The Magic of Cyclical Ketosis
“Pizza” seems like a strange thing to see on a site about keto living, doesn’t it? Let me first just say that pizza is definitely NOT a keto food (although there are a lot of great recipes out there for keto pizza), nor am I recommending you eat it. But I’m talking about it here because it was pizza that gave me my initial first-hand experience with the benefits of cyclical ketosis.
I’m the type who likes to research something to death before I start to do it so I can be sure I’m doing it perfectly (insert eye roll here! LOL). Keto was no exception, so I was familiar (in theory) with the concept of cyclical ketosis from pretty early on.
When I finally started eating keto though, I would get frustrated whenever I hit a plateau with my weight loss. Call it a senior moment or selective memory – maybe a little of both – but I kind of “forgot” about the whole concept of occasionally adding additional (healthy) carbs to my diet.
One night, out of sheer frustration at being stuck in my weight loss despite believing I was doing everything right, I had one of those “the-heck-with-this” moments and decided to eat a slice of pizza for dinner with my son. I had every intention of getting right back on the keto wagon the next day, and had decided I was willing to accept the guilt and temporary setback of having “cheated“.
So I got up the next morning and weighed myself. I figured I would just assess the damage and then get myself back on track. But when I stepped on that scale – lo and behold! – I had actually lost weight! What?!
From a nutritional standpoint, pizza was certainly a poor choice for adding additional carbs to my diet, but the fact that I added them is what made the difference.
The keto way of eating is all about burning fat and getting your body into ketosis (simply meaning your liver is producing ketones). We know that eating high amounts of healthy fats, moderate amounts of protein, and a low amount of carbs is the way to achieve that. Most people also believe that remaining in a constant state of ketosis is the way to go. After all, if a little is good, more must be better, right?
Not necessarily. It seems counter-intuitive, I know, but remaining in a constant state of ketosis can actually have detrimental effects and can even stall your efforts at losing weight.
Here is the in-a-nutshell explanation of how this works:
When you eat carbs, they are converted to glucose (sugar) in your body. Your body then reacts by producing insulin to lower the amount of glucose in your system. When your carb intake is consistently low, as with keto eating, so are your insulin levels, because there is no need for your body to produce it to lower glucose levels.
If your insulin levels stay low for too long, however, this cues your liver to start producing glucose (it’s a survival mechanism thing). So if you were monitoring your blood glucose level, you may actually start to see it rise at this point. By adding in some additional carbs it will begin to decrease, because your liver will stop producing glucose.
A lot of the benefits of keto eating actually occur during this “refeeding” phase. It simulates the feast-famine cycle, which is how are bodies are designed to function in the first place. You might think of it like this: eating low-carb and implementing intermittent fasting is the “famine” phase, and the periodic addition of extra healthy carbs is the “feasting” phase.
As far as your body is concerned, this creates a cycle of out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new. Old, unhealthy cells are eliminated (during the famine stage through a process called autophagy) and replaced with new, healthy ones.
The benefits of exercise are very similar in this way; most of them occur after your workout rather than during, and they are affected (for better or worse) by what you eat and drink immediately (or shortly) thereafter.
So what are some good choices for adding in healthy carbs (hint: it’s not pizza … sorry!) and how often should you do it?
A great choice is to enjoy some of the higher-carb veggies that you might normally be avoiding, things like eggplant, onions, garlic, or winter squashes for example. As with most things, moderation in amount and frequency is important.
If you really miss them, even starchy foods such as potatoes, white rice and pasta can be eaten in small amounts (hint: cooking, cooling and then reheating starchy foods increases the amount of digestive-resistant starch in them; the translation for you here is that they’ll have less of an impact on your blood sugar level than they do if you eat them the first time around).
On the days when you are eating more carbs, you’ll want to decrease your fat intake to keep your overall calories at a good level.
How often you have a “feasting” day will vary from person to person, based on your individual characteristics. I suggest starting with one day a week. If you are monitoring your blood glucose level, you’ll be able to tell when it’s time to add in some extra carbs. If you’re not, that’s ok – you can still keep an eye on your ketone levels as well as your weight to see what’s working and what’s not.
I really enjoy all the great foods I get to eat on keto. But I also look forward to the days when I can have a little of my old favorites. Tell me I can never eat something again, and I’ll immediately want it all the time (sound familiar?!) But if I know I can look forward to having it at some point in the near future if I want to, that helps me a LOT with sticking to keto without feeling deprived. I hope it will for you too! I know you can do this! Keto on, friends!