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Keto Cheat Day: Can You Keep Your Progress?

7 min read
a woman with short curly hair is looking in the camera, smiling, holding cookies in both hands, keto cheat day
Melissa Mitri post Reviewer Melissa Mitri post Reviewer
Verified by Melissa Mitri
MS, Registered Dietitian, Former President of CT Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

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Cheat days—or cheat meals—are a popular concept among dieters. They give you permission to enjoy an otherwise-restricted meal (or a few) without feeling guilty about ruining your diet. When done right, cheat meals can help you stick to your diet for the long run while helping to curb your cravings. 

However, this might not apply to all diets. The core question we answer in this post is will a keto cheat day get in your way of achieving ketosis, and will it stall your weight loss progress? Today, we aim to find this out.

Cheating on Keto: What Breaks Ketosis?

The ketogenic diet (or keto diet) is a low-carb, high-fat diet that has gained a reputation for its weight loss efficacy. 

The basic principle of keto diet is your body starts to break down body fat when it doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to use for energy production [1]. 

Glucose is your body’s primary energy source, and it is stored as glycogen. When you reduce your carb intake below a certain amount, your body starts to tap into these glycogen reserves. 

Continuing to follow a low-carb diet depletes your glycogen stores, and the result is your body breaking down fat for energy. This breakdown of body fat produces something called ketones, which now act as your new energy source. 

This sends your body into a state known as ketosis

The time it takes to achieve ketosis usually ranges from 2-4 days. However, it may take as long as a week in some cases, depending on your physiology [2]. 

To go into ketosis, you need to limit your carbs to 20-50g per day. The higher your carb intake, the longer it takes for you to enter ketosis [2]. 

You also have to keep your protein intake moderate—usually within 10-20% of your total calories—to get into ketosis [1]. Too much protein can also disrupt the process of ketosis. 

Now, let’s look into the concept of cheat meals. A cheat meal is a meal that intentionally deviates from the diet plan you’re currently following. More often than not, cheat meals include junk food that you will normally stay away from. 

While some people are satisfied with just one cheat meal per week, some extend it to an entire day or even a weekend.

What Does It Mean to Have a Cheat Day on Keto?

A cheat day or a cheat meal on keto would mean breaking the rules and indulging in high-carb foods. 

It sounds OK, but there’s a problem.

Your body gets knocked out of ketosis the moment you increase your carb intake. And by definition, if you’re not in ketosis, you’re not following the keto diet. 

A variety of foods can break ketosis, such as:

  • Bread and other baked goods
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Most fruits
  • Chips
  • Cookies and crackers
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Sugar, honey, or syrup

Can You Have a Cheat Day on Keto?

So, can you have cheat days on keto? You can choose to do so, but it will kick your body out of ketosis.

As we explained, a keto cheat day would mean eating a lot of carbohydrate-rich foods that will raise glucose levels in your blood. It will also disturb your state of ketosis. 

Your body will then start storing up glycogen again, and it will take days to use it up and return to ketosis. 

It will be especially difficult to stay in ketosis if you happen to have a keto cheat day once a week. Your body will have a hard time frequently going back and forth, and it will take longer to adapt to a state of ketosis. 

You might be able to get away with a keto cheat day once a month, but it will have its drawbacks all the same. 

You may also like: All You Need to Know About Cheat Weekends

Can You Have a Cheat Day on Keto and Still Lose Weight?

So, can you have cheat days on keto and still lose weight? It depends.

Some might have cheat days on keto and still lose weight, while keto cheat days might hinder the weight loss progress in others. 

In order to better understand this, let’s discuss how the keto diet brings about weight loss. 

Keto & Weight Loss

Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the weight loss induced by the keto diet. One of them is that the body burns fat for energy production during ketosis, thereby losing excess body fat. 

As you can clearly see, this whole process gets interrupted the moment you introduce carbs into your system. Your body will start using glucose again as fuel instead of fat, halting fat loss. 

Meals high in carbohydrates tend to increase your hunger [3]. This can lead to overeating during and after the cheat day and cause weight gain. 

Furthermore, research has also revealed that those who indulge in cheat meals show behavior patterns similar to binge eating [4]. This suggests that a simple cheat meal or two can escalate into a condition of binge eating, thus eventually resulting in weight gain.

However, if you are on keto and badly craving a cookie, it doesn’t mean you can’t have one. Of course, a regular cookie will break your diet, but there are keto-approved cookie recipes all over the internet that use alternative flours, such as almond flour. You can also find these in the market now. 

Not only cookies, there’s keto-friendly pizza, keto pasta, and even keto cake! You can enjoy this guilt-free without getting out of ketosis.

How to Recover from Keto Cheat Day

Cheating on keto is not the best idea, but what happens if you’ve already had a cheat day? Does it mean that your entire diet is ruined and you sabotaged your weight loss progress? 

Of course not!

First, take a deep breath and give yourself some grace. You can still start over and continue on your weight loss journey despite your short-term slip-up. 

True, it will take a few days to get into the ketosis stage, but you can do it! Here are a few actionable steps to get back on keto within a few days.

Take a deep breath and assess the situation

How many cheat meals have you had, and how bad is the situation? Chances are, it’s not as bad as you think. Identify your triggers for seeking a treat meal or meals and treat this as a learning opportunity.

Create a game plan

Expect the food cravings and hunger pangs to last for another few days, and come up with a plan to curb them. Plan your meals ahead of time, keep keto-friendly snacks at hand, and remove high-carb foods that will ruin your diet.

Drink plenty of water

Drink lots of water, as it makes you full and keeps hunger at bay. 

Slightly increase your activity levels

Working out depletes glycogen reserves, helping your body get back to ketosis quickly. However, don’t punish yourself; just slightly level up your workout.

Try intermittent fasting for a few days

Intermittent fasting will help you achieve ketosis faster, so try it out for a few days. 

Bottom Line

You can’t technically cheat on keto without getting out of ketosis but don’t sweat if you had a cheat meal or two. A cheat meal will surely break off ketosis, but there’s still a chance to get back. 

While it may take a few days to achieve ketosis again after a cheat day, hold on tight. In the meantime, stock up on keto-friendly food and desserts to curb your cravings without breaking your diet.

Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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