How to Come Off the Keto Diet
The potential for rapid weight loss has put the ketogenic diet — a.k.a. the keto diet — on the map, but its overly restrictive rules have ruffled a few feathers. Between the dreaded “keto flu” and the challenge of keeping up with the high-fat macro requirements, many people who start the keto diet may quickly find themselves wondering how to come off the keto diet.
What’s the Keto Diet?
The keto diet is a super-trendy, high-fat diet that allows you to consume around 75 percent of your calories from fat. Sounds fantastic if you love avocado bacon bombs, but there’s a catch: You have to limit carbohydrates to 20 to 55 grams per day. To put that into perspective, a medium banana has 27 grams of carbohydrates — so you’ll hit your carb limit pretty quickly.
The idea is that this way of eating will help you reach ketosis, a state in which your body burns mostly fat instead of carbs. This can trigger rapid weight loss at first — but it’s only temporary.
And this diet is full of controversy. “Ketosis is a survival mechanism — it’s not an ideal place to be long-term,” says Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD, and nutrition manager at Openfit. “A diet this restrictive in carbs means you’re probably not getting all your vitamins and minerals from food. In the past, people who medically required this diet were following it under the watchful gaze of an entire medical team.”
3 Reasons Why You Might Decide to Ditch Keto
As a fellow dietitian, I understood the keto diet controversy — but I underwent a one-month keto journey in an effort to stay open-minded and empathize with what dieters were going through.
When you first start keto, you may love cutting loose and gobbling up as much fat as you want. Bacon, avocado, cheese, cream, olive oil — if it’s high-fat, it’s on the table. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy these foods. And I ended up losing five pounds in the first two weeks, which is a huge loss as a petite 5-foot-2 gal.
But I stopped the keto experiment after a month. I couldn’t imagine my life centering around food in such a restrictive way — and there are a few key drawbacks that make it hard to stick to keto long-term.
1. Unsavory Side Effects
Adapting to ketosis is mentally and physically demanding. During the first week, I felt tired and groggy and suffered a minor headache, all symptoms of what is aptly named “the keto flu.”
I was also thirsty all the time and needed frequent trips to the bathroom to accommodate this new relationship with my water bottle. And I didn’t feel like I had enough energy to exercise. Granted, some folks adapt to ketosis over time, but getting over this hump is a big reason why someone might quit keto.
2. Lack of Flexibility
Following the keto diet at home is hard enough — but carbs seem like they’re in everything when you’re out at a restaurant. The keto diet is a social kick-in-the-pants whenever you want to enjoy a night out with friends, unless you actually enjoy explaining your dietary choices in detail to everyone at the table. If you travel often, or you eat on-the-go a lot, you’ll need serious willpower to stick to a keto diet.
3. Health Concerns
Shedding a few pounds might feel great, but the number on the scale is only one aspect of your overall health. If your keto diet is lacking in essential nutrients, that can obviously be a problem. And experts don’t fully understand the implications of following a high-fat diet long-term, but they do know that a high-fat diet tends to be high in saturated fat, which can raise LDL cholesterol levels and increase your heart disease risk, according to the American Heart Association.
5 Tips for Coming Off Keto the Right Way
Maybe you’ve toyed with the idea of weaning off keto, but you’re concerned about what that would mean for your waistline. There’s no way around it: You will likely gain back some of your pre-keto weight.
You may also experience some discomfort while your body readjusts to a balanced eating plan. “You should be prepared for GI distress such as gas, bloating and constipation,” Giancoli says. “But the human body is awesome and will adapt as you come off the diet.”
Here are a few tips that can help you ease out of ketosis smoothly while maintaining some of that hard-earned weight loss.
1. Take it slow with carbs.
Too many high-carb foods all at once can cause blood sugar highs and lows, which can lead to fatigue, irritability, dizziness, and lightheadedness. Everyone reacts differently, so reintroduce carbs slowly and watch for any unwanted symptoms.
2. Choose high-fiber foods.
Whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits are the best bet for reintroducing carbs to your diet — their high-fiber content can protect against a spike in blood sugar. And stay well-hydrated, because water helps fiber pass more pleasantly through your digestive system.
3. Watch your portions.
Keto-friendly foods are high in fat and provide a moderate amount of protein, which helps curb appetite. Once you reintroduce non-keto foods, you won’t be able to rely on this appetite-suppressing effect — but hunger is a normal feeling, and you don’t have to be afraid of it. Just watch your portion sizes, and eat balanced meals that include lean protein and healthy fats.
4. Don’t forget to exercise.
You may feel an uptick in energy after reintroducing carbs, so put that energy to good use and ramp up your workouts. Along with good eating habits, a well-rounded exercise routine that includes both cardio and strength training is a powerful tool for maintaining a healthy weight.
5. Practice self-care.
Starting and stopping any diet can feel emotionally exhausting. “Nearly all diets fail, because most are designed to fail,” Giancoli says. “You will always be at risk of regaining weight if that diet doesn’t fit into your lifestyle. The key is to focus on long-term lifestyle changes, not short-term weight loss.” Preach!
When you come off keto, that’s a good time to reflect and find your bearings. Take note of what worked and what didn’t on your keto journey. (Did you find a few low-carb snacks you actually love?) There’s no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone, and it may take a little experimentation to figure out what works best for you.
