“Today is a cheat day.” Why? What is it that you’re missing out on that you feel the need to go off plan? This is a controversial topic that people get quite emotional about. I have been keto since end August 2017. My son and I started keto together, and in the early days, we would play this game: “Would you cheat on keto for that?“ LOL! It was fun! Popeye’s chicken and patties (a delicious portable, meat filled pastry here in Jamaica) would always get a resounding YES, but we pressed on with our low-carb food, opting to relegate the Popeye’s and patties to fantasy status only. Months passed and pounds were shed and one day he reminded me of this silly game we used to play. We had simply stopped playing it because we simply didn’t crave that kind of food any more.
Why cheat on Keto?
There are those on the keto diet that “cheat” and the reasons are varied:
“I have to have my fruits.”
“I get depressed when I think about never eating carbs again.”
“I’m on vacation back home in Jamaica and I have to have festival and patties and meat loaf.”
“It’s my birthday, and by God I’m going to have cake.”
“Life is to be lived. I’m cheating here, then I’m going to get back on track.”
“I am going to eat carbs now, and then I’ll just drop them again for a time to lose whatever weight I’ve gained.”
“Life is about balance. I will give myself allowance to enjoy these carbs right now.”
My Own Cheating on Keto Philosophy
I have never cheated, not even once, since starting keto end August 2017. Seriously. Not a spoon of rice. Not a sliver of cake. Not a single potato chip or cracker. No. Cheating. Whatsoever.
Why? Is it because I have willpower of steel? Is it because food isn’t all that important to me? LOL! None of the above. The first reason is this: It takes too long for me to lose a single pound for me to mess around with gaining and losing. The older I’ve become, the harder it has been for me to “do a thing” and lose 5 or 10 pounds. There’s a reason for that. As women age, our hormonal balance shifts, and our bodies behave as if holding on to every pound of fat is it’s God given mission. Sigh. Going low-carb is a great way to combat this, and I am only one of many, many women who are using this way to stabilize our blood sugar levels and our insulin levels, encouraging our bodies to burn fat instead of glucose for energy and losing weight in the process.
The second reason that I don’t cheat is because I don’t miss the foods I’ve opted not to eat. I don’t feel deprived at all.
My Tools To Keep Me Faithful on Keto
I visualize what happens in my body when I eat carbs and the image of my body holding on to fat when it should really be burning the fat that’s there is enough to cause me to say No Thank You to temptation.
I love shimmying my shrinking body in smaller, tighter, sexier jeans. I love catching a glimpse of my still curvy but slightly flatter backside in the mirror. I love looking this way more than any slice of pie on God’s green earth!
I don’t feel deprived. At all. I eat delicious food. I’ve successfully built new eating habits due in part I believe to pressing through the initial periods of temptation and repeatedly eating only the things that honour my own body. I wrote here about the anatomy of habits, and how I broke old ones and created new ones. It’s more than sheer willpower. There are techniques and approaches that actually work.
Intermittent fasting combined with low-carb eating has shifted the balance of power in my relationship with food back to where it belongs: in my own hands. I’ve lived a life where food literally had dominion over me. I was a slave to my appetite and felt powerless as my “off” switch malfunctioned. Intermittent fasting and low-carb eating result in the stabilizing of my blood glucose and insulin levels. This has resulted in a cessation of cravings for carby foods and a restoration of normalcy where feelings of satiety are concerned. I can go for hours without eating with no discomfort now. I love being in control.
What Happens When You Cheat on Keto
- You may stop losing weight for a particular period of time
- You may regain some weight
- You interrupt the process of forming new habits, prolonging your relationship with the foods you want to remove from your diet, increasing the time and energy you spend pining for them when you’re eating keto
- It is very possible, based on our physiology as humans, especially those of us who struggle with weight, that one cheat experience will become a very easy and certain slide down into entire cheat days, weeks and months.
- There’s a recent study that found that sudden surges in blood sugar, which happens when a low-carb dieter eats carbs, can result in more than the expected inflammation, etc. There can be damage to blood vessels. Really and truly, the keto diet is not optimized with a 6 days on, 1 day off model. You may be doing more harm than good.
Once you are knocked out of ketosis by eating the carbs on your cheat day or in that cheat meal, it could take days to get back into fat-burning mode. Are you willing to undo the results you created by eating low-carb Monday to Friday, only to throw water on your metabolic fire on the weekend? That could have been 2 extra pounds burned there! Think about it…
I treat carbs the way an alcoholic treats alcohol. Dramatic much? Not for me. An alcoholic CANNOT enjoy a glass of wine with their meal. That one glass will be the start of certain descent into binge drinking based on their own body chemistry. I feel that way about carbs and my own body. Are you able to enjoy a meal with potatoes and dessert and then switch back easily to low-carb eating after? Good for you if this is the case. I’m unwilling to test myself like that based on how I know myself. A little here, and little there, will be a descent for ME back to where I’m coming from. Hell. No. Not interested.
