I am sure you will not be surprised to hear I get this question several times per day: ‘Is it okay if I cheat with non-keto foods every now and then?’, usually followed by ‘..because, life happens, right?’.
Life happens yes, but I am pretty sure that piece of bread did not walk into your mouth all by itself, and neither did your co-worker force-feed you that piece of pie: cheating is a choice. YOUR choice to be precise. Cheating implies a conscious decision on your part to eat a certain food or drink a certain beverage knowing it does not comply with your lifestyle. It can be done truly on purpose (the ‘life happens and you only live once’ thinking) or it can be fuelled by stress or emotions. Either way, a cheat meal or a cheat day while on a LCHF or keto lifestyle comes with consequences you may want to avoid, especially if you are dealing with medical issues. So here are the issues that can arise when you cheat:
It can trigger addiction
In sharp contrast to how we were originally programmed as a species, namely hunter-gatherers, as a result of our dietary guidelines dating from the ‘70s we are now a society filled with food addicts: we have become hard-wired to crave easy to get, high caloric, high sugar and processed foods. We really seem to exist to fill the pockets of Big Food, forever being led towards these highly processed foods.
A major characteristic of these processed foods is that you need more and more of the same food to feel satisfied and to avoid withdrawal symptoms. In other words: they become addictive. Cutting carbs to 25 gr a day (and in healthy carbs only) and eating healthy whole foods ensures the elimination of this addiction.
The only way to stop this addiction is by going cold-turkey, as one usually does when starting a keto lifestyle. By keeping any of these addictive foods in your life, you are leaving the door open to a possible relapse. And one cheat can throw you right back into the realm of that addiction, just like one cigarette can turn into a whole packet.
It damages your gut
When you are on a keto lifestyle your body has stopped producing the specific enzymes needed to digest complex starches and sugars. Cheat and it will need to start producing them again. This can take days and during that time, you may experience constipation, bloating and other digestive issues.
LDL cholesterol goes up
Yes that is correct: the exact thing you are trying to remedy gets thrown out of the window. LDL can stay up for 7 or more days after cheating and with repeated cheating…well you get the drift.
You put on weight
Your muscles and liver fill up on glycogen again which makes you put back on all of the water weight you lost in your first week of keto. Very discouraging indeed.
Here comes the hunger
Because of the high carb content of a cheat meal, your insulin will spike more than you are used to. The insulin will block the hormone leptin, which is the appetite control hormone, so you won’t get the signal that you are full, and you’ll want to carry on eating.
It can cause cravings
Depending on how many carbs you ate, and for how long, the amount of insulin in your blood could cause abnormal sugar cravings, especially if you go back to eating a low-carb diet as the insulin will have a hard time finding the carbs to convert into glycogen.
It can cause keto-flu…again
Yes, just like when you first started keto, all the symptoms of keto-flu can crop up. These include headaches, muscle cramps, aching joints, irritability, fatigue, constant thirst, and constipation.
It messes with hormones
The body adjusts certain hormones to be able to use of fat as the primary source of fuel. When processed carbs are introduced into the diet again through a cheat meal or day, these hormones can get confused, with really bad effects. For women especially, production of certain hormones like oestrogen can get disturbed. Hormones are very sensitive, so any stress or drastic change to the body can have an impact on them.
It is possible that you become angry at yourself for cheating. You feel it is a sign of weakness, a failure and you may find it very hard to forgive yourself. And some people even resort to self-punishment: they deny themselves food after a cheat, go on a crazy fast or exercise to the extreme. None of these negative feelings or actions serve a positive purpose and in fact can lead to binge eating, feeling worthless and even depression. You cheated, it is done, just go straight back to a keto lifestyle and put it out of your mind.
It can disrupt your sleep
Processed foods are known to make people fall asleep quickly, but at the same time they can have a bad effect on sleep quality and can cause restless sleep. Disruptions in the gut from cheating only aggravate this. Furthermore: lack of sleep increases cravings due to the effect it has on hunger hormones and metabolism, in particular, insulin, cortisol, and leptin.
It delays keto adaptation
If you cheat repeatedly it prevents the metabolic adaptations necessary for your body to become keto adapted. Going back and forth from carb-burning to fat-burning can also leave you exhausted and depressed. And the more insulin resistant your are, the more detrimental cheating will be.
If you are stuck in a cheating pattern you need expert help. Would you like to know more about how keto coaching can help you get back on track? Contact me today: