How to get back on the wagon, if you fell off

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Sometimes I find myself in a situation where I've made a bad choice, messed up accidentally, or flat out thrown keto to the wind and lived dangerously for a period of time. As a low carb (specifically keto) enthusiast I spend a lot of time in keto groups and I've noticed I'm not alone in this, and if you are one of those people who has arrived here and are completely overwhelmed and freaking out on what to do, I have got you covered. As a well-seasoned stumbler through the woods, I have learned a few tricks to save you....so let's dive in!

So, you fell off the wagon...

You know, wagons are pretty bumpy when you first ride them, and it takes some getting used to. A change in diet or lifestyle is much the same way. You're going to fall off or at least get thrown around a little bit until you get your bearings. It's normal and completely expected. You didn't learn to walk without learning to crawl first, and you didn't do either of those without a few stumbles, faceplants, and tears. So if you fell off the wagon for a moment take a big breath, shake it off, and give yourself a big hug. Don't beat yourself up over this; what you need right now is some compassion and understanding, some encouragement to move forward, to be told it's okay to have this moment because it really is okay, and it can all work out. This moment might look big right now but it's not going to be so big a year from now. Better still you will learn from this and grow stronger and that will help you have these moments differently in the future.

If you're still feeling like it's a huge deal and are stressing, I want you to rethink for a moment about what makes this a big deal, because from where I stand it's a big deal because you're actually really awesome. You were on that wagon. Some people never make it to the wagon at all, but you were on it and you were riding it. Even if it was only for a moment, you were doing it, and that proves you can do it! Now get back on, don't wait. Make your next choice a better choice. If you're trying to build a better lifestyle your next choice needs to be a step in the right direction towards that wagon. If you're a seasoned veteran with a plan it might be okay to wait until tomorrow, but it's better not to because there are wolves in these woods, and they can be sneaky and keep you distracted from finding that wagon.

But there's wolves out here!

Don't worry, we all have wolves in our woods. Whether your wolves are carb cravings, sugar addiction, hunger, mood swings, depression, self-sabotage, a chronic illness, insulin resistance, or something else entirely (there are a lot of wolves!) we all have them...and you don't have to be scared of them. You can tame or lose some of these wolves in the forest, but to do that you need to understand them and how they work first.

This means you need to make sure you've done at least a little research....so here's a pop quiz!

  1. Do you know what keto is? Ketosis?
  2. Do you know how insulin resistance works, what it does, and how keto helps?
  3. Do you know the difference between clean and dirty keto?
    1. Is starch ok? Soy? Maltodextrin? Erythritol? Artificial sweeteners? Natural sweeteners?
  4. If you have a chronic health condition, could you explain to me what's happening in your body, what causes it, and what can be done to control or conquer it?
    1. Have you researched your condition with low carb or keto in the search terms to find out what people know?
    2. Have you spoken to your doctor before going low carb in case you may require monitoring? Your doctor may need to work closer with you for certain medications, diagnoses, and situations.
  5. Have you visited DietDoctor.com

Pro Tip: If you're overwhelmed with info and not sure how it all fits together, ask for links in a keto friendly group! Others have fought these wolves before you and may have valuable resources they can share with you. Do your own research first, don't make the group google things for you.

If you've answered no to any of these questions you may want to do a little more research. When you understand how these things work it's much easier to stay on track and even easier to get back on track because those big scary wolves might just little puppies when you shine your torch on them...

But if your wolves aren't something you can deal with alone and require an expert there's no shame in that. If you find yourself struggling with your wolf, you absolutely should reach out to an expert. If you're emotionally eating, sabotaging yourself, struggling with addictions or disordered eating, depression, or anything else you should reach out and get help from a qualified professional. You should speak to your doctor about referrals or turn to google and research for free or low-cost therapy options in your area. If your issue is a chronic health issue or you're on medication, please see your doctor for help and advice also. If you can find a low carb friendly doctor that would be a great benefit to have.