So are you cool with these options which are likely if you cheat on keto?
Ultimately, the choice is YOURS
We’re not all the same. I have friends who’ve lost significant amounts of weight on keto and who’ve cheated. I know people who insist on cheating as it keeps them faithful to low-carb eating over the longer term. They say that if they didn’t cheat they’d end up abandoning keto altogether and that they’d rather be keto 70% of the time than 5% of the time. There are some who swear by the process of “carb cycling” which has a low-carb dieter eating carbs intermittently. They say it breaks stalls and plateaus. There’s not much data to support this practice, and the few studies that have been done indicate an advantage only to athletes who want to drive performance in one-off events. Are you an athlete…? 🙂
Be honest with yourself…
The key is to be honest with yourself. Remind yourself of your “why”…your goals. Honour your goals by supporting them with intentional decisions. Don’t be dishonest by cheating here and cheating there and then moaning about how ineffective keto is for you. Keto hasn’t been ineffective. YOU have. You have been knocking yourself out of ketosis by eating foods which your body will have to burn before it burns your own stored fat. Is just so di ting set!
Why do you want to cheat though? This is important.
The beauty about cutting carbs from the diet is that the less carbs you eat over a longer period of time, the less carbs you actually crave. So when people tell me that they crave carbs, alarm bells start going off in my head: What are they really eating that’s causing them to crave carbs? So if you find yourself in this position, where you’re fantasizing about a slice of toast or having a muffin, I recommend that you do a food audit. Maybe you need to cut back on your sugar substitutes for a time. Perhaps there are hidden carbs in low-carb convenience foods that you’ve been eating. It may be a good idea to dial back on the keto treats that you’ve been enjoying.
Listen: Control over cravings is 100% possible on the keto diet by virtue of the science behind it. Yes, its not willpower or magic, its SCIENCE. Attack insulin resistance by obviating the need for insulin by eating low-carb, and your body responds with lower cravings. So if you’re still craving carbs, honestly assess your current food choices.
Make the Cheating Worth it and Intentional
What is important, especially on keto, based on what is happening in our bodies, is that if you’re going to cheat, you maintain the upper hand in this dynamic. YOU must be in control. It is silly to grab a muffin from the convenience store one afternoon just because you didn’t plan ahead and ensure that you ate adequate protein with lunch or just because you forgot to put a small pack of nuts in your purse. Are you really knocking yourself out of ketosis for a commercial, days-old product sitting on someone’s shelf? You’ve just relinquished control and it is very likely that that single unplanned decision will see you eating more crap for dinner and continuing into the next day. Human psyche.
Compare that cheating scenario to this one. You’re going on vacation. You decide that you’ll remain low-carb mostly, but you want to enjoy one or two particular food items. So you PLAN the occasions when you’ll have them, and specifically them. This planned leeway makes it more likely that you’ll remain on plan the rest of the time, and I’ll bet that you’ll enjoy the treat even more! YOU are in control! I follow a guy on twitter who had to go to Chicago for work. He is a keto and intermittent fasting champion who has lost significant weight and changed his life. He decided up front to have Chicago’s finest deep dish pizza as a cheat meal. On the night that he’d set aside for his treat, for one reason or another, he wasn’t able to get exactly what he wanted. He didn’t settle. He knew what he wanted, and he wasn’t prepared to compromise his cheat. It had to be worth it. So that evening, he simply ate only the pizza toppings like a good keto dieter 🙂 and a few days later, he was finally able to enjoy what he had his heart set on from the outset. He remained in control the whole time.
Getting back on track with keto after cheating
When your cheating is intentional, you get back into the swing of things quickly too. So the day following a cheat, you know you’re gonna fast until the evening, enjoy black coffee, drink a little more than usual water and you’re gonna plan a HIIT workout in the fasted state. Yes, these are steps to get you back into ketosis sooner rather than later. How likely are you to take these actions if your cheating is unplanned and sporadic?
Cheating on Keto: The Bottom Line
It’s not a good idea. You delay getting to goal & you can very easily revert to where you started.
Reiterate your WHY. WHY did you decide to go keto? Is that reason no longer valid to you?
Understand why you feel the need to cheat. Look at what you’re eating. This is one way of eating where deprivation can actually take a back seat. There are too many delicious options on keto for me to want to stray. And if you’re really doing keto right, the desire to cheat diminishes with time.
Be intentional and deliberate if you decide that you want to cheat. Count the cost, plan it, plan your recovery strategy and indulge with a clear conscience, with you being in the driver’s seat at all times.