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Cheating on the Keto Diet: How it Impacts Ketosis

The ketogenic diet is more of a lifestyle. It’s not something you do for a month or two then go back to your old diet. For it to be truly effective, you’ll want to make it a permanent way of eating. Because of that, it’s common for people to cheat from time to time by having a non-keto food or meal. And when that happens, you’ll quickly feel the consequences of the carbs.  

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Getting into ketosis and getting knocked out of ketosis will vary by individual. It depends on gender, age, body weight, physical activity, and metabolism, among other factors. Generally speaking, the longer you’ve been fat adapted, the higher your tolerance for small amounts of carbohydrates, such as starchy veggies (hello, french fries!), some fruits, and whole grains. This is especially true if you lead an active lifestyle and/or practice Intermittent Fasting.

However, none of us can get away with a night of beer, pizza, and cupcakes and not pay the price of a full-blown carb hangover. Bloating, headaches, mental fog, lethargy, poor sleep, and intense cravings and hunger are among the common side effects of falling off the keto train. To better understand why we feel this way and what we can do to make it stop, we must get back to the basics of human metabolism.  

Our bodies prioritize the metabolism of macronutrients, including alcohol, in this order: Alcohol, Carbohydrates, Protein, Fat. That means that as long as there are any macronutrients present in the bloodstream ahead of fat, our bodies will not rely on the fat we have stored or ingested as a primary fuel source until the other nutrients blocking its path have been cleared. That’s why traditional American diets that include a high amount of fats AND carbs lead to weight gain. Instead of burning fat, it gets stored along with the excess glucose from carbohydrates.  

So, if you indulge in carbs or alcohol (yes, even alcoholic beverages that are carb-free such as spirits), your body will not return to ketosis (a.k.a. fat-burning mode) until it has cleared all the alcohol calories, circulating glucose from carbs or excess protein, and stored glycogen from excess carbs and protein. That’s a lot of sludge to clear out of the engine before it can return to peak performance! But, don’t get discouraged, here are a few tips to getting back into ketosis and returning your body to being a fat-burning machine.

  1. Exercise on an empty stomach (fasted exercise). We recommend HIIT, sprints, or strength-training activities that prioritize burning glucose. TIP: 30-45 minutes of circuit training or high-intensity activity prior to consuming any energy (including fat) will encourage your body to burn down any leftover circulating or stored glucose.
  2. Do a 24-hour fast. Consume only water and exogenous ketones (BHB) to burn down stored glycogen as well as encourage your cells to become ketone-lovers again. TIP: Aim for at least 100 ounces of water and 2 servings of BHB during the 24-hour period. If you have the energy, 15-20 minutes of HIIT activity will help speed up the glucose-burn.
  3. Go carb-free. Up your macros to 90% fat | 10% protein | 0% carbs, avoiding all carbs, including dairy. Aim for minimal protein and maximum pure-fat sources such as MCT oil, coconut oil, olive oil, butter, and heavy cream. TIP: Within a week you should be back into ketosis, but it may take up to 2 weeks for some. Aim for high-fat animal proteins such as bacon, beef, or ribs, add extra fat, and snack on pure fat sources if you are hungry.

Cheating on keto is something we all do occasionally so don’t beat yourself up over it. It can be especially challenging during special occasions, at social gatherings, and over the holidays. Forgive yourself and focus on how to get back on track. The good news is you can always get back into ketosis after a cheat. It’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when.

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