Slipping and recovering on the keto journey

I’ve just come back from a wonderful vacation — 10 days at a family cottage on a huge lake in Ontario, part of Canada’s northern expanse of clear lakes and dense trees.

This annual August event brings together a whole slew of us: my 91-year old parents, sisters, spouses, adult kids and, increasingly, their new partners, in an intense, chaotic, close family get-together in near wilderness. This year it was 24 of us at its height.

Our time together consists of sunning and swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking, singsongs with guitars, board games and athletic competitions (spike ball was this year’s rage) — and food. Lots and lots of food.

Cottage sunsetIt is summer harvest time in Ontario and at the farmers’ stands on the way to the cottage are cornucopias of fresh fare: new potatoes, fresh-picked corn-on-the-cob, green beans and peas, beefsteak tomatoes, and all sorts of fruit — peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, black currants, blue berries, blackberries and more. And then there are the homemade pies and jams made from that bounty of fresh fruit. We all arrive ladened with goodies to share.

Ample appetizers appear every night pre-dinner. A friendly culinary competition takes place among each branch of the family as to who puts on the best spread when it is their turn to provide the main meal for the masses.

Added to the abundance of food is the alcohol. Good wine and craft beer abound. Gin and tonics on the deck, taking in the stunning sunset, are a long-standing family tradition.

The challenges

I knew going into this festival of family fun that remaining keto was going to be really tough. Over the last few years, however, five out of the 24 of us have embraced the keto way of eating with significant health improvements and weight loss. I knew I wouldn’t be alone in my challenge to keep low carb among the surfeit of choices.

The gin and tonics were easy — the keto among us substituted club soda with a squeeze of lime instead of the sugary tonic. When I mistakenly sipped the old version it tasted repulsively sweet. Our crisp new version even led to non-keto cottage converts. The drink composition changed; the sunsets remained fabulous.

The new potatoes — in potato salad, roasted with garlic, or steamed with butter and herbs — thankfully I was able to avoid. Potatoes are my weakness so I knew not to indulge in a single bite or I risked totally falling off the wagon. It was also easy to avoid most of the breads.

But I did slip, as did my other keto relatives: cold beers after a rousing spike ball tournament; black current jam on thick seven-grain toast; fresh juicy peaches; blueberry and cherry pies; young, sweet corn-on-the-cob slathered in butter. We’d look at each other, asking with our eyes: “are you going to eat it?” Rather than finding safety in numbers, there was risk. If one indulged, it weakened the resolve of the others.

Paying the price

cottage dinner tableBut then I physically paid the price. I could feel it. I felt sleepy and sluggish. My gut got bloated and uncomfortable. My allergies worsened as the week went on. The waist bands on my shorts got too tight. I felt foggy-headed and lethargic. (My spike ball reaction time, and game, declined.)

I knew I had gained weight, but I wasn’t sure how much until I returned home earlier this week and stepped on the scale. Up six pounds (3 kg) in 10 days. And two inches (5 cm) on my waist, some of that perhaps due to the bloated way I felt. I tested my fasting blood sugar just before I came home and it was at my highest, ever: 117 mg/dl (6.6 mmol/l).

It was the first time I have really slipped in year. The last time was at the cottage, too.

My close friend Denise, whose been on the keto diet since last winter, had a similar experience this summer, as she wrote me in a recent email:

“I just came home from a wonderful garden party. Beautiful grounds, open bar, lots of yummy snacks. I decided to enjoy myself and eat everything that was offered: butter chicken on bite-sized naan, smoked salmon on mini potato latkes, pretty little cucumber sandwiches, rare steak on toasts… and on and on. Lots of carbs. I indulged in all of it and now I feel really ill! I feel as though I am hung over. I was dizzy and weak and just wanted to come home. I think I need to go to bed early. Ugh. Never doing that again. The food was wonderful but it isn’t worth it!”

Learning from our slips

I agree. But I learned a lot.

One could think of these experiences as setbacks on our low-carb journey, or evidence of our weakness and fallibility. One could beat oneself up about failing to stick to the diet. But here is the thing that makes me optimistic and full of new resolve: I have been quickly able to recover. And I feel so much better. It makes the benefits of this way of eating so apparent and applicable.

As soon as I got home, I went right back to keto. My head cleared. My gut settled. Energy returned. Sleep improved. Fasting blood sugar came back into the normal range. It took three days to get back into ketosis, but now, on day 4, I am in the optimal zone again by keto metre and feeling great. I have dropped four pounds in four days and I feel sure I will be back to my pre-cottage weight in a couple of days.

