A couple feasts on cakes and other desserts


Can You Have a Cheat Day on Keto? Unpacking the Pros, Cons, and Health Impacts

The ketogenic diet, commonly referred to as the keto diet, has surged in popularity due to its effective results in weight loss and health improvements. However, the stringent nature of this diet, which focuses on high fat and low carbohydrates to achieve a state of ketosis, often leads to questions about the feasibility of cheat days. “Can you have a cheat day on keto?” is a common query among practitioners, and this blog post aims to address this question comprehensively.


Understanding the Keto Diet and Cheat Days

The keto diet is more than just a meal plan—it’s a shift in how your body fuels itself. By significantly reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat, the body enters a metabolic state called ketosis. Here, fat is burned for energy instead of carbs. The concept of cheat days on this diet involves temporarily breaking its strict guidelines to indulge in carb-heavy meals.


The Rationale Behind Cheat Days

Many believe that cheat days can serve multiple purposes:

  • Psychological Relief: They provide a mental break from the stringent dietary rules, potentially easing feelings of deprivation.
  • Increased Diet Adherence: The occasional indulgence might make the diet more bearable and sustainable over the long term.
  • Social Flexibility: Being able to participate in normal eating activities during social events without stress.

However, these cheat days are not without their drawbacks.


A smiling couple hold large, delicious doughnuts with icing.
Cheat days can be fun, but they’re not without drawbacks.


Potential Downsides of Keto Cheat Days

While cheat days might appear as a tempting solution to diet monotony and social eating situations, they carry significant risks that can impede both health and progress on the ketogenic diet. Here’s a more detailed look at these disadvantages:


Disruption of Ketosis

The most immediate effect of a cheat day on keto is the disruption of ketosis, the metabolic state key to the diet’s effectiveness. When carbohydrates are consumed in large amounts, the body shifts its energy source back to glucose. This shift not only halts the process of ketosis but also reverses some of its cumulative benefits. Returning to ketosis after a cheat day isn’t instant; it requires several days of strict low-carb eating, during which time the benefits of the diet are not being realized.


Physical Side Effects

The reintroduction of significant carbohydrates after a period of restriction can lead to a range of physical side effects. Commonly referred to as the “carb hangover,” these symptoms include bloating, gas, water retention, and digestive discomfort. Moreover, individuals often experience a sudden increase in appetite and cravings, which can lead to further deviations from the diet plan. Fatigue and irritability are also common as the body adjusts to a sudden influx of sugars and the subsequent blood sugar spikes and drops.


A couple lying on the couch has just eaten a lot of desserts and are very full.
Fatigue and irritability are common after a carb cheat, as the body adjusts to a sudden influx of sugars and the subsequent blood sugar spikes and drops.


Health Risks

The potential health risks associated with cheat days extend beyond short-term discomfort. According to studies, such as the one from UBC’s Okanagan campus, introducing a high carbohydrate load can cause acute glycemic spikes which are particularly dangerous for individuals with existing health conditions like diabetes or cardiovascular diseases.

The study highlighted that even a single high-carb meal could lead to endothelial damage, which is detrimental to vascular health and can increase the risk of long-term cardiovascular diseases.


Psychological and Emotional Impact

Aside from the physiological impacts, cheat days can also affect psychological and emotional well-being. While some individuals may feel relief from dietary restrictions, others may experience guilt or anxiety over breaking from the strict keto guidelines. This can lead to a disrupted relationship with food, where the individual oscillates between strict adherence and excessive indulgence, a pattern that can be difficult to break and counterproductive to establishing long-term healthy eating habits.


Impact on Long-Term Goals

Frequent cheat days can significantly alter the trajectory of weight loss and health improvements expected from a ketogenic diet. The interruption in ketosis means that the body spends less time in fat-burning mode, which can slow down or even reverse weight loss progress. For individuals following the diet for therapeutic reasons, such as controlling epilepsy or managing metabolic syndrome, cheat days can compromise the clinical benefits of the diet.


Alternatives to Cheat Days

Considering the potential risks, here are safer approaches to integrating more flexibility into your keto diet:

  • Controlled Indulgences: Opt for lower-impact carb sources to satisfy cravings without extensive disruption of ketosis.
  • Cyclical Ketogenic Diet: This variant involves periods of higher carb intake, strategically planned to minimize health risks while providing metabolic flexibility.
  • Targeted Ketogenic Diet: Carbs are consumed around workout times to fuel exercise without affecting overall ketosis significantly.


How to Get Back into Ketosis Quickly After a Cheat Day

If you choose to have a cheat day, consider these strategies to minimize its impact and return to ketosis swiftly:

  1. Fast Intermittently: This can help deplete glucose stores more quickly.
  2. Exercise: High-intensity workouts will help burn through any glucose reserves.
  3. Monitor Carbohydrate Intake: Keeping carbs extremely low post-cheat day helps speed up re-entry into ketosis.
  4. Hydration and Electrolytes: These are crucial for alleviating symptoms associated with the transition back to ketosis.
  5. Fat Fasts and MCT Supplements: These can provide immediate fats that convert quickly into ketones, aiding the rapid return to ketosis.


Final Thoughts

So, can you have a cheat day on keto? While technically possible, cheat days on a ketogenic diet come with significant caveats and potential health risks. For those committed to the keto lifestyle, it may be wiser to find balanced, sustainable ways to incorporate flexibility into your diet. This might involve smaller, more controlled indulgences or a structured approach like the cyclical ketogenic diet, which can provide the benefits of carbohydrates without the full disruption caused by traditional cheat days. Understanding the impact on your body and choosing the safest route will ensure that your keto journey remains beneficial in the long term.

What do you think? Is a an occasional or regular carb cheat part of your low carb or keto lifestyle?  Share your comment below!


A Note to Commercial Bakeries

Offer your customers a healthy way to “cheat” by providing them with sweet and delicious keto-friendly products which are clean label, high protein and plant-based!



The Burden of Carbohydrates in Health and Disease. PubMed

Carbohydrates.  American Heart Association

On the keto diet? Ditch the cheat day, says UBC study. https://news.ok.ubc.ca/2019/03/27/on-the-keto-diet-ditch-the-cheat-day-says-ubc-study/

Benefits and Risks of Cheat Days on Keto. https://health.usnews.com/wellness/food/articles/cheat-days-on-the-keto-diet

Cheating on Keto: Effects and Recovery. https://www.medicinenet.com/cheating_on_keto_effects_and_recovery/article.htm



By powerflax.net

Laurie Tsemak is the founder and co-owner of PowerFlax Holdings Inc. and Red Square Bakery. Laurie and her husband, Mark have spent 34 years in the wholesale and retail baking field, focusing on innovative product development to serve health-conscious customers and forward-thinking commercial bakeries.

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