It’s your birthday and someone slides a piece of your favorite cake under your nose. You’re out for happy hour and buzzed hunger hits at the same time a golden, towering tangle of fries arrives at the table. You’ve had a crappy day and a comforting bowl of pasta seems just the thing to pick you up. You have a terrible cough, can’t find sugar-free cough drops, and settle on regular, sugary options. Or, you simply decide you deserve a keto cheat day and plan to splurge.
Cheating on the ketogenic diet happens to all of us, sometimes in small and sometimes in big ways. Whether this is the first time or a repeat offense, relax and don’t give yourself a hard time. It’s not the end of the world or of your keto journey. But it does affect ketosis. How much and how long does it take to get into ketosis again if you cheat? That totally depends on many things, including what you ate, how much of the offending food you ate, how long you’ve been on (and off) a keto diet (i.e. if you’re fat-adapted or keto-adapted), how much you exercise, how your unique body reacts to excess carbohydrates, and whether you’ve stopped cheating and are back on track.
Did You Cheat on Your Keto Diet?
If you cheated with high-carb foods and are wondering how long it will take to get back into ketosis, first give yourself a break. It’s too late to go back now. Hopefully, if you’ve seen any weight gain it’s mostly water weight and not the reversal of your fat loss. If along with eating lots of carbs, you’ve also been overeating, you have a little more work to do to get on track. Returning to healthy eating and monitoring your daily carb intake and daily calorie intake will help you get back on track.
Second, use the situation as a learning experience: test your ketone levels the next day with a ketone meter to see if you really have been kicked out of ketosis. Some people can tolerate more carbs than others, especially if you’ve been on a keto diet for a while. If you’re one of them, you may find you’re still in ketosis, albeit in a lower state. While higher tolerance to carbs isn’t a hall pass to regularly dive into the bread basket or ice cream carton, it may afford you more resilience from the occasional misstep.
Of course, these results depend on how much and for how long you cheated on your low-carb diet.
Okay. It’s Official. You’ve Been Kicked Out of Ketosis. How Long Will it Take to Get Back into Ketosis?
If you find that your cheat did kick you out of ketosis, unfortunately there’s no way to predict your exact recovery time. It depends on what and how much you ate, how adept your body is to the keto diet, how long you stayed off your low-carb meal plan, and the reactions of your own distinct body; every body is different and has different reactions.
However, there are some indicators that you’re more likely to return to ketosis quickly: if you’ve been in ketosis for four or more weeks before your cheat meal, you got into ketosis easily when you first started, you’re regularly exercising, you didn’t go too overboard with your cheat, and you begin intermittent fasting (more on that below).
That said, whether you’re dieting or eating a keto meal plan for other health reasons, you can generally expect that if you go back onto the keto diet, you should be able to get back into a state of ketosis within one to three days, and you can speed up the process with simple steps.
How to Get Back into Ketosis Quickly
You won’t get back into ketosis without taking important steps. Some are required, others are optional. Regardless, following are things to consider when trying to get back into ketosis after eating one or more cheat meals.
- Stay strong. Eating carbs and sugar may incite cravings for more. This vicious cycle of eating carbs, craving carbs, then eating more carbs to satisfy your craving is the American dilemma that has perpetuated obesity and has so many of us sick, or at least not at our optimum health to begin with. As you begin your efforts to get back into getting energy from blood ketones, fight any urges for carbs, and if you’ve been “off” for a while, don’t be surprised if you get some side effects of reentry, or more specifically “keto flu” symptoms. Remember, cravings and flu symptoms are short-lived as long as you stay on track, so your energy and mental clarity will return.
- Strictly follow the keto diet. It should go without saying, but the best way to get back into ketosis is to strictly follow a keto diet (i.e a high fat, low carb diet, with modest amounts of protein and a low carb intake of 20 net grams of carbs per day). Fluctuations in the diet won’t do you any favors. Any nutritionist, dietitian, or keto veteran will tell you the key is to meal prep and then know and to track your macronutrients (especially your net carbs) with a macro calculator like MyFitness Pal; this way you’ll be able to ensure that your body burns body fat for fuel, your blood-sugar levels decrease, and you again reach ketosis. Also, meal plan so you get enough calories and don’t get hungry and tempted to grab something carb-heavy for satiety. (Remember healthy fats, including good-quality oils, like olive oil and coconut oil, and dairy products count!)
