on June 06, 2019
The keto lifestyle is notorious for its hard-line stance on cheating. Many experts say that just one bite of the wrong food can have disastrous effects. But is this true for everyone?
Today, we’re examining the cultural phenomenon of dietary cheating, and how it can affect your keto journey.
Whether you plan your cheat day or it’s a spur-of-the-moment decision, it’s important to understand the risks of interrupting your dietary routine -- and the consequences.
If you’ve been following the keto diet, you probably know all about the process of ketosis and how it changes the way the body generates energy from food. Ketosis is a notoriously tricky process to maintain — our metabolic processes are programmed to switch out of it the moment there are too many carbs in the bloodstream.
The most important thing to understand is that it can be difficult to get into ketosis, and cheating (i.e. eating a bunch of carbs) is going to take you out of ketosis.
So, in addition to the influx in calories, you’re interrupting the primary process that makes the lifestyle work.
Does this mean you’re starting back at square one? No. But the problem is that you’re not only “cheating” when you take a carb break -- you’ll have to work that much harder to get your body back into ketosis. Once you fall out of ketosis, it takes that much longer to work your way back into it.
Additionally, sudden changes in carbohydrate intake can have some negative health effects, according to preliminary research out of the University of British Columbia Okanagan.
The study measured the effects of one-week high-fat, high-protein, low-carb (keto) diets. The interesting bit to us, however, is some measurements taken at the end of the study when participants abruptly increased their consumption of carbs again.
Though small, the researchers observed that high-carbohydrate interruptions during a ketogenic diet increased amounts of endothelial damage in research subjects.
From the conclusion: “These new findings suggest that if young, healthy males are following such diets, a temporary lapse in adherence with consumption of food causing a glucose spike might lead to acute endothelial damage.”
Endothelial damage, or destruction of the cells that line the blood vessels, is linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
Again, this is a small study, and it’s probably irresponsible to suggest that we should all go about our lives passing up the occasional slice of pie during the holidays. The point is more that if you’re following keto, there is some scientific evidence that suggests regular, big glucose spikes while in ketosis may not be good for you.
For many, it’s just as hard to stay on a diet as it is to start one in the first place. We cheat on our diets for all kinds of reasons -- impulse, opportunity, the lack of more appropriate food options -- so it’s doubly important to not beat yourself up too much.
While cheating on the keto diet is a little more complicated than other diets, it’s best to remember that falling off the wagon every once in a while isn’t the worst thing in the world.
According to dietician Mike Roussell in Shape magazine, you shouldn’t let the occasional misstep derail your attitude about food: “Surprisingly, knowing that you can cheat anytime usually lessens any desire food has over you, so tossing those restrictions will actually help you need restrictions less.”
Once you identify the factors that drive your will to cheat, it becomes easier to avoid the practice altogether. Here are several tips that can help you avoid cheating on the ketogenic diet.
Two factors that inspire many people to cheat on their diets are impulse and opportunity. When hunger strikes and you find yourself without keto-approved foods, it’s very easy to grab the nearest thing. Luckily, the solution is a simple one. By throwing a few keto-friendly energy bars in your desk or bag, you can stay on track while you’re on-the-go.
Many keto veterans also suggest keto meal prep (here are some handy recipes) so that you have ready-to-eat meals when you need them. By making large amounts and pre-portioning food into meals for the week, you save time, money, and avoid the temptations that will cut ketosis short.
Modern food culture often uses food as a means of rewarding yourself. A “pick-me-up” usually consists of a sugary coffee drink or baked good. The keto diet can help you break this bad eating behavior.
One of the easiest ways to rid yourself of this habit is to use a reward system that isn’t based on food. Treat yourself to a day at the spa or a new haircut to reward behavior. Get those new shoes that you like or take yourself to the movies. When you break free from food as a reward, you remove many forms of temptation that are hard to resist otherwise.
If all else fails, stick to the motto “Overeat, don’t cheat”. Instead of stuffing your face with forbidden carbs, try filling the void with more keto-friendly foods. In the long run, eating more of the foods your body is already used to is less jarring than impulsively eating an entire cupcake. This means that you may spare yourself the difficulty of starting the ketosis process over.
So you cheated on your keto diet. Now what? Here’s our checklist to help you recover and get back into ketosis.
The first thing to do after you cheat is to revert back to your normal keto diet and determine whether or not you are still in ketosis. What may kick one person out of ketosis may not be enough for somebody else, so making this determination is always the first step to getting back on the wagon. Ketone testing strips can help you make this call, and are available in strips that test your blood or urine.
For those no longer in ketosis, the second step is to prepare for side effects. The sudden introduction of carbohydrates to a body used to the ketogenic diet may cause symptoms similar to the dreaded keto flu.
In order to combat feelings of nausea, headaches, and fatigue, it’s important to drink plenty of water and balance out electrolytes. By doing so, your body can readjust to consuming ketones instead of blood glucose.
A one-time occurrence of cheating on the keto diet probably shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. However, understanding the drivers of cheating behavior can ensure that a one-time incident doesn’t develop into a pattern.
“For most people, weight loss is 90% attitude,” says dietitian and nutritionist Susan McQuillan in Psychology Today. By making the experience as fun and easy as possible, you’ll be more likely to adhere to your diet, and keto is no exception.
Take some time to reflect on what you were feeling at the time of the incident. Were you surrounded by carbs? Were you feeling down? Or were you just hungry?
By understanding the why behind cheating behaviors, you can adjust your lifestyle to better combat points of weakness. Try replacing carb-heavy snacks with keto-friendly ones, like low-carb cracker alternatives, and you can indulge while cutting down on your guilt (and staying in ketosis).
Aside from returning to your normal keto diet, there are a few things that can speed the process along and help you achieve ketosis faster.
Increasing physical activity benefits the body in several ways, including speeding up the digestive process. The energy you spend at the gym (and the associated calorie burn) allow you to use up excess carbohydrates that may be stored in the muscles, blood, and liver. Once all of those carbs are gone, your body is free to revert back to ketosis.
According to some studies, medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, can help your body alleviate the symptoms of keto induction (and by extension make your keto flu a bit more tolerable).
This is due to the fact that medium-chain triglycerides are digested more quickly than other nutrients in the body, and are absorbed directly in the liver. MCTs are found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and dairy products. We also have MCT oil products that include more concentrated versions of the nutrient.
Intermittent fasting and the keto diet have a lot in common; both are a means to an end when it comes to ketosis. By engaging in intermittent fasting in addition to a keto-friendly diet, you might reach ketosis at an accelerated rate. Fasting every once in a while helps your body burn off its remaining stores of carbohydrates, which can cut down keto induction times dramatically.
At Left Coast Performance, it’s our mission to deliver the tools you need to sustain your keto journey. We deliver products with premium, clean-label ingredients that you can trust.
If you feel like you’re starting to slip, be sure to check out our MCT oil, which can deliver a much-needed dose of ketones when you need it most.
If you’re looking for an indulgent treat, try mixing one of our flavored bone broths into a delicious vanilla latte or mocha.
At Left Coast Performance, we’re dedicated to helping you avoid cheat days and maximize your results.