Cheating On The Keto Diet – Stop Cravings In Their Tracks!
One of the most commonly asked questions asked by people that are just starting out on the keto diet, especially those individuals that are suffering from the keto flu, is ”What are the effects of a cheat meal on keto?”
While this question may seem relatively easy at first sight, there are several variables to a cheat meal that determine the impact on your progress.
Another important question that arises is why someone is tempted to cheat, as this usually indicates that something is wrong(or unsustainable) about the lifestyle.
Cheats are not supposed to occur if your habits are sustainable, and when they very occasionally do occur – they shouldn’t have been planned in advance, instead they should have ”just happened”.
Why Planning Cheats Is Wrong
The keto diet is not a plan to get lean in a few weeks, while it certainly is the best tool to do just that – you have to keep in mind that the keto diet is a permanent lifestyle change, not a plan to follow for a few weeks – only to ditch it straight after. This will eventually negate the results and cause you to go back to your old (likely overweight) self.
When you are planning cheats, which most likely involve carbohydrates, there is probably something fundamentally wrong with your nutrition, or lifestyle. Once your body is fat adapted – the bacteria in your digestive systems, which greatly affect whether or not you suffer from cravings, will only make you long for the ketogenic foods you are already consuming.
Carbohydrate cravings can have multiple causes:
– You are consuming too few calories – If you are aiming for weight loss a simple calculation is to multiple your body weight in pounds x 13, track your progress on the scale and through body fat measurements. Aim to lose 1 pound a week and adjust calories if you are losing more than 2 pounds or less than half a pound a week. Reducing your calories too low can cause your body to crave rapidly accessible fuel, which are of course – carbohydrates.
– You are not in ketosis – Reduce your carbohydrate intake too less than 30 grams of net carbs a day or increase fats. The best way to measure your intake of macronutrients(carbs, fats, protein) is to input all the food you consume per day in a food tracking app. My Fitness Pal is an excellent app that I personally use(It’s free to use) You might be surprised by the amount of calories you take in.
– You are not consuming enough fiber – To ensure you are finishing your meal with a satiated feeling you have to make sure that you are consuming plenty of fiber and wash it down with enough water in order to allow it to pass through your digestive systems properly. Since fats often aren’t accompanied by fiber as carbohydrates are, you may have to supplement with fiber. I use psyllium husk fiber and eat at least 400 grams of vegetables a day.
– You are not getting enough sleep – 7-8 hours a night is optimal to allow your body to recover, any less and you will not only suffer from irritability & impaired recovery – but you will also have to deal with sugar cravings caused by unstable blood sugar levels.
– Your protein intake is too low – While the SKD(Standard Ketogenic Diet) calls for a moderate protein intake of about 20% of your daily calories, I have found that consuming more protein and slightly less fat that what is recommended for the SKD improves my satiety and reduces my cravings. I tend to take in around 30% of my daily calories from protein, this is especially viable for people that perform exercise on a regular basis. If you are having trouble taking in these amounts of protein, I recommend that you supplement with a keto protein shake like the Ketologic Meal Replacement shake which has the right ratios to keep you in ketosis.
These are some of the most commonly encountered issues that cause carb, or sugar cravings. Once you implement the steps above your body will get back in balance and you should not experience these cravings anymore, or on a much less regular basis.
On a side note; it is not uncommon when you are just starting out with keto(anywhere within 6 weeks of starting) that you are experiencing severe cravings despite adhering to all the steps above. The reason for this is that your body is still transitioning from burning glucose(carbs), to fats. The only solution for this is to keep up what you are doing and to give your body time to adapt to this new superior source of fuel.
Will A Cheat Meal Hinder My Progress?
Depending on where you are in your keto journey, a carby cheat can have a different degree of impact on your progress.
Lets say you have been religiously sticking to keto for 6 months and you have a serving of sweet potatoes along with your usual servings of fats and protein. Since you are completely fat adapted at this point, and the carbs that you do consume have a low glycemic index(they are absorbed at a slow rate) it likely won’t affect you very much. Depending on the quantity of the serving your ketone readings will probably be the exact same.
On the other hand if you have only been on the keto bandwagon for a couple of weeks, and you aren’t fat adapted yet – taking in carbohydrates, especially on their own(without fats and protein) will most likely kick you out of ketosis and it may take longer for your body to become fat adapted. The type of carbohydrates will also determine the impact on your ketone levels, candy(high glycemic) will have a larger impact than oats or sweet potatoes(low glycemic)
Fasting Your Way Back Into Ketosis
If you have just indulged on a carby cheat meal, and you now feel tremendously guilty for doing so – there is a way to give your body a boost which will get you back into ketosis faster. The solution is fasting.
I advise you not to fast too rigorously, despite the fact that you probably feel the urge to fast for one week straight – this is not a good idea since the carbohydrates have caused unstable & fluctuating blood sugar levels. If you fast for too long straight after this there is an increased chance of another carb cheat.
My recommendation is to fast for 14-16 hours after your cheat meal, this will not get you right back into ketosis, but it will get you there a lot faster.
Rather than treating the symptoms of cravings that result in cheat meals, it is important to look at the cause.
Consume enough vegetables, fiber and protein to feel full, make sure your sleep schedule is on point, and if you are just beginning with the keto lifestyle give your body enough time to get used to the new source of fuel you are feeding it with, fats.
Think about how you have primarily fed your body carbohydrates(glucose) your entire life, and now all of a sudden it is deprived of that fuel source that it knows so well how to burn. Makes sense that you start to desire them, right?
The good news is that after the first 2 weeks the desire for carbs will gradually diminish until around 6 weeks in, when you won’t even think about them anymore.
Instead of cheating with a snack/meal that is off-limits on the keto diet, I have always found it to be a fun challenge to find a viable, or direct alternative to the food that you are craving that is keto approved. My recipe for keto avocado brownies, for instance, tastes the exact same as their carby counterparts and are completely sugar free!
What are your tips on overcoming cravings? What is your best tip on getting back on track if you did have a cheat meal?
I’d love to read about it in the comment section below 🙂
Thanks for reading!