How to Safely and Effectively Come Off the Keto Diet
So you tried the ketogenic diet, the über-popular low-carb, high-fat eating style. By focusing on high-fat foods (all the avocados!), this type of diet puts your body into a state of ketosis, using fat for energy instead of carbs. For many people, this switch results in weight loss, but most don’t (or shouldn’t) stick with the keto diet long-term unless they’re on it for a medical reason. Here’s why, plus how to get off keto safely if you’re considering doing it.
Why Do People Go Off Keto?
“Life usually ends up getting in the way,” says Shoshana Pritzker, R.D., C.D.N., C.S.S.D., a sports nutritionist and registered dietitian. For most people, how long you can stay on keto is however long you can say “no” to typical social munchies and drinks, she adds. Sometimes, you just want to be able to let loose and eat some processed carbs, right?
Plus, there may be health implications to consider. “We’re really not sure what kind of health complications may arise from a long-term state of ketosis (i.e., years and years) if any,” says Pritzker. And it’s not just that. “One reason a person may want to stop keto dieting is if their lipid panel worsens,” notes Haley Hughes, R.D. “If a person who is at a high risk for heart disease is eating increased amounts of saturated fat and sources of cholesterol while consuming less fiber from whole grains, beans, fruits, and starchy vegetables, they may see increased cholesterol levels.” There are also special concerns for those with type 1 diabetes and people taking insulin, who might not be a good fit for long-term keto dieting, she says.
Lastly, the reason for getting off keto could be as simple as having reached your goal-weight loss, performance, or otherwise-and being ready to get back to eating carbs. Regardless of why you want to stop following the keto guidelines, there are some key things you’ll need to know ahead of time.
How to Come Off Keto the Right Way
Sadly, shocking your system by downing a few slices of pizza is *not* the right way to get off of keto. Instead, you’ll need to do a little mental prep work.
Have a plan. “One of the biggest problems with dieting altogether (whether keto or another diet) is that when you stop, what do you do next?” says Pritzker. “Most people just end up going back to the way they ate previously, which wasn’t working for them before, so why would it work now?” This is especially true if you went on keto for weight-loss purposes. “Your best bet is to have a plan as to what you’re going to eat and how you’re going to start incorporating carbs back into your diet.” If you’re not sure what your goals are now or how to accomplish those goals with your diet, check in with a dietitian.
Get familiar with portion sizes. “As with any strict diet, transitioning back into your normal eating style can be difficult,” says Keri Glassman, R.D., C.D.N., founder of Nutritious Life. “After restricting your carbs for so long, you’re more likely to overdo them once you allow yourself to have them again.” The first few times you eat carbs post-keto, look to see what one serving size is and stick to that.
Start with unprocessed carbs. Rather than going straight for pasta, doughnuts, and cupcakes, go for plant-based carbs when you first break up with keto. “I would reintroduce whole grains, beans, legumes, fruits, non-starchy vegetables first versus processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages,” says Hughes.
Go slow. “Try introducing carbs slowly and gradually,” advises Pritzker. This will help you avoid any G.I. distress (think: constipation) that could come along with reintroducing carbs. “Start with adding carbs in at one meal per day. Try this for a few weeks and see how your body responds. If things are going well, add carbs into another meal or snack.” Continue adding carbs one meal or snack at a time until you’re comfortable eating them throughout the day.
What to Expect When Stopping Keto
Even if you do everything right, there are some physical effects-both positive and negative-you should watch out for when quitting a ketogenic diet.
You might have blood sugar fluctuations. “It’s hard to predict how someone will react to coming off the keto diet,” says Edwina Clark, R.D., C.S.S.D., head of nutrition and wellness at Yummly. “Some may experience minimal effects, while others may find that their blood sugar spikes then crashes after their first carb-moderate meal.” Roller-coaster blood sugar levels can cause jitteriness, mood changes, hyperactivity, and fatigue, so check with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
You might gain weight. (But don’t freak out.) You also might not! “Weight fluctuation is always a possibility, but weight gain will depend on many factors, including how your body metabolizes carbs, the rest of your diet, exercise, and more, says Glassman.
It also depends on how long you’ve been on keto. “Much of the weight lost when cutting carbs is water weight initially,” says Pritzker. “When you reintroduce carbs you also introduce additional water; with every gram of carb, you get 4 grams of water. This can make you feel like you’ve gained a ton of weight rapidly, though much of it is probably water retention.” This type of water weight gain applies to everyone coming off keto, but those who have been on it for a shorter period of time and lost just a small amount of weight on the diet may notice it more.
Bloating could happen. But it’s temporary. “The most common issue that people deal with is bloating and intestinal issues because of the re-introduction of fibrous foods,” says Taylor Engelke, R.D.N. Even though foods like beans and sprouted bread are good for you, your body may need to get used to digesting them again. You can expect this to subside in a few days to a few weeks.
You may have more energy. “People may have increased energy after adding carbohydrate back into their diet since glucose (which is found in carbs) is your body’s main fuel source,” says Hughes. You may also notice better performance in HIIT workouts and endurance training. Plus, you could feel better mentally, since the brain also uses glucose to function. “Many people report having a much better memory and feel less ‘foggy’ with concentration or functioning at work,” says Engelke.
You might feel hungrier. “The high-fat and moderate-protein combo of a keto diet make it super satiating,” says Glassman. That’s why a lot of people experience a suppressed appetite while trying keto. “It is possible that you might feel hungrier after each meal as they start to contain less fat and more carbs, which tend to be faster-digesting,” she adds. To combat this and smooth your transition, Clark suggests pairing carbs with both protein and fat. “This can help slow down digestion, boost fullness, and limit blood sugar spikes and crashes as you reintroduce carbohydrates.”