The ketogenic diet, commonly known by its nickname, keto, has become widely popular in recent years—and it's not just fitness fanatics and health guru who are doing it anymore. A low-carb, fat-burning alternative, this diet is all about reducing the intake of net carbs in order to enter the body into ketosis. But how important is it to always stay in ketosis? And can you take a keto cheat day?
In ketosis, the body works efficiently to break down fat into ketones that get flushed through urine. Rather than burning the carbohydrates and sugars in the foods you're consuming, in ketosis, your body can focus all of its attention on burning the stored fat, which helps to reduce body weight.
However, ketosis can be a tricky state to stay in, so you may be left wondering just how strict you need to be on your keto diet in order to stay there.
Whether you've committed to the keto diet or are exploring and wanting to learn more, here's everything you need to know about if cheat days are possible on the keto diet, according to the experts.
The positives and negatives of cheat meals
Cheat meals. We all enjoy them, and we're all curious. But what is a cheat meal, especially on the ketogenic diet? And what are the potential effects of getting your body out of ketosis?
The keto diet relies heavily on reducing certain foods from the diet in order to enter ketosis. When these 'restricted' items are re-introduced, (especially in large quantities like they would be in a 'cheat meal'), it can really impact the body's fat-burning state.
While cheat days may sound like a relief from the strict keto diet standards from time to time, they do come with consequences. Here are some of the downsides of having a keto cheat day that you may want to consider before jumping in.
Cheat days kick you out of ketosis
The big (and obvious) downside to cheating on the keto diet is that you'll likely bring yourself out of ketosis.
Because it does take a bit of time and effort to get into that state to begin with, you'll have to be prepared to work harder to get back, plus combat any feelings of grogginess or discomfort that come with eating foods you haven't in a while (which many dieters call the keto flu, which is when you might experience headaches, bloating, or grogginess that result from eating "non-keto" foods).
To see if you're out of ketosis, you'll want to test your ketone levels. While it may feel like a worthwhile gamble—as some foods will kick you out of ketosis and some won't—the majority of cheat meals will negatively affect ketosis.
It's a risk you'll have to weigh out before deciding.
Cheating impacts your fat-burning and cravings
When you're out of ketosis, you're not reaping the benefits of the keto diet—like fat-burning.After working hard to get your body adapted to the new diet, you'll have to decide whether it's worth thwarting those efforts for a few carbs.
A keto cheat day can also cause cravings, which will start to impact your willingness to adhere to the diet in the first place.
Hillary Cecere, RDN for Eat Clean Bro, says, "I would not recommend a cheat day on the ketogenic diet. Carbs are the body's preferred energy system, so if carbs are introduced, the body will use them instead of ketones. Once you are out of ketosis, a ketogenic diet would have to be reintroduced and it may take 2 to 3 days to introduce ketosis again."
Your blood sugar will skyrocket
The keto diet is great for stabilizing blood glucose, but with cheat days, these levels can spike (even dangerously!). Although the diet can have many benefits, these are often void when the diet is broken by cheat meals or binging.
This becomes even more serious if you have diabetes or other digestive issues. Cecere says, "If you are using the keto diet as a weight-loss tool, cheating is not the end of the world, but I would still not recommend it. If you are using the keto diet for a medical reason, like to control seizures, cheating is a definite no."
How to take a keto cheat day the right way
So, after knowing all the potential risks, why would one want to cheat the keto diet?
Sometimes following a more restrictive diet regimen can feel difficult or overwhelming. To combat this, you like to have a cheat meal every once in a while so things feel more doable.
Or maybe there's a specific reason you want to try a cheat meal. Perhaps you're traveling or spending time with non-keto friends and don't want to make ordering for the group difficult. Whatever your reasoning is, you may want to cheat the diet once in a while. You just have to learn to cheat the "right way."
Don't totally eliminate any foods
If you're feeling tempted to binge, or simply having a hard time keeping yourself in ketosis, Dr. Rachel Paul PhD, RD of College Nutritionist, recommends a low-carb diet over keto if you're not willing to strictly adhere to ketosis.
"With a low-carb diet, you get many of the benefits of a low-carb approach, but it's more realistic and doable for the long-term," she says.
Or if you're wanting to stay on keto, rather than a completely restrictive mindset, Paul encourages ideally less than 150 grams of carbohydrates per day, which can include starchy vegetables like potatoes, beans, or peas, or grains like pasta, breads, or quinoa. Even though she is incorporating these carbohydrates into the diet, the quantity is low enough to keep someone in ketosis—without the desire to indulge in that cheat meal.
She also recommends listening to your body more to fight against cravings.
