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Keto Diet Ditch Day on Thanksgiving

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Diet cheating while on keto may cause significant harm to the body.

Should you give yourself a dieting break and let this Thanksgiving be a keto diet ditch day? It may cost you more than a little guilt and an upset stomach afterward.


Ditch Day Dieting

Many diets allow what they refer to as a “diet ditch day” where you can take a break from the stress of dieting and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done with a food reward. The notion of cheat days is that it has psychological value to by reducing cravings and helping a dieter stay motivated.

Why Keeping Weight Off Takes More Than Just Willpower

More-controlling views of diet cheats go along with a diet ditch day idea, but only in moderation. In other words, no uncontrolled pigging out. Which brings us to Thanksgiving where stretchy pants, unbuckled belts and eating ourselves into a food coma is not only socially acceptable, but actually encouraged as a human right—for at least one traditional day.

What Happens When You Go Off Keto

Earlier we discussed how that you can have your Thanksgiving and your keto too, by keeping your holiday meals keto with some recipes guaranteed to carry that holiday flavor we desire.

Holiday Keto: Eat, Drink, and Still Shrink, Keto Dieting Advice

In fact, since the keto diet is not total abstinence from carbs as you are allowed approximately 20 grams of carbs or less per day, it’s okay to save your day’s carb quota for an appropriate sized portion of a non-keto dish you crave the most.

However, keto is a jealous mistress. Take more than a kiss’s worth of carb-plated pleasure and your hard earned ketone state disappears. In fact, ketosis stops nearly immediately, and you can expect the following to happen:

• Your blood sugar will spike, resulting in your body switching back to glucose as its fuel source.

• Your ketone production will stop.

• Those sugars you’ve just consumed will replenish your body’s glycogen stores.

• Your body will continue to fuel itself with your blood sugar and your glycogen stores.

• You may experience gain in water weight and feel bloated.

• Your ketone mistress will not return until after you’ve burned off those cheating carbs and restarted your ketone diet.

• And, to carry the analogy a bit further, that return is no bed of roses since once again you can expect to re-experience Keto Flu, Keto Farts, and Other Keto Facts Faced When Losing Weight with Keto.

An Abrupt Keto Ditch Day May Cause Harm

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However, there could be more going on with an abrupt change in going off a keto diet from one day’s worth of Thanksgiving gluttony than just some bodily discomfort and a pause in your weight loss efforts.

In an article published last year, researchers investigated what happens to a body in a ketogenic state when it is suddenly provided with a bolus of carbs equivalent to eating a plate of french fries or drinking a large bottle of soda.

"We were interested in finding out what happens to the body's physiology once a dose of glucose is reintroduced," says Cody Durrer, UBC Okanagan doctoral student and study first author as quoted in a news release.

"Since impaired glucose tolerance and spikes in blood sugar levels are known to be associated with an increased risk in cardiovascular disease, it made sense to look at what was happening in the blood vessels after a sugar hit."

According to the news release:

For their test, the researchers recruited nine healthy young males and had them consume a 75-gram glucose drink before and after a seven-day high fat, low carbohydrate diet. The diet consisted of 70 per cent fat, 10 per cent carbohydrates and 20 per cent protein, similar to that of a modern ketogenic diet.

What the researchers found surprised them. Rather than observing some typical inflammatory responses or a reduced tolerance to the increased glucose, they saw evidence of cellular damage—possibly the result of blood vessel cellular loss due to the shock of acute excessive blood glucose exposure.

"We were originally looking for things like an inflammatory response or reduced tolerance to blood glucose," says Durrer. "What we found instead were biomarkers in the blood suggesting that vessel walls were being damaged by the sudden spike in glucose."

"Even though these were otherwise healthy young males, when we looked at their blood vessel health after consuming the glucose drink, the results looked like they might have come from someone with poor cardiovascular health," added Jonathan Little, an associate professor and study co-author. "It was somewhat alarming."

The researchers concluded that while going on keto or other diet is likely providing benefits to the vascular system, all of that may be undone with a single carb surplus during a dieting cheat day.

"My concern is that many of the people going on a keto diet—whether it's to lose weight, to treat Type 2 diabetes, or some other health reason—may be undoing some of the positive impacts on their blood vessels if they suddenly blast them with glucose," he says. "Especially if these people are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease in the first place."

"Our data suggests a ketogenic diet is not something you do for six days a week and take Saturday off."

The take home message here is that following common dieting advice that advocates moderation—even on dieting cheat days—is the safest course of action; and if you are on a keto diet, keep your cheats keto-friendly.

For related info on cardiovascular health and being on a keto diet, here is some informative research about the Keto Dieting Mistake Many Dieters Make.

For more about how to handle your diet over the holidays, here is some past advice on How To Avoid Holiday Weight Gain.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Reference:On the keto diet? Ditch the cheat day, says UBC study” University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus public release: 27 Mar 2019.