Instead of feeling weak, I feel empowered. Yes, I can gain weight (easily) but I can lose it, too. I now know how and why. And I can starkly feel and see the risks and benefits. I can weigh in the balance, and on the scale, whether it is worth it.

The ketogenic diet is often criticized in the medical literature as being too restrictive and too hard to maintain. Unrealistic for normal folk. And, yes, in unusual situations like a big, extended family celebration or special events like parties and Christmas, it can be tough.

But instead of looking at as difficult, I see it a new way: really easy to get back into it again. And the difference in the way one feels makes it all the more motivating to get back to feeling good.

It made me think of the bears that we sometime see around cottage country — often gorging on the blackberries along the roadside in August. They pack on the fat with their fresh fruit carbs, and then fall into their winter slumber and hibernation, living off that fat until they emerge skinny in spring to forage once more.

I think that pattern is likely the way our ancient ancestors existed, too, feasting on fruit in the summer season, then going back to subsistence on low carb foods for the rest of the year. So I am embracing my cottage, bear-like self, and not berating myself for the seasonal carbs I indulged in.

But now, I am back to keto eating for the rest of the year. More motivated than ever. And maybe next year there will be even more keto converts around the table.


Anne Mullens

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30 Comments

  1. Joanne
    Thank you for this I had a similar experience last weekend and was still feeling guilty about my bagel etc I must look on the bright side that I like you went straight back to keto as soon as I was home and I already feel back to normal
  2. Peter
    Thanks Anne

    I have just come back from a 7 week excursion. Started off really well but eventually the bread, chips, rice and beers slip through (though I did manage to find an ultra low carb beer). I got home and sure enough +3.5kg though it has started to come off now (1 week later) as I go back to low carb. I rarely get into ketosis and wish I could but at least this works and I know how to get back.

  3. Barbara
    Thank you Anne for your post. I'm hopeful now. Might be early for me to cheat a little but I did. Going on my second week KETO/Intermittent Fasting. I really like the program. Perfect fit for me. But today I wanted to try some sweets, chocolate mainly. Not a lot though. Talk about sweet. Very rich. That little bit said a lot. I know I shouldn't have - pre-diabetic as if May 2017. I am determined not to do that again.
  4. Brian
    Sometimes it's easy to overlook the obvious however. The alcohol itself and excess of food in general probably had more to do with your grogginess and probably weight gain than the carbs. Don't get me wrong, I'm on a keto diet as well and see the benefits, but we tend to over drink/eat on occasions like this and I've experienced that hangovers seem to be much worse when the body is short on carbs then when I would pound down bread and pasta.
    Reply: #19
  5. Linda Craig
    My husband and I are new to the keto diet. He has lost 12 lbs and I have lost 12 lbs in two months. We travel and are home only 4 days a month . Last month we did great this month ......not so much
    I have gained 4 lbs back in 4 days . :((( I feel bloated no energy and upset stomach. Not sure why we do this but I have vowed to be better. Has any one tried the keto shakes for meal replacements? I just ordered some hope it was the right choice. Thc for the conversation about Keto...Linda
  6. Victor
    I'm 4 years doing keto now. No slips for me on vacations or holidays. I just firmly tell myself that I control what I choose to eat, and that I no longer eat carbs. The worst that can happen is I get a little more hungry at mealtimes if plain meats, fats or veggies are in very limited quantities compared to carbs. But then I also tend to keep healthy snacks nearby for those times too.
  7. Phil
    Great timing on this article. Just had a week off keto and indulged a little too much. Told my wife we needed to start back at week One of the Keto Challenge just to get reset again.
  8. Harry
    I am rather eating moderately low-carb than trying to stick to a keto plan all year (sometimes I might be, often probably not). But I have also found family holidays and festivities somewhat of a challenge, plus eaten plenty of forraged blackberries with cream or full-fat yoghurt this fall. My suggestion is to see these periods not as a "failure" to stick to a certain diet/lifestyle, but as a pre-planned opportunity to enjoy food and the company of friends and family, and keep the motivation and metabolism up for the long run without the body switching into starvation mode (e.g. thyroid hormones). Try to stick to low-carb principles wherever possible also during those feast periods, for example eat your regular low-carb breakfast or skip lunch when you know dinner will be heavier in carbs, still drink water instead of sugary drinks, don't eat bread as an appetizer, keep exercising or your walking routine up, and so on. Then you will be able to get back on track very easily after the feast, and at the end of the months I deliberately took a bit of a longer break I have at least maintained my weight loss progress. Just don't make "cheating" a regular event, in the past I had much less success with a weekly planned cheat day.
    Reply: #20
  9. Sherry Sapp
    My results were similar. I spent a week at Walt Disney World on the Deluxe Dining Plan. Although i skipped breads, desserts and ice cream, I know I broke Keto. The water retention was awful. I got back and went back on Keto and actually started losing the weight much faster than in the beginning. I don't know how long that will last, but a week later I weigh less than before I took the trip.
  10. Sherry Sapp
    My results were similar. I spent a week at Walt Disney World on the Deluxe Dining Plan. Although i skipped breads, desserts and ice cream, I know I broke Keto. The water retention was awful. I got back and went back on Keto and actually started losing the weight much faster than in the beginning. I don't know how long that will last, but a week later I weigh less than before I took the trip. I might add that it took me four months on Keto to lose the first couple of pounds. So to anyone having trouble, hang in there.
  11. Matt Apple
    I've been keto for over 5 years and lost 100 lbs doing it. I typically allow myself to eat carbs on Christmas and Thanksgiving. A day or two out of the year isn't going to kill you and I was always able to get quickly back on track. The key for me was that these occasions had to be planned (not spontaneous or else I would always be doing it). And they had to have clearly defined limits like only during one 24 hour period or only at Aunt Julie's house and no bringing leftovers home. These rules had to be thought out and rigidly enforced. The carb hangover the next day and the instant 10 lbs of mostly water I would put on would be all the motivation I needed to get back on the wagon.

