What is that they say about forbidden fruits being the sweetest kind? Well in the case of the keto diet, this saying could be both literal and figurative. It does not come as a surprise that you will start having carb cravings when following a strict ketogenic diet.
Longer periods of fasting have gotten many keto dieters asking, how often should you take a break from keto? Is a cheat meal okay on a ketogenic diet? Well, allow me to help you out!
In this article, we will look at the best idea for a keto break. Also, we will answer one of the most frequently asked question, how often should you take a break from keto? Will you gain back the weight you lost on the keto break. You will also learn ways to get back into ketosis after a keto cheat day.
Golden Rules of the Keto Diet and Ketosis
Before we talk about cheat days, let’s remind ourselves of the rules of keto and how the ketogenic diet works to achieve your weight loss goals. So, bear with me for the 100th time, what is a ketogenic diet?
A keto diet is a restricted diet that focuses on limiting your intake of carbohydrates and getting most of your calories from high-fat food sources. Following a strict keto diet requires you to limit eating carbs to 20 g to 50 g per day. How does limiting your carb intake help you lose weight?
Glucose is the body’s primary source of fuel and is obtained from carbohydrates. Limiting how many carbs you consume will make your body convert glycogen to glucose for energy. When your glycogen stores are depleted then you will turn to metabolize non-carbohydrate substrates like protein to produce glucose through a process known as gluconeogenesis.
Imagine a state where there’s no glycogen or protein to convert to glucose and your body still needs to function, what’s your next line of action? You will start burning fat for ketone production through a process known as ketosis.
This is how a low-carb diet helps you to lose weight. When you’re starting on the keto diet you may experience what we call the keto flu. This is how your body responds to ketosis. Keto flu symptoms include headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, and sugar cravings. But, once your body is fat-adapted, the symptoms of the keto flu subside.
It is important to mention that the weight loss you experience at the start of the keto diet is from water weight loss and not the loss of lean muscle. The heavier you are the more weight you stand to lose. High fat intake will help maintain ketosis and increase fat burning.
Is It Good to Break Keto Occasionally?
The answer depends on why you are taking a break and what you eat during keto cheat days. If you are cheating to satisfy cravings, then keto cycling is the best way to go about it. Remember, taking a carb-heavy meal will kick you out of ketosis, so there will be consequences to your cheat day.
Cyclical ketogenic diet or keto cycling is a type of carb cycling. Keto cycling involves alternating between days of following a strict keto diet and high-carb days. There’s no set way in which the cyclical keto diet works. Some people follow the standard keto diet for five days, paying attention to the grams of carbs they are eating and adding carbs on the remaining two days. Others follow a different meal plan.
The main difference between carb cycling and keto cycling is the macro in focus and the metabolic state achieved. Carb cycling will increase protein intake, moderate intake of fat, and cut down on carbohydrates, but not low enough to get into ketosis.
Keto cycling recommends a high intake of fat, moderate protein intake, and lowers consumption of carbohydrates. Carb intake is low enough to trigger ketosis.
But before answering how often should you take a break from keto, you need to know why you should take a break from the keto diet. Are there benefits to keto cycling?
Health Benefits of Keto Cycling
Here are some benefits you can enjoy from alternating low-carb diet days with higher-carb days:
It is easier to maintain. You can stick to cyclical keto for longer than the standard ketogenic diet. This is because it is less strict, and it allows you to enjoy your cheat meal on a higher-carb day. Taking too many carbohydrates on cheat days can kick you out of ketosis, reducing the potential health benefits of this type of ketogenic diet when compared to the standard keto.
It can help manage symptoms of keto flu.
As mentioned, before your body adapts to using fat as a source of fuel for a longer period you may experience some undesirable side effects. Incorporating a high-carb day into your keto eating habits may help reduce the impact of eating keto on your body. Pay attention to how many grams of carbs you are consuming as you enjoy your favorite foods on the cyclical keto diet.
It can help in reducing nutritional deficiencies. Being on the keto diet increases the risks of developing thiamin, folate, calcium, potassium, and magnesium deficiencies. Keto cycling can help increase the intake of foods rich in these nutrients lowering risks of deficiencies.
Cons of Keto Cycling
There are consequences to consuming more carbs in the name of taking a break from keto:
Improper Weight Management
Does keto cycling work? Yes, it can work as well as the standard keto diet in achieving your weight loss goal, although it will take a long period. Another disadvantage of keto cycling after long periods of strict keto dieting is you may gain back the weight you lost.
Eating foods high in carbohydrates will switch the metabolism of your body from fat oxidation to breaking down glucose. This switch inhibits ketosis and promotes fat storage which promotes mass gain.