"The first question I want you to ask yourself is, 'Am I hungry for breakfast?' [The phrase] 'breakfast is the most important meal of the day' is just not true for everyone," says Paul. "I generally recommend not eating just for the sake of eating—eat breakfast when you feel true hunger in your stomach."
Beth Lipton, recipe developer and food/wellness writer, offers another approach on 'cheat days,' "Rather than spending your mental energy deciding whether or not to 'cheat' and then feeling guilty, redirect it toward figuring out what works best for you. And that's individual," she says.
Try keto cycles
Another common way to 'cheat' the keto diet is to think of ketosis in cycles rather than a constant state. The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD) incorporates a week of the standard diet followed by several days of higher carbs. Some dieters will do the standard diet during the week, followed by the cycle on the weekends.
This does bring you in and out of ketosis, which many experts do not recommend. However, the cycle approach can help to make the diet feel more manageable and work to preserve lean muscle mass.
It's not perfect for everyone, though, and some people may or may not have success depending on their body type.
RELATED: No-sugar-added recipes you'll actually look forward to eating.
Make a keto cheat meal
So who says you can't actually cheat with keto?
One of the simplest (and smartest) ways to have a keto cheat day on keto is to create keto-friendly alternatives or low-carb swaps to the foods you love. For example, if you're craving cheesy pasta, try subbing the noodles with zucchini (zoodles!) instead. Or get a burger and use lettuce instead of a bun.
There are countless keto-friendly recipes that you can incorporate to stay on track but satisfy the cravings.
If you're having crazy cravings, it's also a good idea to consider your protein intake. Protein is a staple to the keto diet, but if you're not getting enough protein, you might be falling victim to cravings that you can easily avoid by adding more meats and vegetables. Sometimes filling your body with the right foods can be the perfect alternative to a cheat day.
It's also a great idea to meal prep so that you have good, diet-friendly foods on hand and feel less inclined to stray.
Bottom line: So is cheating on the keto diet OK?
Cheat days—for any diet—come with risks. When you cheat, you step backward and negatively impact any progress you've made with your diet, which may or may not be worth it depending on what you're trying to achieve or any medical conditions you may have.
Dieting can be hard, though, and if you're craving something, there are ways to satisfy, even when you're on the keto diet.
Experts recommend staying as strict as possible to the diet to prevent adverse effects. However, you can incorporate small amounts of carbs to your diet to make your meals feel more manageable. You can also find keto-friendly cheat meals, like these Keto Latte Swirl Brownies, to indulge in!
Will one cheat day on keto ruin everything? ›
The bottom line. You should avoid cheat meals and days on the keto diet. Consuming too many carbs can kick your body out of ketosis — and it takes several days to 1 week to get back into it. In the meantime, your weight loss may be disrupted.Can you do keto 5 days on 2 days off? ›
Keto cycling doesn't have a set definition. Some people choose to have five or six days on keto followed by a day or two off. Others will do keto for 10 to 12 days followed by three to four days off. Devine typically doesn't recommend taking more than two days off keto.Will one chip ruin ketosis? ›
Yes, even just one carb-rich meal can quickly get you out of ketosis. The carbs eaten on a cheat day will halt the production of ketones immediately until they are all metabolized by the body.How often is it OK to have a cheat day on keto? ›
If your goal is calorie control, aim to cheat no more than once or twice a week. But if ketosis is important for your progress, consider cheating much less often, like once a month. And if you are new to a keto diet, wait at least a few weeks to get some progress going before even considering cheats.Can you get kicked out of ketosis in one day? ›
It is possible to get kicked out of ketosis in one day, though it is generally not recommended to do so. Some examples of things that can kick you out of ketosis are eating excessively high-carb foods, overconsuming alcohol, or significantly reducing your fat intake.What happens if you have cheat days on keto? ›
If you eat more than 50 grams of carbs in a day, you'll throw your body out of ketosis. As a result, you'll stop burning that belly fat and converting it into energy. Even worse, you'll have to go through the whole process of getting back into ketosis, which can take up to a week or more.Is it OK to eat carbs once a week on keto? ›
The standard ketosis diet is not for everyone. Adding clean carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, squash, and white rice once a week helps your body function properly. Your brain, your body, and your joints will all benefit from cyclical ketosis.How many carbs will ruin ketosis? ›
Unfortunately, there are numerous downsides to increasing your carbohydrate intake, even for a single day while you're on a ketogenic diet. Most importantly, eating above 50 grams of carbs for your cheat day will very likely take you out of ketosis. Starches and sugars both create a spike in blood sugar levels.How long does it take to get back into ketosis after cheating? ›
Overall, you can get back into ketosis as soon as 12-16 hours after your last cheat meal (with the help of fasting and exercise) or it can take as long as it did when you first started keto.Can I have a slice of pizza on keto? ›
Pizza. Yes, pizza can also be keto-safe, but Boyer said that you'll want to use cauliflower crust (can be made homemade or found in the freezer section) made with almond flour instead of carb-filled pizza dough.