    But as I continue on keto I find even the "need" for these exceptional days decreases over time.

  12. Kelly ross
    Yesss!!! On vacations ive struggled. Have you ever tried keto//os?! It is exogenous ketones that i have fallen in love with that keep me on track during vacation time and the holidays when i get off track!!!
  13. Jean
    Like Matt Apple I have been eating low carb/keto for many years and have lost over 100 pounds in the process. The past few years I have allowed myself some high carb foods on Thanksgiving only. Since Thanksgiving dinner has been at my daughter-in-laws house and I don't take home any leftovers, this has those clearly defined limits that Matt talks about. The rest of the year, all 364 days, I stick to a strict low carb diet no matter what. Anything more than this would feel like a slippery slope to me. Even this one day a year exemption feels a little dangerous. I believe people need to be very careful how they handle temptations because an addiction to sugar is a dangerous thing and one transgression could easily lead to another and another and another.
  14. libby
    I lost my mind yesterday and totally binged on sweets and cereal. I was so upset with myself until reading your article. Instead of beating myself up, I am moving on and I know I will be back to my normal state in about a week. For me, it's important not to weigh myself as it will be too upsetting. I'll assume it's terrible for now and just get back on track.
  15. Renee Williams
    I learned when I do fall off the wagon it's not the end! Just stand back up & dust myself off & get back on track. For me a "cheat meal"once a week keeps me motivated and not feeling deprived. 1yr and 6 months in!!!
    130 pounds down
  16. Paula
    Your family vacation sounded so wonderful. But, I was wondering if it was possible for you and your keto kin to prepare for next summer with a plan of really good keto dishes. Appetizers. Sauces etc. Pack in the butter, whipping cream, interesting delicious cheese, olives, good 🍷. Etc etc. Again thank you for sharing your summer. As I read, I so wanted to be there.
  17. stephen meinecke
    i think.its great that you went keto rogue. its a special time with family with relevant seasonal cuisine....eat up. back on keto after....easy when you believe in the regime.
  18. Angelika
    When going to a special event like birthdays I will at least hold to my Intermittend Fasting 16-18 hours. Its easiy to organize and easier to get on track afterwards.
  19. John
    The obvious was the carbs (also in beer)... that was the elephant in the room.
  20. John
    So true!
  21. Peter
    I purposely broke my Keto diet during a 3 week Italy vacation. To prepare for it I did a 5 day water fast right before I left. When I got back went back into Ketosis no problem. Felt pretty good in Italy and any additional (pre fast) weight I gained was back off within a month. I think there is definitely something to be said for occasional carb cycling. I'd like to see an article about that on the site.
  22. Vanessa
    This article has come at a poignant time for me as my hormones has being playing havoc with my need for carbs. I've been L C H F since late December 16 and generally do and have done really well. I have the odd hormonal blip and recover quickly but this last couple of weeks have been grim! This article has reminded me that I always get back on track and a blip is nothing compared to the results I've seen this year. Thank You for the well timed reminder 😄
  23. gail williams
    such a timely article for me also. Just had old friends visiting for 2 weeks and we had many meals out where I overindulged. But I knew that I would probably do that and had planned to fast when they left. I know that LCHF works and am trying not to feel guilty. Thanks for the suggestion to five day fast before a trip. That is my next challenge in 21 days. Easy come, easy go as far as weight loss on keto.
    Reply: #24
  24. Vanessa
    'Easy come easy go as far as weight loss on Keto'. .love this little catch phrase Gail, it is so true ;)
  25. Melissa
    Thank you for sharing your story. I had a similar experience over Labor Day weekend. Over the course of 4 days of falling off the keto diet, I had gained 3 lbs. I felt miserable. My body wasn't happy with me. I experienced many of the same symptoms as you had. I knew it was because of the carbs I had overly indulged in days prior. Finally, after two days back on the keto diet, I felt better and lost the weight I had gained back.

