Adopting the ketogenic lifestyle has has brought me a lot of benefits, as I've discussed in my blog post My Keto Lifestyle: Why I Started & How It Evolved. People often think the keto lifestyle is hard to maintain, strict, and requires a lot of discipline. While that may have been true at the start while I was adapting to a new way of eating, it just became the new norm, and I actually enjoy keto foods and the way I feel when I eat them far more than my old way of eating. I still do the occasional carb-up where I flip my macros and eat 70% carbs instead of fats as a way of promoting metabolic flexibility (more details in my post Carb-Ups on Keto), but it's not usually an enjoyable day of eating as the food is kind of bland for me now when there's almost no fat.
An off-keto eating experience is when I choose to eat food that doesn't qualify as keto, nor as a carb-up. I don’t call it a cheat day because I don’t consider it a cheat day because it’s all part of my overall well-being plan, and a cheat implies that I’m doing something wrong, which brings a negativity to it, which makes it unhealthy. While many people will do it as an entire “cheat day” and give themselves full license to go hog wild and eat anything and everything they feel like, I find that it's a slippery slope and that I will feel like garbage the next day from that level of indulgence.
Special Occasion Eating: My One Real Weakness
The only real difficulty I have in sticking to keto nowadays is when there is some sort of special occasion in which certain delicious foods are served that are not appropriate for keto or carb-up, something delicious that combines fat and carbs in more even proportions. It could be a party or holiday in which something special and different is being served, something that I really enjoy or would probably enjoy but have never tried before. This is especially true when I'm on vacation and there is some sort of unique food that is a specialty to the area, something that would clearly be delicious. That's when the FOMO (fear of missing out) really kicks in. But ultimately, there is nothing to fear as there is no reason why I can't have a planned off-keto day if I know I am going to be in that position.
Special Social Event Off-Keto Eating
When it comes to special social events at which I know I'll want to do an off-keto eating experience, I will usually either keep it to a single meal sitting, like if it's someone's birthday and they want to go to a special restaurant that would be next to impossible to do keto or carb-up. Or it could be a special potluck meal when I'm back in Ottawa visiting my parents during which all my relatives bring special foods that I want to try (many of them are professional chefs or just really good in the kitchen).
In these cases, I'll do my best to choose to eat more of the keto-friendlier foods and I'll try out the other dishes to see if I like them. If I really like them, I'll eat the food. If it's just ok, maybe I'll give it a miss. Or I might just order or take a plate of something good just because I know I'll enjoy it, regardless of what its core components are and just sit with it and savour the experience. It's easy enough to do this and maintain control when I know it's only a one-time experience. If there are leftovers the next day, I'll avoid them and go back to straight keto.
Since I'll know the event is coming, I'll make sure I stick to more strict keto eating the rest of that day, knowing that I will be indulging at the event. I will also usually try to work in a heavier workout incorporating strength training and/or HIIT (high intensity interval training) so that I drain any glycogen reserves I might have in my system to make room for any carbs I consume.
Travel Off-Keto Eating
Travelling is trickier. You don't always know what kinds of restaurants or food will be available in an area. I always do research and find as many keto options in areas ahead of time, like I did on my recent trip to the Oregon coast, but in my research, I might find non-keto, non-carb-up foods that I would very much like to try. If that is the case, I will make a clear choice to do so (or not do so if I have my reasons). Sometimes this choice will be made ahead of time, but I also give myself some wiggle room for random things that come across our path.
This can be tricky, but my way of exercising sensible restraint is to simply ask myself, "Is this something special or unique that is worth it to me to try?" If the answer is a clear "Yes," then I eat it and savour the experience. If I'm not sure, I might try a taste (if there is the option to taste), and if it's only okay, I will give it a miss. If I'm not sure, but I still want to try it I might get a smaller portion and/or share it with Chris or whoever else is there.
There were two occasions on our trip to Oregon during which I made these choices. (Trigger Warning: Skip this next section I’d you don’t want to hear about delicious non-keto foods.) The first was at the start of our trip when we visited Baked Alaska in Astoria. I had seen a video of their restaurant online while researching the Oregon coast. The brain child of Chef Christopher Holen, everyone working here seems to have a vested creative interest in making it the most satisfying dining experience possible, boasting the best pizzas in town with their 800 degree brick oven, house-baked bread, and a mouth-watering array of dishes with new items introduces every week to keep things fresh and interesting. Their emphasis is on fresh, local ingredients, and while they offer a number of gluten-free options, they don’t really have many low-carb choices. We could either order a salad or bunless sandwich, or go for it and eat thing menu items for which they are famous. We did the latter and enjoyed a dirty pountine served with 2 kinds of cheese, bits of pork belly and a Bernaise sauce, a salmon spinach pizza, a Kobe beef burger with bacon jam, pork belly and Tillamook white cheddar, and for dessert, their famous baked Alaska, made with a chocolate chip cookie base that was topped with ice cream then coated with meringue and baked until crisp on the outside. All of these were divine but, decidedly NOT keto (though we did choose to have salad with the burger instead of a second helping of fries).
The second off-keto eating experience was at Tilamook Creamery. They didn't have any sugar-free, keto-friendly ice cream at all, and I wanted to try their unique Oregon specialty flavours to inspire my own adaptiations to my keto ice cream recipe. We ordered 3 scoops, no cone, including Marionberry pie, Oregon hazelnut salted caramel and Pendleton whiskey maple. Since I also wanted to try the Stumptown cold brew coffee, I asked for a sample of that one as well, so I didn’t have to order yet another scoop. Chris and I shared the whole thing, and boy did we ever enjoy that. It also inspired my recent keto cold brew coffee ice cream recipe, so I call it a win.
As a general rule, I'll try to limit the amount of off-keto eating experiences to a specific limited period of time, preferably a day, maybe two, then go back to my usual keto lifestyle. If I eat off-keto for an entire week, it's just too hard on my body and it's just not worth it to me.
Bouncing Right Back to Keto
After an off-keto experience, I try to end it by taking an exogenous keto supplement right after I finish, whether it's a single meal or a day when I have had a few off-keto indulgences. Taking it helps coax my body back into fat-burning mode, where it naturally wants to be anyway, and minimize any keto flu after-effects that may come up. It also gives a clear end to the off-keto experience, signalling me to go back to my usual lifestyle. Having a clear marker like that helps me shift my mindset and potentially my resolve in case I'm tempted to go off the rails. It reminds me why I like keto and why temporary indulgences are kept temporary. If the indulgence had me eating more food that I usually eat, I might do a 36-48 hour fat afterward, which also helps re-establish ketosis, while also balancing out the excess with a period of limitation.
Now over to you. Do you incorporate off-keto days into your low-carb lifestyle? Why and how do you do them? Please share in the comments so we can all benefit from each other’s knowledge. :)