Just when you think the keto diet has run out of steam (seriously, how many more variations can there be??) some new #ketocontent pops up. This time: keto cycling.
All of these different keto plans—ACV and keto, keto reset—stem from the same idea: The OG keto diet is hard AF to follow. Yes, you can have butter and bacon, but you also have to drastically cut carbs and protein—so it makes sense why people would look for a shortcut (or just something to make the transition a little easier).
So, keto cycling sets out to make your keto diet a little more bearable (read: easier to stick to)—but does it work?
All right, what exactly is keto cycling?
There’s not a standard definition to go by (even though everyone is talking about it). But, “most of the time, the definition is that you stick to strict carb-restricted keto diet five to six days a week and have one day that is either a cheat day or a planned day of higher carbs,” says Robert Santos-Prowse, R.D.N., author of The Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet.
Basically, keto cycling differs from a typical keto diet because you’re consuming more carbs than usual one day a week, in order to kick your body out of ketosis (only to go back into ketosis the next day).
It’s actually similar to carb cycling—where you alternate lower and higher carb days, often to go along with what type of workout you’re doing (think: high carb days for high-intensity workouts). The main difference: You don’t cut enough carbs (or eat enough fats) to go into ketosis with carb cycling.
How does keto cycling work?
While there are no formal studies testing out keto cycling, the theory is that it may help regulate your hormones, says Santos-Prowse. “There’s some indication that prolonged carb restriction may be disruptive to thyroid hormone levels, which can be particularly frustrating if you’re trying to do keto for weight loss,” he says. Cycling in and out of keto may help you avoid that problem.
It may also help you deal with that whole keto flu thing, where you feel miserable on the keto diet as you transition into that high-fat life. Adding in a day or two of carbs on the keto diet (which is basically what keto cycling is) might help to quell those miserable feelings like sluggishness and nausea.
Plus, there’s the whole mental factor—giving yourself one day of carbs might make it easier for you to stick with the keto diet, and sustainable diets lead to, well, more sustainable weight loss results, says Santos-Prowse.
So, will I lose weight doing keto cycling?
Here’s one caveat for keto cycling: If you take this day-off approach, you’ll likely see the scale tick up almost immediately, says Santos-Prowse. But don’t freak: It’s just because eating carbs will prompt your body to hold onto more water, he says.
It’s not fat gain, but water weight—and when you kick out the carbs again, it’ll drop off. “When you get back into ketosis, this water weight should come back off,” he says. Long-term, if this approach helps you stick to a keto diet, you could lose more weight over time.
Should I try keto cycling?
First, know that cheat days can easily get out of hand and lead to cheat weeks or months, says Santos-Prowse. But if you don’t have a problem with binging behavior, a cheat day can be helpful.
“The keto diet is incredibly restrictive, and for many people, it’s probably too restrictive to follow long-term,” says Santos-Prowse. “If you give yourself allowance to deviate and you know you’re going to do it, it makes staying with the diet more manageable,” he adds.
But you still need to keep healthy eating habits in mind. “It’s not going to help meet any of your health goals to go crazy with donuts, pizza, and sugary lattes, but brown rice, higher-sugar fruits, sweet potatoes, and even whole-grain bread can supply your body with nutrient-dense sources of carbs,” says Santos-Prowse.
The bottom line: Keto cycling may help you stick to the keto diet by giving you a little more wiggle room.