Flexible Ketogenic Diets
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, “KeToGeNiC DiEtS ArE tOo rEsTrIcTiVe! YoU CaN’t SuStAiN iT!”
Often followed up with, “you should try a vegetarian/vegan diet,” as if the universe is telling you this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and you should ignore this so-called advice. Thanks, Universe!
You may already know by now; keto diets are definitely sustainable. The reason I’ve had success with the diet at all is because I LIKE eating this way better than typical low-fat dieting.
Of course, I’ve also strayed beyond the generic “eat this, not that” keto food list and “re-learned” how to cook to keep things interesting. When that fails – and it will fail in some cases (there are no true replacements for doughnuts) – having some flexibility goes a long way!
Ketogenic Diets are NOT Inflexible
The foods that are “prohibited” on a ketogenic diet are quite limited when you think about which would qualify as real food. It’s only potatoes, fruits, and grain, and grains are an iffy one at best, as in most cases, they must be processed to yield a significant carbohydrate density. Conversely, eating unground, nonconcentrated wheat (e.g., the actual plant itself) would be similar to eating other vegetables.
Following that line of thought, the one that says we shouldn’t be eating – or should at least be limiting – any manmade foods REGARDLESS OF BEING KETO OR NOT, consider that potatoes have been artificially selected to be soft and nonfibrous, and we’re left only with fruit.
And a ketogenic diet is only picky about which fruits are “good.” It doesn’t eliminate them altogether. Still, if you want to say not eating the foods that humans have literally invented to be irresistible, the desserts, the pizzas, the snacks, being keto doesn’t mean these are sworn off indefinitely.
How, When, and Why to “Cheat” on Your Keto Diet
First of all, it’s not cheating if it’s planned, has a purpose, and facilitates your goals. If you happen upon a Taco Bell for a surprise 4th meal at 1am, that’s cheating! If you’ve been craving ice cream all week then make a post-workout milkshake on day, that’s maintaining sanity while aiding in adding muscle, improving athletic performance, and/or obtaining a leptin pulse.
Second, the how. You want to pick a food that you A) can’t stop thinking about, or B) “fits.” If you can’t get a particular food off of your mind, it’s better to have a controlled and measured amount of that food once than it is to buy a whole package and graze on it for a week. In this case, it’s often best to go out to a restaurant, order it, and be done with it.
When using “cheat” meals strategically, the objective is to use a higher quality “cheat” food. Preferably something with no collateral damage, such as GI stress, is hypoallergenic, and at least close to all natural. For example, most fruits, honey, rice, etc. These foods are easily measured, don’t complicate things by adding any low-quality protein or fat (keeping coingestion of fat and carbs minimal [prevents fat storage]), and often work well regarding the “when.”
The two are not mutually exclusive, a food you are craving can be made to fit. Although, eating a plate of greasy onion rings not only has poor overall nutritional value, but it won’t sit well for most people heading into a training session – an ideal time to have more carbohydrate in the diet. In general, before, during, and after training are the best times to add carbs aka targeted keto. Once or twice every 1-2 weeks is best for the cyclical keto approach.
Adding carbs back into a ketogenic diet strategically is very important for performance and has relevance to adding muscle, which I discuss at length in The New Rules of Keto (available for free if you sign up for our mailing list at the very bottom of this page). However, it’s also important for a leptin pulse and long-term weight loss success.
Leptin is a hunger hormone produced by fat cells and highly responsive to glucose metabolism. Its main function is to decrease hunger, but leptin will decrease when individuals lose weight, which causes decreases in metabolic rate, thereby slowing weight loss.
Since leptin is not really responsive to fat and protein, “pulsing” in some carbohydrate every once in a while will stimulate a more concentrated leptin release and ramp up metabolism.
Ketogenic Diets are Flexible
As you can see, the reality of the situation is that carbohydrate (aka cheat foods) are just another dieting tool. To write them off completely due to the fact of adhering to a ketogenic diet is often dogmatic, and to be frank, a mistake.
Keep your ketogenic diet flexible enough to provide yourself the best chance for success, and use cheat meals to facilitate your goals. If you're still a little hesitant to go full bore on a carb meal, take a look at Keto SuperCarb - a unique combination of low-GI carbs and BHB for optimal dual fueling potential and a distinct sports fuel advantage.