre-diabetic or have type 2 diabetes, your body has a hard time doing this, which means you’ll have both high blood glucose and high insulin levels.
Higher insulin levels not only stall fat loss, they can also lead to weight gain[*].
As if that’s not bad enough, you’ll also have…
#2: Intense Sugar Cravings
You know sugar is addictive. All it takes is one cheat meal to get your brain and body jonesing for sugar again thanks to those opiate-like effects[*].
Studies show your brain becomes more addicted to sugar (and faster) than cocaine. Your brain rewards you for choosing sugar and then overrides your ability to practice self-control so you keep going back for more[*].
Whether you’re on the hunt for cupcakes or bread, the longer you’ve been without sugar, the harder it will be to resist when you’ve had a taste of the sweet stuff.
In one study, scientists deprived rats of sugar for two weeks and then gave them 12 hours of unrestricted access to it. The rats gorged on 23% more sugar than they ever ate before[*].
But the group of rats who were not deprived of sugar didn’t show this frenzied effect.
Give in to your sugar cravings and you’ll continue the cycle. Stop them and you’ll face…
#3: A Terrible Sugar Crash
Even if you don’t touch a single sweet or dessert, carbs from a sub roll or night of beer drinking all turn to glucose just like ice cream.
And since your sensitivity for sweetness goes way up when you remove so much of it from your diet on keto, just the smallest amount of sugar can do major damage.
If you don’t give in to those hostile sugar demands, you’ll likely feel the signs of low blood sugar, also known as a sugar crash, such as:
- Trouble concentrating
- Crankiness and irritability
While you may be tempted to slip into a whole day of cheat meals when you’re feeling any of these signs, just stop right there. There’s still time to keep yourself from eating any more carbs and maybe even stay in ketosis.
You can manage these dreaded symptoms by taking Perfect Keto Blood Sugar Support, which aids healthy carbohydrate metabolism and stabilizes blood sugar levels when you eat more carbs than you should.
Now let’s see what happens when you don’t stop at just one cheat meal.
If you’ve been a steady ketoer, your body won’t take kindly to a huge influx of carbs all at once anymore.
That means you’ll find it much harder to eat the same amount of carbs during a cheat as you used to eat before you were keto.
But let’s say you’ve ignored keto for one whole day. Here’s what you may deal with:
#1: That Awful, Familiar Inflammation
Many scientists and health experts now agree inflammation begins in your gut with the foods you eat.
- Processed, pre-packaged foods filled with refined ingredients like sugar, grains (even whole grains) and artificial preservatives, flavorings and colors
- High-glycemic foods like bread, pasta, fruits and starchy vegetables
- Refined veggie oils like canola, corn, safflower and soybean
- Coffee, beer and alcohol
Indulging in cheats from this list may tear small rips in your gut[*].
Then undigested food particles can escape through these holes and wind up elsewhere in your body where they shouldn’t be.
Your body attacks these foreign invaders and uses inflammation as its defense mechanism.
This works well when deployed infrequently, but keep abusing your gut with carbs and you’ll have a network of tears in your digestive tract, which may lead to:
- Crohn’s disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis
There’s more bad news: it takes your body a full seven days, on average, to repair these gut leaks.
So if you’re constantly ripping new holes only to patch them up when you get back on keto and cheat again, you’ll be caught in an endless loop of catch up[*].
This could partly explain why you feel so crummy after a day on carbs. And you can blame the next reason too…
#2: Bloating. Lots of bloating.
Don’t be surprised if your cheat meals cause less than stellar digestion.
Signs of trouble in paradise include:
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Cramping or intestinal pain
- Gas and bloating
- Excessive burping
On top of all that mess, you’re also going to feel heavier when you chow down on a carb cheat.
No, your scale isn’t broken and it’s not your imagination; you could have an immediate weight gain of five to 10 pounds after a day of cheating. But this isn’t pure fat; it’s mostly water weight.
See, your body can only use so much glucose from the carbs you eat. Whatever doesn’t get used ultimately gets stored as glycogen reserves.
For every gram of stored glycogen in your body, you’ll also be holding onto three or four grams of water[*].
When you get back in ketosis and burn through those glycogen stores, you’ll drop a ton of this water weight first.
Though you probably won’t be losing any real weight (fat tissue) if you’ve had nothing but cheat meals for a full seven days.
Stay in keto for a respectable amount of time and then take a week off to reignite your love affair with carbs and you’re going to be in for a bad time.
#1: Ketosis is Now in Your Rearview Mirror
No matter how fat adapted you may be, a week of cheat meals will certainly kick you out of ketosis and fat adaptation mode.
When you switch from carbs to fat to carbs again, you cause a massive chain reaction in your body including:
- Burning glycogen, then ketones, then glycogen again
- Altering and balancing specific hormones
- Increasing or decreasing enzyme production
You’re likely to feel exactly how you did before you started your low carb diet: low energy, unmotivated, constantly searching for food and unable to find a way out of your neverending brain fog.
Assuming you want to get back in ketosis after a cheat week, you have a high probability of going through the keto flu to get there.
#2: Prepare For Keto Flu
You’ll be back at square one trying to reach ketosis after a week of carb indulgences.
And that will lead to the carb hangover known as the dreaded keto flu.
Symptoms usually occur within the first day or two of starting a ketogenic diet, but the intensity and length will vary for everyone. These include:
- Stomach aches or pains
- Brain fog
- Dizziness or confusion
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Muscle cramping or soreness
- Lack of concentration or focus
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Sugar cravings
- Heart palpitations
A few lucky ketoers won’t have any symptoms at all, while others could experience several at a time for up to a week or two.