    It was a great experience as a reminder and motivator for me on why the keto diet is right for me. The next time I'm tempted by carbs, I will be reminded of how horrible my body felt and I will be able to say 'no thanks'.

  26. Peter
    Once I knew about the LCHF way of eating and understood the science, I became empowered over my life and health in a way I never had before. So it doesn't matter if I indulge in carbs occasionally, have a few beers or taste the sweet pastries whilst on holiday. I can cope with that because each and everyone of those things is chosen in the knowledge of what it is doing to me and I can ask the question, "Do I really really want that or is it a passing whim ?". Prior to LCHF, I wouldn't have known to even ask the question and that is empowerment. My carb intake even on holiday is significantly lower than it was because now I can choose, the meat over the pasta, the fish over the rice and the wine over the beer instinctively choosing the lower carb options when it doesn't really matter.

    Empowerment also comes in the form of the post "carb load", the "Oh my, I have gained XXX" and knowing how to deal with that.

    LCHF for me is about Empowerment.

  27. Sandra Grace Hale
    This article came at just the right time! I am a stress eater and had been keto since April.
    My husband had surgery, Aug 27, had an unexpected verbal attack from my neighbor on the 30th, and then came Hurricane Irma, watching it come for a week, then enduring it and being evacuated for a week.
    I didn't gain any weight, but I didn't eat keto....all my aches and pains are back, I'm hungry again, I'm generally miserable!
    I'm back, power is back on, minor damage to our home. Today is a new day!! Thank you for a timely article!!
  28. Linda Scholz
    Do any of you know if going on and off the diet - or in and out of ketosis - makes it more difficult to get back into ketosis? A summer of traveling and visiting family was tough, but I got back into ketosis right away when I got home and started counting carbs. Then my birthday came and that seemed to go on forever with dinners, lunches, cakes, champagne. As hard as I tried I couldn't say no to such lovely gestures from family and friends and it was my birthday! I'm now back on the keto wagon again and finding it hard to lose the weight from this last binge. I've been strictly counting carbs, but I'm worried that I messed up my system this time. Like my body doesn't believe I'm really giving up the carbs again. Do you know if there are any studies about this?
  29. Jeanette
    Hi I feel like I need some community support at the moment. I followed LCHF for 2 years and lost just over 3 stone and reversed pre-diabetic state. Last year we spend nearly all year preparing to move house,move and then settle back in to new home just before Christmas. During the year we were so busy that I slowly fell out of being strict low carb until by Christmas I was eating like the rest of the family again although I have never returned to bread and potatoes. I have regained in one year nearly all the weight I lost, I feel hungover carb loaded all the time, I’m addicted to chocolate and I feel so mad at myself. Every week since New Years I start again but somehow this time I just can’t get back into it, birthdays and post Christmas gatherings all leading me astray and a busy work schedule. Anyone else had a ‘long’ period of being off the wagon and found a way back?
  30. Jeanette
    Well posting above and naming the problem got me back on track. I restarted the 2 week challenge, started tracking everything I eat and 4 days in I feel back on track, hunger and cravings reducing as the keto kicks in. When I really put my mind to it, it's been easy and my body seems to recognise switching to keto as I've had very few side effects - bit of a headache, but resolved with water and Bovril drink. Fingers crossed I'm back on track.

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