Why Science Says Cheat Days on Keto Aren’t Worth It

Let’s face it, we’re all human, and no matter how committed you are to a healthy diet or lifestyle, there will always be those few foods that keep drawing you in with their seductive siren song. French fries, sugary ice cream, chips suddenly seem so appealing when you can’t have them anymore. Turning back to these “cheat foods,” very infrequently seems harmless, but on the ketogenic diet, cheat days could spell disaster. So why exactly are cheat days so bad on keto and how can you still enjoy what you eat…without jumping off the bandwagon?

The ketogenic diet is all about eating a low carbohydrate, high-fat, moderate protein diet. The concept is pretty simple. After a while of sticking to this rigorous (but not very restrictive) diet, your body goes into a state of ketosis and begins burning fat instead of glucose. This can lead to spectacular weight loss for those who have been unable to shed those stubborn pounds and can even help manage weight-related conditions like type 2 diabetes. 

What are cheat days?

Cheat days are almost an expected part of every diet. You eat really healthy during the week and then on Saturday you go out to a restaurant and order whatever you want. There are a lot of conflicting ideas surrounding cheat days in general and whether they are good or not. On one hand, persistent deprivation can make you feel like you’re missing out on something which makes you want to eat it even more. A strict diet could force you to stay home from social functions for fear that you won’t be able to eat anything. Not having a cheat day can also fill you with guilt any time you stray off of your perfect diet. 

However, food is often used as a tool of comfort, and this is when it becomes dangerous. If you just eat whatever you want when you’re feeling upset, you will always find a reason to cheat and won’t be able to stick to a healthy lifestyle. Also, the more you eat something, the more you want it and crave it. The key to success with most diets is that you aren’t actually dieting. The idea isn’t that you’re limiting yourself, but that you are opening your mind and body to a whole new way of looking at food and fuel. If you want to eat that donut, go ahead. But eventually, you won’t like the way your body responds, and you’ll stop craving those unhealthy foods. 

Cheat days on keto

Keto is a whole different story. One study of nine healthy young males showed concerning results when researchers simulated a “cheat day.” The researchers had the test subjects consume a 75-gram glucose drink before and after a week of eating a high fat, low carbohydrate diet. It consisted of 70 percent fat, 10 percent carbohydrates, and 20 percent protein, very similar to a ketogenic meal plan. 

They found biomarkers in the blood suggesting that vessel walls were damaged by the sudden and unexpected spike in glucose. The study’s authors concluded that this is most likely due to the body’s metabolic response to excess blood sugar, which causes blood vessel walls to shed and die. In fact, they said that these healthy young men showed blood vessels similar to those of someone with poor cardiovascular health. 

More research is needed to confirm these results, but even one small study is convincing. Not only do you potentially damage your blood vessels, but you also kick your body out of ketosis, begin to crave more unhealthy food, and could even gain back the weight you just lost. Cheat days on keto are just not worth it. You could be undoing all the hard work of the week with just a single soda. Instead of reaching a state of ketosis and staying in it and burning fat, you reset your progress and have to start all over again. 

But before you go and beat yourself up, remember, cheat days do happen. There’s no way to stick to a perfect diet your entire life. Instead of going off the rails entirely, simply grab your keto cookbook and get back up again. You’ll soon figure out that the consequences aren’t worth it and you’ll just feel, fatigued, sore, and bloated when you turn back to your unhealthy way of eating. Plus, it’s not as if you don’t get to enjoy delicious foods on the keto diet. I mean, what other meal plan lets you eat cheese, bacon, and heavy whipping cream?

-Susan Patterson

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