Yes, you may have been kicked out of ketosis, but hopefully, you enjoyed your time on the other side of Carb City.
Now it’s time to get serious.
You got into ketosis once, you can certainly do it again, right?
Let’s talk about the seven best ways to get in ketosis quickly:
#1. Intermittent Fasting Is Your Hero
In order to get back in Ketoland, you need to burn through all the carbs you gave your body during your cheat.
Intermittent fasting is the best and easiest way to torch those glycogen reserves and nudge your body to getting as close to zero-carb (stored as glycogen) as possible.
Think of it as your keto start over button.
Since your body will think you’re starving during your fasting periods (even though you’re not), it will burn through your glycogen stores stat.
- Have an early dinner the night before. Don’t eat anything later than 8 PM.
- Skip breakfast and have nothing except tea or coffee with grass fed butter, coconut oil, or MCT oil. These healthy fats will stabilize your blood sugar and increase ketone production so you can fast longer.
- Stay away from carbs and eat a meal packed with fat when you’re truly hungry after the 13–18 hour fasting window.
- Repeat the process the following day, eating as few carbs and as much fat as possible.
You can use IF every other day or daily for the first few days you’re working your way back into ketosis.
#2. Drink Tons of Water
There are two major reasons to step up your water game during transition time:
#1. You’re going to experience a lot of cravings and downing tons of water will fill you up. Wean yourself off carbs and your stomach will be crying out for more. Water temporarily fills the void these cravings rip open.
#2. You’ll be losing your glycogen stores, which means your body will be flushing water instead of holding on to it. You could risk dehydration and headaches if you don’t replenish your H2O.
Watch your electrolytes during this time; drink too much water and you could flush these critical minerals away. Try snacking on keto-friendly foods like salted almonds, pepperoni, olives and other salty treats along with your water.
A few other keto-approved drinks include:
- Herbal teas sweetened with stevia
- Lemon or lime squeezed in your water
- Bone broth (which adds water and electrolytes like sodium and potassium)
You can also take an electrolyte supplement to make it easier. Perfect Keto Electrolytes will help you replenish sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium so you can diminish side effects during your transition to keto.
#3. Whenever You’re Hungry, Aim For Fat
Since you’ll be avoiding carbs like your ex at a party, you’ll want to stick to high fat meals and snacks.
Not only will this keep you full when the carb cravings strike, you’ll also be pushing your body ever so slowly into ketosis.
Stick to leafy greens like spinach, spring mix salad, arugula, romaine and avocado if you need a few low carb veggies along with your fat.
#4. Try One Fave Keto Recipe and One New Keto Recipe Each Week
This will both remind you of why you started and rejuvenate your journey again with something new. When you eat these fatty, satisfying meals, you’ll facepalm yourself for turning your back on fat and hanging out with carbs again.
Check out these easy keto recipes from the Perfect Keto kitchen when you’re done here!
Following a tasty keto meal plan will make it a lot easier to stick to your keto goals and avoid falling for carbs.
#5. Exercise (Yes, It Will Be Miserable)
Don’t consider exercise your punishment for cheating on keto; it’s actually a really good thing for your body.
See, not eating carbs will help your body use up all the extra glycogen you packed on during your cheat. But you can also force your body to use this up faster by exercising.
No, you don’t have to run a marathon or lift the heaviest kettlebells. Just turn your exercise up a notch.
Whether that’s an extra 10 minutes added to your yoga sesh, a few more reps to your workout or another three blocks on your run, your body will use your carb reserves to supply your muscles with the fuel you need.
Force yourself to get your heart rate up, break a healthy sweat and mentally clear your body of all the carbs clouding your mind and stalling your weight loss.
Just don’t go crazy; overtraining will force your body to release stress hormones which raise your blood sugar and make ketosis much harder to achieve[*].
#6. Reset Your Body With Quality REM Sleep
Your body’s best chance of resetting and repairing itself happens while you’re sleeping. In the quiet hours of the night, it can work on all the processes it’s too busy to take care of during the day.
So if you want to lose weight and reach ketosis, you better pay more attention to your snooze time.
When adults sleep less than eight hours a night[*]:
- Hunger and appetite both increase the following day
- Cravings for foods high in carbs rise while willpower to resist them decreases
- Cells become 30% less efficient at using insulin
- Metabolism slows
Heads up: many ketoers report developing insomnia after going low carb.
#7. Take a Shortcut with Exogenous Ketones
Your body is a ketone-producing machine when you’re in ketosis. But you can speed up the process by supplying your body with ketones from an outside source.
Enter exogenous ketones.
This will put you in the metabolic state of ketosis and accelerate fat burning.
And that will make your cheat meal, day or week just another bad memory.
Most Importantly… Don’t Give Up
You may be tempted to let a single cheat meal turn into a cheat day which then spirals into a cheat week because you know how difficult it can be to get back into ketosis.
That’s why so many experts still can’t agree on whether you should even have cheat meals on keto in the first place.
If you had one cheat meal, you can curb its side effects on your energy by taking Blood Sugar Support.
If you cheated for a day or a week, follow these seven tips to get back into ketosis faster and you’ll no longer have to silently punish yourself with feelings of guilt when you do take a ride on the carb train.
So just dust the powdered sugar off, admit what you’ve done and never say “I cheated on keto” again. You’ve got this!
Lauren Ciccarelli is a writer and former carb addict. Since going keto, she not only lost 35+ pounds and banished her PCOS symptoms, she also found more energy to be awesome and less distaste for lifting weights. Say hi to her on Twitter @ciccarelli.