Some of my wolves were hunger, exhaustion and lack of energy, weight gain despite exercise and diets, sweet cravings, disordered eating, and depression. All of mine were related to Insulin Resistance, he was definitely the alpha wolf. At first it was very overwhelming to fight these wolves off but as I learned about them, I learned how to handle them. I also sought professional help for my disordered eating and depression, and it was one of the best things I ever did because it restored my relationship with food.


You've given yourself a big hug and told yourself it's ok? Check! You're ready to make your next choice count and get back on the wagon? Check! You've filled in any missing knowledge and feel empowered to get back to it with your new/refreshed understanding? Check! You've reached out to professionals as needed? Check! Then find the scenario that best defines you...

You're brand new to keto, or you're fairly new and have been struggling...
  1. In your first 1-3 weeks you will likely need to increase your fat intake for satiety. At first this might feel uncomfortable and off-putting, this is because your body has feedback mechanisms for telling you when it's had enough fat, protein, salt, and even water! Fat is an energy dense food source, and since your liver is already filled with carbs your body will tell you it's got enough energy. At first you may want to ignore this, however after a week or so this mechanism will guide you to health.
    1. If you have insulin resistance your bodyfat won't be super accessible at first, so your body will need an increase of dietary fat to fuel itself or it will turn to burning muscle.
    2. Increasing your fat also signals to your body that fat is the primary fuel source, which helps it switch over instead of waiting around for carb energy.
    3. When I transitioned the first time, I ate small thumb sized pieces of pork belly, it would keep me full and energetic between meals (as I was tired and hungry at first). You might like to eat eggs, avocado, MCT Oil Powder, cheese, some chicken or other protein.
  2. In your first 3 weeks to 3 months (preferably 3 months) you should focus on diet alone. Focus on making food with keto friendly whole foods, and don't think about whether it's a "breakfast food" or how you can make a "sandwich" for lunch that's keto - start over. It's all food, it doesn't have an assigned time or place for eating. Don't think about what you can't have just focus on what you can have because that is all that matters, and the rest is a distraction. So, make good keto friendly food with fresh real ingredients and enjoy it!
    1. Clear out all the non keto foods. Give them to friends and family or lock them in a box somewhere you can't see them, so they don't tempt you. If it's nonperishables consider donating to a church or asking in your local community group if someone needs help.
    2. Need to start simple? I started out by picking a protein (such as chicken or beef), a fat (such as butter, salad dressing, cheese), and then some vegetables. I keep my days under 20g net carbs and only add fat to foods that need it. For example, if I'm eating chicken it's quite lean so I might add keto friendly mayo and cheese to my salad. If I'm having steak, I'll usually have veg with no fat added (except what they were cooked in).
    3. I would avoid all keto labelled products during this time to reset your tastebuds and ensure you're avoiding inflammatory ingredients. Get back to real food first, learn how to create new things with it, then consider adding in all those other things like keto breads and treats, natural sweeteners, etc. As you learn and go, you'll be able to add these back in a little at a time and find balance.
  3. In your first 3 weeks to 3 months (if you have insulin resistance just make it 3 months to be safe) you should avoid exercising, but definitely go walking if you're up to it! Your body will want some time to heal and rebalance, and if you have insulin resistance it may burn muscle instead of fat to fuel this exercise. For this reason, you should focus on perfecting your diet first so you can be fat adapted and ready for exercise later.
  4. In your first 3 months I'd suggest avoiding fasting, for the same reason as with exercise. Your body needs time to switch to fat burning and become fat adapted. Over time with keto, you will find yourself naturally eating less and having longer gaps between food. If you do want to fast you need to wait for this moment first....and even then if you have insulin resistance I'd wait a little bit longer or start by fasting between dinner and breakfast first to ensure you have healed.
Pro Tips for Newbies:
  1. Join a keto support group. Look through their units and recipes. Make sure their description, rules, and values align with your own.
  2. Avoid adding sweeteners to things if possible, to help your brain reset from craving sweet foods. Try your coffee black, or with cream and a small amount of Stevia or Monkfruit. If you don't cut these sweet drinks and foods out you will not change your taste for sweetness.
  3. Trying to lose weight? Think of protein as a goal, carbs as a limit, and for fat use 60g for hormones and vitamins and then use the rest only as you need for hunger.
  4. If you're trying to lose weight you should probably avoid fat bombs and bullet proof coffee as these are more for people who need to meet their fat macro in order to maintain their weight.
  5. Start adding salt to your meals, you're going to need it especially to avoid keto flu. Please read this article about keto flu, it is completely avoidable! Recipe for home made ketorade.
You're a keto veteran....

