Tuesday, October 30, 2018

What About Keto Cheat Days?

Like many people, we have followed many types of diets in the past.  Most diets are based on calorie restriction, or in the case of a low carb diet, carb restrictions along with calories.  In those types of diets, a cheat day might help you sustain the diet for more long-term success.  The biggest problems with most diets are the feelings of being deprived.  However, with the Ketogenic diet, it may be an entirely different arena.  Here are some reasons that I think that Keto cheat days might be a bad idea.

Here is a short discussion that we had on our YouTube Channel:

1. Keto cheat days have a direct impact on your metabolism

The whole point of getting into the state of Ketosis is to alter the function of your liver to stop utilizing available glucose as fuel and instead convert fat to ketones for fuel.  This is a transition that should not be taken lightly.  When excess glucose is provided in any form (sucrose, fructose or sugar stored in carbs), the liver will change modes back to Glycogenolysis, converting stored/available carbohydrates to glucose for fuel.  Only one of these modes can be in place at a time.

It gets worse if you are insulin resistant.  If your blood glucose levels rise, so will your insulin levels in response.  The excess energy that you have needs to be dealt with so the insulin will store it in your body (as fat) for later use.

While you are in Ketosis, it is not efficient at converting carbohydrates to glucose, which could mean that you have a bigger spike in blood glucose than normal.  During the transition from one state to another, it is possible that you may actually burn a small amount of lean muscle, so that may be one reason to minimize how often you shift modes.

After your cheat day/meal, your body will eventually return to the state of Ketosis, but how long that takes varies person to person.  The more insulin resistant you are, the longer it will take.  As a rule, the more belly fat that you have, the more insulin resistant you are.  (Best case - One day to return to Ketosis, Worst Case - Two weeks.)

The takeaway is that your cheat meal may not only stall your weight/fat loss, but it also may actually cause you to store additional fat that you will need to burn later.

2. About feeling deprived

If you are on a Ketogenic diet and you are feeling deprived or ravenously hungry, you are doing something wrong.  If you are new to Keto, you should be worried less about calorie restriction and more about training your system to become fat burning adaptive. There are 3 rules that will always be true to best take advantage of the Ketogenic diet

  • <= 5%  (20 grams or less) of your daily calories should be from carbohydrates
  • Eat only when you are hungry, don't when you are not
  • Eat until you are satiated (full)

If you eat until you are full, the time between bouts of actual hunger will naturally increase.  If you must "cheat" eat some extra fat/protein food.  Following these rules, eating a few extra calories will NOT knock you out of Ketosis.  Your body may consume dietary fat instead of fat from your body, but it will not change your metabolic state.  Once you have become fat burning adaptive, then you can concentrate on maintaining a calorie deficit.

The bottom line, if you are feeling deprived - eat something that will not sabotage your weight loss or metabolism.

3. I have the "Keto Flu"

First of all, the "Keto Flu" is not caused by a lack of carbohydrates.  The Ketogenic diet causes you to shed water weight.  Along with the water that leaves your body goes minerals in the form of sodium, magnesium, and potassium.  The quick fix is to take in some electrolytes.  While some may disagree as a whole, I felt better by drinking a little Powerade Zero or Gatorade Zero.  That is completely anecdotal.  In many cases, just adding a little extra salt to your diet will make up the difference.

More on that here:

Second of all, sugar is an addiction, so even if it is a withdrawal from carbohydrates, does it make sense to eat them to "feel better".  Should a heroin addict inject some heroin to resolve their withdrawals?

Lastly, the "Keto Flu" is temporary.  Once you are fully fat burning adaptive, this will pass.  A short period of discomfort is totally worth the weight loss and improved health that you will experience in the not so distant future.

4. I have an overwhelming craving for carbs ...

This is classic carbohydrate withdrawal.  Everyone that chooses the Ketogenic diet will undergo this process.  Think of your old self.  How many times did you turn to "comfort food" as a reward or during times of stress?  There is a direct connection between sugar and dopamine levels in your body.  When you eat sugary foods, your dopamine levels rise (making you feel good)  as the dopamine levels drop, your hormones will do their best to get you to do whatever it takes to get those dopamine levels back up.  This is the same cycle that happens in all addictions.  You will need a strategy to overcome this cycle.

So what can you do?  Here are some strategies (some may sound familiar).

A. This bears repeating:

  • <= 5% of your daily calories should be from carbohydrates
  • Eat only when you are hungry, don't when you are not
  • Eat until you are satiated (full)

B. Get creative.  The internet has plenty of low carb versions of many of your favorite treats and comfort foods
  • Fat Head Pizza Dough
  • Low carb cheesecake bites
  • "Fat Bombs"
These should not be an everyday food item but can help get you through a craving crisis without screwing up your metabolism.  Also, it can be fun to recreate some of these items.  It is a great way to provide alternatives to your kids, as well.

C. You and you alone control what you put into your body.  Taking control of your appetite and desires can be one of the most empowering things that you can do.  Use steps A and B to push through.

5. But the holidays ...

First of all, refer to item #1 above. Keto cheat days directly impact your metabolism. Second of all, perhaps it is time to reevaluate your relationship with food.  Is it the food that makes the holidays so great?  Do you think that Aunt Gladys is going to be offended that you don't eat her special pumpkin pie?  Don't you think that she would be happy that you are making better health choices for your life?  It may even be possible that your choice to abstain from sugar and high carb foods might encourage others that want to do the same.  Lastly, why not bring some Keto friendly replacements that you can enjoy and feel inclusive.  Think of how awesome you will feel if you do not gain weight during the holidays or actually even lose a pound or two.

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