- Try intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting, or following a rotating schedule of fasting and eating, can help kickstart ketosis. You can learn more about how to intermittent fast here.
- Perhaps add exogenous ketones, such as MCT oil. Learn more about when to use exogenous ketones here.
If You’re Reading This Because You’re Thinking About Cheating on Your Keto Diet
Perhaps you haven’t “cheated” yet. Perhaps you’re thinking about it because a special occasion is coming up, a restaurant you’ve been dying to try that’s not so keto friendly, or you just miss lasagna. So, you’re wondering: How long does it take to get back into ketosis if I cheat? If this is the case, we’d love to provide you some inspiration to stay on track.
- Cheating does a disservice to all your hard work. If you’ve been living a keto lifestyle for a while, you’re likely feeling more energetic, lighter, and more mentally alert; these are just a few of the health benefits. A significant cheat, even for one meal, can stall your weight loss, make you feel sluggish, experience significant brain fog, and if you’re somewhat new to keto, perhaps cause you go through keto flu symptoms all over again. More than that, you will need to work your way into ketosis again. Even harder for many people, it will instigate bygone carb cravings which could inspire further cheating and derail your good intentions. The truth is, everybody missteps now and then. It’s not the end of the world, but if you can avoid the headache, you should. Try to remind yourself why you went keto in the first place, and work to get back in that mindset.
- You will gain weight. If you’ve already lost weight on the keto diet, you won’t regain everything with one or two cheats, but, at a minimum, you will experience water gain and additional body weight from bloating, since carbs return your body to its fat-storing ways. (Once back in ketosis, your water gain will level out again.) You also need to operate at a calorie deficit to lose weight, so be sure you do that as well if you have some weight loss goals.
- There are great keto recipes for your favorite foods and more. You may be tired of eating the same things or miss some of your favorite foods while on a keto diet. Here’s the thing: you can resolve that without cheating. There are more and more delicious recipes out there that help you get the satisfaction and flavor you want without the carbs, pasta and desserts included. Successful keto dieters know key is to find ingredients and recipes that are keto-friendly, but more importantly, taste fantastic! We know there’s no satisfaction in eating a mediocre piece of keto chocolate cake. The only way to satisfy a craving is to do it with something wonderful; so we take the guesswork out of savory and sweet keto treats by recommending recipes that are downright amazing.
- You can order keto at many restaurants, especially those that cook from scratch. The secret to keeping keto when dining out is twofold. You need to know how to scan a menu, locate keto-friendly items, and ask the staff to slightly modify, if necessary. You need to know dishes that tend to be inherently keto or close to it, and then ask the staff to hold or substitute any part of the dish that doesn’t work. (Example: a restaurant serving shrimp and grits may be willing to sub veggies for the grits with a little extra butter.)
- Keto treats can fill the void. There are more and more wonderful keto snacks and desserts on the market that allow you to reach for a satisfying treat when you’re desperate for some snacking. But not all products labeled “low-carb” or “keto” are ideal choices for the keto high-fat diet; some contain sugar substitutes that will spike your blood sugar and/or kick you out of ketosis. To be sure you’re eating keto-friendly foods that help rather than hinder, read product labels to learn whether they contain acceptable and unacceptable sweeteners, test your blood glucose before and after you eat a new item to see if it has adverse effects, and keep an eye out for the best sugar-free alternatives. (Get a good recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Fat Bombs!) Also, don’t forget to get enough fat intake; your body needs it to maintain ketosis.
The Final Word
Since what you ate, how much you ate, your bio-individuality, how long you cheated, and how adept your body is to the keto diet, all affect your recovery time, there’s no way to predict exactly when you’ll get back into ketosis if you “cheat” on the keto diet. However, you WILL get back into fat-burning ketosis, so do yourself a favor: don’t be hard on yourself, and start eating to your macros (lots of healthy fats, and minding your number of calories) and keto meal plan again. You’ll soon be right back on track, so keto on!