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A Keto Cheat day: will it destroy my progress?

Posted On: April 26, 2021 By Michelle Mellet
26 Apr

A Keto Cheat day: will it destroy my progress?

To cheat or not to cheat…. Everyone is tempted to have a cheat meal now and then, but will one cheat ruin all the effort you have put in? Having a cheat could be due to several reasons: either you still haven't beat your sugar addiction and you go on a sugar binge, or due to politeness, you don't refuse the piece of birthday cake that was offered to you or you haven't done proper grocery shopping and is left with no plan for dinner except for ordering takeaways. Might there be a way of cheating smarter?

Side effects of cheating

Having a cheat meal high in carbohydrates will bring back hunger and cravings as carbohydrates will cause an increase in ghrelin (hunger hormone) secretion which in turn makes you feel even more hungry, therefore eliminating your attempt to control your appetite. It will also cause immediate weight gain: with extra carbohydrates, a spike in insulin will put you back into a fat-storing mode, increased hunger and cravings from eating more carbohydrates will cause you to have bigger portions, therefore contributing to a high-calorie intake, and water retention associated with a high carbohydrate intake will return [1].

A high carbohydrate intake will also cause blood sugar and insulin spikes which are both negative for diabetics, both type 1 and type 2. For those who would like to reverse type 2 diabetes, the price of having a cheat meal might be too high. For some people, there are immediate effects as well: bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, seizures (if you have epilepsy), acne, etc. Having regular cheat meals will also not help your efforts in fighting your sugar addiction [1].

Researchers of the University of British Columbia in Okanagan (UCBO) wanted to know what happens when people have a cheat meal, thereby reintroducing an amount of sugar to the body. The study was looking for reduced tolerance to blood sugar or inflammatory responses. Nine young males participated in this study, which appeared in the journal Nutrients. The participants had to follow a 7-day high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that was similar to the keto diet, consisting of 70 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and 10 percent carbohydrates [2]. 

They also had to consume a 75-gram glucose drink before and after the diet. They found biomarkers in the blood of the participants, suggesting that blood vessels were being damaged by the sudden increase in blood sugar levels. This was alarming since all the participants were healthy young males, and after consuming the glucose drink, the condition of their blood vessels was similar to people with poor cardiovascular health [2].

Cheating without cheating

Looking at those side effects, it might not be worth having a cheat meal loaded with carbohydrates. But you might be able to have an enjoyable treat now and then as part of a low carbohydrate lifestyle. Let's face it, we all like to have a treat now and then, it is human. Of course, we don't encourage cheats, but we can do it in a much smarter way!

  • Set clear rules on the frequency and type of cheat. You know if you can get away with eating one or two cheats per week without ending up in a binge-and-purge situation.
  • Cheat with foods that are not high in carbohydrates. You can make a chocolate cake using almond or coconut flour, rather than eating a store-bought cake high in sugar. Or instead of having potato crisps, you can make your salty chips using cheese or baby marrow.
  • Keep portion sizes small! An extra cheat will contribute to extra calories and having a greater calorie intake than your energy expenditure, which might attribute to weight gain.
  • When having cravings, cheat with fat and not sugar! Eating healthy fat such as nuts, seeds, olives, or avocado, will help your body to secrete leptin which will help you to feel full for longer, thus helping you control your appetite better.
  • Get back on track! Don't beat yourself up after a cheat. Just make sure that your next meal is portion-controlled, low in carbohydrates, and full of healthy fats [1].


It is normal to be tempted, but make sure that when you do cheat, make the best choices that you can. Sometimes it is better to be stricter with yourself and ditch the cheat to reach your goals, whether it is to lose weight, reverse type 2 diabetes or lower the number of seizures you experience per day. Speak to your dietitian about the best way to have a healthier cheat and when is the best timing to introduce a cheat on your journey to a healthier you!


  1. Diet Doctor. Jennifer Calihan [Internet]. A guide to low-carb & keto diet cheating. 2020 December 22. Available from: https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/cheat 
  2. Medical News Today. Chiara Townley [Internet]. Keto diet: a ‘cheat day’ may undo benefits and damage blood vessels. 2019 April 5. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324894
Michelle Mellet
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