What's the fastest way to get back into ketosis? ›
- Minimize your carb consumption. Eating a very low carb diet is by far the most important factor in achieving ketosis. ...
- Ramp up your physical activity. ...
- Increase your healthy fat intake. ...
- Try a short fast or a fat fast. ...
- Maintain adequate protein intake. ...
- Test ketone levels and adjust your diet as needed.
If you've been low-carb for weeks or months, one cheat meal (especially a super high-carb cheat meal) can send your body into a tizzy. Specifically, you're at risk for blood sugar spikes, which can cause dizziness, shakiness, headaches, fatigue, and lethargy.Will a 24 hour fast put me in ketosis? ›
Going on a 24-hour fast before you start the keto diet can actually put your body in a state of ketosis. During that period, your body will burn through its glucose reserves, which will set you up to begin burning body fat and dietary fat for fuel.Will a cheat day ruin my progress? ›
Do cheat days ruin your progress? A cheat day every once in a while will not erase weeks and months of consistent workouts and healthy eating. Cheat days can help keep you stay motivated long-term if you practice mindful eating. But remember, this doesn't mean you can get carried away on cheat days.What happens when you eat carbs again after keto? ›
When you transition off keto and start reintroducing carbs into your diet, your body is naturally going to need time to adjust to the change. Even if you reintroduce carbs slowly, you may still experiences weight fluctuations, bloating, blood sugar spikes, and increased feelings of hunger for the first few weeks.Will one cheat day a week ruin my diet? ›
The question: Will one "cheat day" a week ruin your weight-loss plans? The expert: Rachel Beller, M.S., R.D., author of Eat to Lose, Eat to Win. The answer: No, in fact, it's encouraged!What happens if I eat a pizza on keto? ›
This type of pizza crust can have up to 33g of carbs without any added sauce or cheese. If you're limiting your carbs to 20-50 grams per day, one slice of this type of crust will likely kick you out of ketosis.
Eating sugar while in ketosis can cause side effects, too. "You might experience some gastrointestinal distress," says Bridges. "If you've been in ketosis for a while, your body may no longer be equipped to digest high-carbohydrate foods in the same manner as it used to be."How long can you stay in ketosis safely? ›
The majority of medical professionals recommend three months as the outside limit for a keto diet. Some say do say, though, that cyclical keto program (for example, three months on and one month off), can safely be followed for longer periods.How do you know if you're knocked out of ketosis? ›
Here are some signs that you are not in ketosis: You experience increased or continued cravings, especially for sugar or carbs. You notice hunger levels are high. Your energy is low or unstable.
Why did I fall out of ketosis overnight? ›
You can fall out of ketosis by exercising. Good ole' stress can do it too. This is because stress raises insulin, which lowers ketones production. Ketosis is a fickle thing.Why am I in ketosis but not losing weight? ›
You're eating too many carbs
One of the main reasons people don't lose weight on the ketogenic diet is that they're consuming too many carbs. To reach the state of ketosis — a metabolic state in which your body burns fat for energy instead of glucose — carbohydrate intake must be drastically reduced.
- Sugar/sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Too much fruit.
- Processed meats (they often have hidden sugars)
- Fat-free and low-fat dairy (too much lactose, a dairy sugar)
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and certain winter squash.
Generally speaking, it takes about 3 days to go back down to pre-cheat day and then you lose another pound or so on the 4th and 5th day.Does exercise cancel out carbs on keto? ›
Imagine that you eat 30 grams of carbs before your workout. As soon as you burn 120 calories, you have burned off the carbs consumed and you are back in ketosis. You can accomplish this in under 30 minutes if you are exercising vigorously.Can I eat a spoon of rice on keto? ›
No, white rice is not keto friendly. Since the ketogenic diet dramatically reduces net carb intake to an average of 20 grams per day, rice contains too many carbs to qualify as keto-friendly.What does ketosis feel like? ›
People in ketosis may experience a variety of side effects and symptoms, including headaches, stomach upset, and changes to their sleep and energy levels. For a more accurate way of determining ketosis, people can check the levels of ketones in their blood, breath, or urine.Can you go over 20 carbs and stay in ketosis? ›
Carb targets to stay in ketosis
According to a 2018 review of the different types of ketogenic diet, a person should consume up to 50 grams (g) of carbohydrates per day to stay in ketosis. A female on a keto diet should consume 40–50 g of protein per day, while a male should consume 50–60 g of protein daily.