Can Mess Up Metabolism
Your body already takes time to adapt to using fat as a source of fuel. Keto cycling doesn’t give it time to get used to low-carb feeding. It is not advisable to fall in and out of ketosis as you please because this can mess up ketone levels and body metabolism.
You are better off following a full keto diet which allows your body to adapt to a specific metabolic state rather than keto cycling.
Encourages Poor Eating Habits
Taking regular breaks from the keto diet can encourage binge eating tendencies. Most people believe keto cycling is when you eat very low-carb foods for 4 to 5 days then eat as many carbs as you want on the days you are on break. This is a myth, and this is not how cyclical keto diets work!
Many health experts are against taking breaks on your keto diet because the moment you introduce high-carb foods into your diet, then your increasing carb cravings. If you do not break right, then all your efforts to lose weight on keto will go down the drain.
Less Fat Burn
What promotes the burning of fat on a ketogenic diet? Ketosis! When ketosis is inhibited, your body will burn less fat and break down more glucose which promotes fat storage. This increases your risk of being overweight and obese.
Keto cycling is a one-way ticket to the blood sugar rollercoaster. Believe me, when I say, it is not as fun as your regular rollercoaster ride. You have maintained stable blood sugar levels on a low-carb, high-fat diet, then you introduce a high-carb cheat meal on your break. What happens? Your insulin levels will spike higher than normal.
When your blood sugar finally drops to where it should be, your energy levels drop drastically leaving you fatigued. On this rollercoaster, you will crave carbs and sugar, again and again repeating the same cycle over and over.
How Often Should You Take a Break from Keto?
Taking a break once a week from keto is okay but keep your carb limit below 50-100 g a day, in the less strict keto diet options. There are right ways to take a break from the keto diet, no matter how often in a week you take a break from keto.
Don’t Cheat Too Often or for Too Long
Even as you take a break, be aware that it takes your body about one to two weeks to adapt to using fat as an energy source. The longer you stay from your diet, the harder it will be to get back into ketosis. Moreover, eating carbs for too long increases hunger and cravings.
Keep Off of Sugar
Even as you are enjoying your favorite foods while on break, avoid sugary treats because they will fuel your sugar cravings. Replace sugar with low-carb sweeteners like monk fruit sweeteners, vanilla extract, and stevia.
Focus on Whole Foods
As you’re increasing your carb intake on break, pay attention to your sources of carbohydrates because these play a significant role in your insulin and blood sugar. High-quality carbs are a better choice for carbs than processed and refined foods.
Get your carbs from whole grains, fruits, high-carb vegetables, and root tubers like sweet potatoes are good examples of high-quality carbs.
The targeted ketogenic diet allows you to incorporate carbs into your workouts. Exercising burns more glucose and can create a calorie deficit even when you eat a high-carb diet.
Learn Portion Control
The more food you consume the higher your insulin and blood sugar levels. Eat small meals to reduce the impact of your food on your blood sugar and insulin.
Opt for Healthy Fats
The fact that you are increasing carb intake means that your chances of storing fat have increased. Pick foods rich in unsaturated fats that will help kip your lipid profile in check. Foods rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs and PUFAs) and medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) like seafood, nuts, seeds, and olive oil are your best options.
What Not to Do While on A Keto Break
Although you are eating healthy, keto-friendly foods, avoid binge eating on cheat days. Studies have shown that a high cheat meal frequency increases the chances of overeating.
Refined foods and processed foods are high in sugar which can spike your blood sugar. They also contain less fiber which helps slow down digestion and absorption of food into the bloodstream. Eat whole foods over processed ones like white bread and baked products.
How to Get Back into Ketosis After a Break
These tips will help your body achieve ketosis after a break:
- Try intermittent fasting to help deplete glucose and glycogen stores.
- Stay hydrated.
- Maintain electrolyte balance. You can add a spoonful of salt to your water to get more electrolytes.
- Lower your carb intake to 20 g per day.
- Increase your physical activity.
How Do I Cycle Off Keto?
You cannot wake up one morning and decide you are quitting keto. Your body needs two weeks or more depending on the individual to wean off the keto diet. This is because it will need time to get used to switching from fat to glucose for fuel. Increase your carb intake gradually rather than drastically so you don’t spike your blood sugar levels too high.
It is recommended to add 10 g of carbs per day for the first 7 days. These carbs should be from high-quality sources like beans, whole grains, starchy veggies, and fruits.
How often should you take a break from keto? Not as regular and not as often. Taking a short break once per week when you’re focusing on eating high-quality carbs is allowed. Pay attention to the quantities you consume as well so as not to spike your blood sugar.
Was this article helpful? Have you tried the cyclical keto diet? Share your experience in the comment section below!