We all know sticking with Keto 100% of the time can be difficult.
Whether it’s Christmas parties, weddings or even a lunch at a cafe, finding the ‘Keto approved’ option can be not only difficult, but overwhelming and sometimes downright impossible.
In my first 5 years of eating Keto, I was constantly falling off the Keto wagon.
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A Friday night take out would turn into a weekend carb free for all. Monday would come around, and despite my Sunday night resolve to eat Keto again, my motivation would be low.
I would be bloated, tired and annoyed at myself.
Worst of all, I was wracked with shame and guilt which often lead to me spiralling further.
Since working on the mental side of Keto, I’ve learnt how to deal with falling off the wagon in a more effective and compassionate way.
Today I will share with you the 5 steps to getting back on the Keto wagon so you can start practicing the same tools today.
This article is adapted from Lesson 4 in Keto For Life – Getting back On The Keto Wagon. If you are looking for extra support to stick with Keto, you can read more about it here.
Falling off the Keto Wagon is Normal
The #1 thing I want you to know is we all make mistakes, but that does not mean we have failed and we are NOT failures.
A mistake only becomes a failure if we don’t learn from it.
Our job is to learn and to grow as humans do best – not to be perfect or even strive to be perfect.
We are consciously choosing happy, compassionate and positive over perfect.
Putting in place these 5 steps will help you break the guilt cycle.
This time is going to be different, because we are not going to feel guilty about eating carbs and that guilt is not going to continue to fuel our self doubt.
We are going to break that cycle.
And each time you break this cycle, even if it takes a few extra days, you will get better and stronger.
Creating new mental pathways
Our brains work like muscles and the more we use them, the stronger they get.
Each time we practice a new thought pattern, our brain makes new pathways.
The more we practice this, the stronger it becomes until it becomes our preferred mental pathway!
When I learnt about this concept, called Neuroplasticity, opened up the possibility of overcoming the cycles that make us fall off Keto time and time again.
If you want to read more about this concept, Neuroplasticity, here’s a great article.
Boosting your brain’s ability to build new mental pathways
From the article above, here are some tried and proven ways to boost your Neuroplasticity (i.e your ability to make new mental pathways!)
- Intermittent fasting (as noted earlier): increases synaptic adaptation, promotes neuron growth, improve overall cognitive function, and decreases the risk of neurodegenerative disease;
- Traveling: exposes your brain to novel stimuli and new environments, opening up new pathways and activity in the brain;
- Using mnemonic devices: memory training can enhance connectivity in the prefrontal parietal network and prevent some age-related memory loss;
- Learning a musical instrument: may increase connectivity between brain regions and help form new neural networks;
- Non-dominant hand exercises: can form new neural pathways and strengthen the connectivity between neurons;
- Reading fiction: increases and enhances connectivity in the brain;
- Expanding your vocabulary: activates the visual and auditory processes as well as memory processing;
- Creating artwork: enhances the connectivity of the brain at rest (the “default mode network” or DMN), which can boost introspection, memory, empathy, attention, and focus (see art therapy activities);
- Dancing: reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and increases neural connectivity;
- Sleeping: encourages learning retention through the growth of the dendritic spines that act as connections between neurons and help transfer information across cells (Nguyen, 2016).
Using new mental pathways to stick with Keto long term
Just because we’ve always done something does not mean we need to keep repeating this cycle – we can AND WILL create these new responses and get back on track faster and faster, with less angst, shame, guilt and self loathing.
Chances are, if you’ve been on and off Keto many times before, you’ve created some mental pathways that aren’t helping you.
Mine used to look like this:
- Eat a high carb meal (whether it was due to stress, boredom, alcohol, social events!)
- Feel lethargic, bloated and have digestion issues
- Feel guilt that I didn’t stick with my plan and I have fallen off the wagon again
- Feel shameful that I have failed, that me, the Aussie Keto Queen, wasn’t even eating Keto
- Soothe that shame and guilt with more carbs, giving me a temporary dopamine boost
- Feel even worse and continue eating carb heavy foods and continue on the guilt and shame cycle
When it’s written out like that, you can see the problem. The shame and the guilt lead to more decisions that weren’t aligned with my goals.
After continuing on this path for many years I realised I didn’t have to continue this way, and instead could choose healthier thought patterns.
At first it was difficult, but now it is second nature.
I still slip up – and that’s ok, but I try to catch the shame and guilt and question those thoughts instead of accepting that they are the truth.
Our brains don’t always feed us accurate thoughts, and shame and guilt are the perfect thoughts!