In general, the daily intake of net carbs required to enter ketosis could vary from 20 to 100 grams per day. Most people, who have experienced ketosis, claim to have reached that state at about 20-50 grams of net carbs per day. I'd suggest you start at 20-30 grams and see how you can adjust it for your needs.Does protein kick you out of ketosis? ›
“Protein will not kick you out of ketosis if you have a lot, but it will definitely lower the amount of ketones in your blood.” Since slightly more protein shouldn't affect your body's ability to stay in ketosis, this version of the diet delivers the same weight loss benefits as standard keto, Spritzler says.
Should you fast after a cheat day? ›
A good time to fast would be after a cheat day, when you've ingested extra calories and other toxins. It doesn't even need to be a whole dedicated to fasting. Instead, you can just skip a meal or consolidate eating all your calories into one window of time.Why do I lose weight when I cheat on keto? ›
Cheat breaks give your metabolism a bit of a boost by convincing your body the “famine” is over. Your metabolism increases and you're able to break through the stalled weight loss.Can you eat hot dogs on keto? ›
Low in carbs and high in fat, sausages and hot dogs are keto-friendly! Although we recommend eating processed meats sparingly, hot dogs and sausages can be a great meal choice if you're following a flexible keto diet. And don't forget adding chicken sausage, turkey hot dogs, and tofu dogs to the grill, too.Is mozzarella cheese keto? ›
Mozzarella (Whole Milk)
With a total carb count of 1 gram per ounce, it is yet another keto-friendly cheese to keep on-hand. Mozzarella also contains probiotics, which have shown to improve digestive health and emotional health!
Yes, chicken wings are keto! Carbs in wings are naturally low, so you can enjoy wings on keto often — if you prepare them right.Can you gain weight from one cheat meal on keto? ›
You will gain weight
Cheat meals, as well as cheat days, almost always lead to immediate weight gains. Carbohydrates will put your body back into fat storing mode and you will swell up. Also, with carbs, there comes hunger and more cravings, thanks to what you probably eat even more.
When you transition off keto and start reintroducing carbs into your diet, your body is naturally going to need time to adjust to the change. Even if you reintroduce carbs slowly, you may still experiences weight fluctuations, bloating, blood sugar spikes, and increased feelings of hunger for the first few weeks.How many carbs will break ketosis? ›
Most ketogenic diet guidelines recommend limiting your total carbohydrate intake to 15-30 grams or 5%-10% of your total calorie intake a day. Eating more than 50 grams of carbs may disrupt ketosis.Can I eat carbs once a week on keto? ›
The standard ketosis diet is not for everyone. Adding clean carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, squash, and white rice once a week helps your body function properly. Your brain, your body, and your joints will all benefit from cyclical ketosis.How do I kick start ketosis again? ›
- Let go of a perfectionist mind-set. ...
- Have a game plan. ...
- Set reasonable, achievable goals. ...
- Don't quit carbs 'cold turkey' ...
- Use salt during the transition. ...
- Stay hydrated. ...
- Try a more sustainable version of keto.
What if I ate 4000 calories on a cheat day? ›
No, it will not make you fat immediately. Although you should avoid many more “cheat days.” Fats needs to build up in order for you to gain weight. So if you ate 4,000 calories for the next few days, you would probably gain a couple of pounds. Just continue your diet and you should be fine.How much is too much on a cheat day? ›
'There is not an exact number of calories that you can eat on a cheat day but a good guideline to follow is to not consume more than 150 per cent of your regular calorie intake/limit,' according to Bodies by Byrne, run by a nutritionist and fitness instructor.How many days should you wait to have a cheat day? ›
There is no specific guideline for when or how frequently your cheat meal or day should occur. Often people will include one cheat per week, but this can change depending on what the person's health or weight loss goals are.Can you go back to normal after keto? ›
Transitioning off the keto diet should take a few weeks. About 14 days is pretty reasonable for your body to adjust to the change. Some people find it helpful to increase their carb intake each day by about 10 percent, while others use an app to help keep track.Do you gain all the weight back after keto? ›
Restrictive diets like keto don't work long term. "Whatever changes you made to lose the weight need to be kept up permanently to avoid weight regain," says Ayat Sleymann M.S., R.D.N., a weight-loss dietitian at Mom Nutritionist.How long does it take to get back into ketosis after a cheat meal? ›
Overall, you can get back into ketosis as soon as 12-16 hours after your last cheat meal (with the help of fasting and exercise) or it can take as long as it did when you first started keto.Will salad kick me out of ketosis? ›
Not Paying Attention to Your Veggie Intake
Vegetables have carbohydrates. And that means that you have to watch how much you eat — even lettuce. If you're not careful or are eating them as a free-for-all, you could overconsume carbs, and thus get kicked out of ketosis.
Cucumber is also suitable for the keto diet, as its carb content is just 3.63 g per 100 g. To make the carb content lower, a person can peel the cucumber before eating it.