If you’re reading this, you probably fall into one of three categories:
1. You’ve just begun your journey on a ketogenic diet and you are struggling sticking to it
2. You are a seasoned keto veteran and want to know some ways to indulge
3. You’ve made the mistake of clicking on the #CheatDay on Instagram and instantly became hungry for hamburgers, chipotle, buffalo wings, and pizza simultaneously.
You’ve probably seen a fitness guru or two take a break from posting perfectly portioned salmon and broccoli to show you drool-worthy, gravity defying towers of french fries with chicken wings and blue cheese. So you ask yourself...how can they look like that ...and eat that ? Enter the cheat meal.
So what is a cheat meal?
Why do people cheat on their diet?
Can you cheat and still be ketogenic or low carb?
How do you create snacks and treats that fit your lifestyle?
If any of these questions are present in your mind, keep reading.
What is a “Cheat” day, meal, or snack?
If you think of you and your food intake as a relationship, cheating means straying from
your current diet or nutrition goals with a food that you would otherwise avoid. Cheating can be premeditated or spontaneous, and is accompanied by feelings of guilt and regret for many clients. Some clients incorporate “cheat days,” which involve a full day of eating (usually 1-2 per week) whatever he or she wants. “Cheat meals” usually include 2-3 meals per week with a similar concept, follow the diet for 2 meals, splurge for one. A “cheat snack” is the baby sister to the meal, where the client enjoys a small snack multiple times a week (often 4-5).
Why do we “cheat”?
There are many reasons that people cheat on their diet. We are all familiar with temptation and hormones (hello that-time-of-the-month) causing us to make undesirable food choices. Few people examine the relationship between stress, boredom, cravings, and diets. Stress is the major player that causes us to binge eat after a long day, skip a workout, or cheat with foods we would otherwise pass up.
On the other hand, boredom is a key player in deviations from your usual diet plan. Boredom with daily food routines can kick up the munchies and leave you with greasy potato chip fingers. Often, boredom with your current diet can lead you to think that you are missing out on something. While habits can be helpful, food boredom can make that large pizza extra appealing. Additionally, the stress of maintaining a diet can lead for clients to stray from their diets to something more convenient (I’m looking at you, fast food).
Cravings are the lovechild of our hormones, nutrient imbalances, thoughts and the environment. Some cravings serve a biological purpose. For example, if you are craving chocolate, you may actually be deficient in magnesium. Other cravings link our emotions to food, like how some clients use food for comfort during stressful times, or how some clients associate pizza and ice cream with a positive event. It’s no wonder that when a craving hits for chips or chocolate, it’s all consuming...cravings hit on all sides!
All of these factors may cause bumps in the road of your nutrition plan, whether you are just starting or have been on the journey for years.
These guidelines will help you stay on track while indulging, keep these ideas in mind when making snack ideas, have fun with it and get creative!
Pair Protein with Fat
This concept is not new to any keto dieter, but it becomes especially important with snacks and KetoCheats.
Pair protein foods with fatty foods to increase satiety.
This simple rule will allow you to mix and match based on your tastes and preferences. For example, for a sweet and salty mix try beef jerky chased with peanut butter or macadamia nut butter---yum! The combinations are endless, and this is a basic rule of thumb to carry with you as you indulge.
Pair Carbohydrates with Cardio
When you consume a high carbohydrate meal after maintaining a ketotic state, glucose will convert to glycogen and be stored in your muscle. By adding an intense cardio session, such as a HIIT workout, spin class, or cross training, you can deplete the glycogen stores and return more quickly to ketosis.
Some clients are able to maintain ketosis even after consuming high carbohydrate items and may not require exercise. Some clients prefer to cycle their carbohydrates , which is often referred to as “Cyclic Ketogenic Diet” or CKD, because it allows them more freedom in their lifestyle. While research supports this approach in professional athletes, clients have had success adapting this strategy to their own lives.
MCT Oil Can Be A Quick Fix
MCT oil, or medium chain triglyceride oil, is a source of fat that does not require enzymes for digestion. Due to its size and chemical structure, MCTs are absorbed directly into the portal vein, processed through the liver, and distributed to tissues. Researchers hypothesize that MCTs provide an energizing effect because they are more rapidly converted to ketone bodies than their long-chain counterparts, which require additional enzymatic activity. MCT oil can be purchased as is and added to salads, coffee, used to cook eggs, it’s a must have for a keto kitchen and can be useful in creating a KetoCheat. Craving a starbucks latte? Skip the sugar, add coconut milk, and try flavored MCT oil (vanilla is amazing!).
Know Your Ingredient Swaps
Upgrade your KetoCheat game by going home made, you have complete control of the ingredients and will save money preparing your own treats. Becoming a chemist and understanding the importance and function of key ingredients will allow you to customize baked goods to incorporate into your KetoCheats.
Swap out all purpose flour with a lower carbohydrate alternative, such as almond, coconut, tapioca, or arrowroot flour. The market for alternative flours has exploded the past few years, keep an eye out for new products to try. Mix and match flours to create the perfect texture, as some flours can result in a sticky product.
For example, mix equal parts almond and tapioca flour to make lower carbohydrate, fluffy pancakes. Once you are familiar with a flour, it is easy to substitute it in traditional recipes.
While adding sugar to home made goods is fine if you are carb loading or follow a cyclic ketogenic diet (described above), most ketogenic clients prefer to avoid adding sugar altogether. However, keep in mind the serving size of your treat. If a recipe makes 24 cookies, and you add 1⁄2 c sugar, the amount of sugar in each cookie is negligible. Experiment with alternative sweeteners. Most are low carb or carbohydrate free, and just like flours new products are emerging in the marketplace monthly.
Be aware that some sweeteners can contain chemicals that become bitter when exposed to high heat, so avoid those while baking. Some artificial sweeteners are science experiments (with questionable/unclear preparation methods), so you need to evaluate whether you would rather consume a few carbs from natural sugar or stick to an artificial alternative. Although most artificial sweeteners are on the USDA’s GRAS list (substances generally recognized as safe), they aren’t for everyone.
Written by Caroline Wiswell, MS RD LDN