The ketogenic diet is hard to stick with. Really hard.
But now a new trend is making the diet more accessible with a cheat day of delicious carbohydrates.
“Keto cycling” is a more lenient take on the ketogenic diet that lets people “cycle” in and out of ketosis with a single day where carbs are OK.
More specifically, there should be a planned day of higher carbohydrate intake — obviously, you shouldn’t go crazy on sweets and other unhealthy carbs.
Why try keto cycling?
Many people on the ketogenic diet are likely trying to lose weight, but because of the diet’s oppressive menu restrictions, it can be hard to stick to. This can lead to dangerous eating habits such as yo-yo dieting or even abandoning the diet completely.
“For a lot of my patients, ketogenic has worked fairly well, but the challenge for many is that it’s hard to sustain, and they sometimes find that they go back to old habits after getting off the diet,” Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD, a licensed, registered dietitian, and wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, told Healthline
Some dietitians and nutritionists have begun recommending keto cycling as a way for individuals to actually stick to the diet for the long run. The rationale is that by allowing people to have carbs once a week, they will be more fulfilled with their diet and stick to it and maintain healthy eating habits.
But, there are two sides to that coin.
“I’m not sure this would work for the majority of my clients,” said Kirkpatrick, “My fear would be that once they indulge for heavy carbs, they would struggle with going back to virtually no carbs.”
Depending on how strictly you are sticking to the ketogenic diet, you will be getting upwards of seventy percent of your daily intake of calories from fat. This has led to some experts calling the diet “antisocial,” because it can make dining out and sharing foods with friends extremely difficult.
When carbohydrates are absent from the body, it’s forced to look for an alternate energy source known as ketones, which are derived from fat, a state known as ketosis. During ketosis, fat becomes the primary source of energy, hence why the diet has been praised for its weight-loss potential.
Reintroducing carbohydrates to your diet takes your body out of ketosis.
Keto cycling is the latest attempt to remove some of the obstacles that the diet prevents, but it’s not the first.
“Carbohydrate cycling,” follows a similar idea but is even less strict. The basic idea is that carbohydrates are restricted for the most part, except for on days of heavy activity. So, on days that you plan to spend some time in the gym, you’d incorporate more carbs into the diet for the added energy boost.
Again, the theory is that some added carbs will, in the long run, make eating healthy more palatable, as well as potentially giving you a better workout.
What to keep in mind about keto cycling
For readers who are curious about keto cycling, be wary. Experts say that there is little to no real research on the diet to demonstrate how effective it is for long-term weight loss.
This is contrary to the actual ketogenic diet, which has been proven to have legitimate medical value for some — such as those with seizures and epilepsy.
Susan A. Masino, PhD, a professor of applied science at Trinity College in Connecticut and an expert on the ketogenic diet, told Healthline, “I do know that it would definitely not be recommended for someone prescribed the ketogenic diet for seizures, and probably not if [it] was prescribed for other medical conditions. However, for those who are using the ketogenic diet to boost health, it may be a way to gain benefits and sustain it long term.”
“I’m more a fan of balance, so I don’t see the need to go super heavy with carbohydrates one day, and light on the next,” said Kirkpatrick. She recommends that, if individuals are interested in introducing more carbs into a ketogenic diet, “they should focus on smart carbs that are lower on the glycemic index, like legumes and beans, berries.”