Using the 5 Steps to get back on the Keto Wagon
Below are the 5 steps I have tried and tested both on myself and through my Keto For Life program
You can apply these to the last time you had a big feeling – guilt, shame, anger, disappointment – whatever it was (it doesn’t even have to be about Keto!)
If we have been going through a shame cycle for many years, it’s going to take a bit of time to unlearn it.
It can really help to talk this through with someone as well – so reach out and talk it through with a trusted loved one, or even find new friends in the Keto For Life facebook group!
You can go through this process quickly, or over several days depending on your experience and familiarity with digging this deep into what you are feeling.
It might take 5 minutes of mental exploration, or it might take a few days to sit with and work through what you’re going through and make your plan. Either way, it’s ok.
I love to use a journal to go through these 5 steps and sometimes draw them out.
The 5 Steps
Step 1: PAUSE
Remember you haven’t failed, but you might be feeling pretty low.
- Take a breath, take a time out and don’t rush into what to do next.
- Feel the feelings, even if they are confusing and overwhelming. Take some time rather than brushing them off or rushing on.
- Notice your emotions, name them, how they feel in your body. You can name them simply, journaling can help as will mindfulness and meditation
Step 2: REFLECT
Take some time to dig a little deeper into these feelings
- Why do you feel this way?
- Why was your willpower depleted? (I have an article on Why Willpower Isn’t Enough to Stick With Keto)
- What triggered the feelings? (It’s not about berating yourself, saying “you idiot, you weren’t even hungry”
- Who do you feel you have let down?
- What could you do differently right now to feel better?
- What do you fear will happen as a result of this?
- What would you say to a dear friend if they shared these feelings with you?
- Think of a time when you have felt very positive about yourself and your choices. What feelings did you have then?
- If it helps, write down these feelings and spend some time examining them, especially the triggers
- How are you feeling now you have sat with the emotions, named them and let them wash through you?
Step 3: MOVE FORWARD
Practicing self compassion is key
- Forgive yourself. This can be harder than it sounds, but often repeating (even out loud!) some small reminders can really help create this pathway in our brain until it’s real. It’s a ‘fake it til you make it approach’.
- Get support! Talk this through with a friend, loved one, even on the facebook group. I encourage you to share this information – you are a perfectly normal human being (ie. NOT perfect!) and the more we can normalise talking about our mistakes, the better we will all be at learning from them and processing them.
- Get straight back on track. You have not failed, you have lived your Keto Life. It will include imperfections, bumpy potholes that knock us off the wagon and steer us off course, but you are making a lifelong change which will include this – not a strict, short term change.
Step 4: NEXT STEPS
What are the practical steps you will take to get back on track?
There are practical, immediate things to speed up the physical process of getting back into keto. This isn’t about punishment though, but instead about giving your body what it is craving to feel great again!
- Eat keto! For the very next bite you take, make it the best Keto bite you could have
- Intermittent fasting can help get rid of the stored glucose in your body
- Hydration to help your body recover
- Very low carb – cutting carbs very low will speed up the process
- Steady state exercise like a long walk speeds up the process
Step 5: A PLAN FOR NEXT TIME
What will you do differently next time?
- Create a mental plan for next time. You know what triggered you, how you felt and how you got back on track. Do a little imagination game that you were faced with the exact same situation again.
- What would you do differently?
- What have you learnt that you can apply straight away?
Using the 5 Steps to Stick with Keto Long Term
Practicing these 5 steps when you fall off the Keto wagon – even if it’s a short 5 minute mental exercise while you go for a walk, will build strength in these mental pathways.
The new thought patterns for me, when I fall off the Keto wagon look like this:
- I ate the carbs, whether planned or not
- I accept that I am human and will make mistakes and can’t be perfect, but that I will learn from them
- I examine why I ate the carbs – usually stress for me!
- I accept that this is normal
- I choose my next actions to soothe the stress and bring my body back into alignment: usually a nice walk in nature or chatting to a friend for me
- I eat Keto for the very next meal and leave it behind
If you’ve been bouncing on and off Keto for a while now, uncovering the emotions behind carb meals can help untangle the guilt and shame you might feel at the time and get you back on track.
Let me know how you go with this process to stick with Keto long term!
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Not sure how to start Keto?
Here’s some resources to help you!
- What is Keto?
- What Can I eat on Keto?
- How Much Should I Eat on Keto?
- What To Expect On Keto
- Ketogenic 21 Day Meal Plans
- Preparing for the Ketogenic Diet EBook
- Understanding Net Carbs and Total Carbs