You were doing keto for at least 3 months before your moment which lasted < 1m
  1. If you were not fat adapted and struggling with keto, you might want to look at the newbie section. You may also need additional support from professionals, and that's okay.
  2. If you were fat adapted before this moment, I recommend fasting to help you get back into ketosis sooner. You can do a little fast by not eating after dinner until 1 or 2pm the next day, to help deplete some of those carbs in your liver. If you were fasting much longer than this before you might find a longer fast is nicer; listen to your body.
  3. Go for a walk or do some form of exercise. Does your house need a spring clean? Now is the time to get your body moving! You'll get into ketosis quicker.
You took a break from keto for < 6m and went low carb
  1. For the first few days to a week, you may need to increase your fat intake to make the transition less of a hungry one, and to help you get back to fat adaption and fat burning depending on what you did on your break and how liberal your definition of low carb is.
  2. When it comes to exercise try to stick to walking for the first 1-3 weeks, to allow your body some time to readjust and ensure you're fat adapted and in fat burning (this will definitely depend on what you did on your break). If you have insulin resistance you may need the whole 3 weeks. Listen to your body.
  3. When it comes to fasting that really depends on what you did during your break. I'd wait 3 weeks before fasting to ensure you're back in fat adaption and fat burning. Listen to your body.
You went off keto for a few months or longer, but you were not eating low carb
  1. You may find the newbie section more helpful, as the same advice will apply to you. It will be a much easier transition because you've been here before, but a full refresher is the best idea here to give you the best jump start!
Can I jump off the wagon and get back on without falling?

Most people sure can! Some people are doing keto for medical reasons or have medications and conditions they will need to talk to their doctor about first. If you do want to take a break in a healthy way though, it can't start with any of these reasons:

  1. You're really craving something.
  2. You've had a bad day.
  3. You've "earned" it/ It's a "reward".
  4. You're really tempted.
  5. Just one won't hurt.
  6. You don't know why you did it.
  7. You couldn't be bothered doing the right thing.
  8. You're taking a break because someone else asked you to, or for someone else.
  9. You don't want to take a break but feel forced or pressured into it.
  10. You're having a break knowing it's really not a good idea.
  11. There was no plan.
  12. You will get back into it tomorrow (but you do it a few times a month).
  13. It was "just this one time"/special day/special occasion/a treat (but it's not just one time).

When it comes to food psychology, I have a few things to say. Having been treated for disordered eating to restore my relationship with food I've learned a whole lot. Food should never be seen as a reward, or something to be earned. You need food to survive, and it should be loved and enjoyed and basked in without any guilt or shame. Food is wonderful, it's a huge part of our culture and how we socialize. You should enjoy it when you eat, really love all the smells, tastes, textures, and sensations it brings. Eat it without distractions, slowly, and when you're done, you'll be much more satisfied.

When we equate food to a reward, we take away a huge part of that pleasure, and we apply a level of guilt and shame to it which can trigger disordered eating patterns. It becomes something there to fill an emotional need instead of a physical one. Especially if the food in question is something we know might derail us from our goals. Instead of food you should find other rewards. At 10kg I got a Fitbit! It's motivated me to work harder and has been the best reward I've ever gotten. You could give yourself a gym membership, new clothes, a new hairdo with some color in it, a game you want or a course or class, a trip somewhere you love going or a new experience like a hike or ghost tour.

If you find yourself having a lot of moments where you're straying from keto and you don't know why or find yourself justifying or writing it off each time, you may want to seek professional help. If you're emotional eating (reaching for food to sooth boredom, sadness, stress, or another emotion), sabotaging yourself, or showing signs of addiction you may want to seek the help of a professional. There are a lot of things that can drive you to these behaviors, and you can tackle all of them with the right help.

So how do you stop the wagon, have a moment off it, and get back on safely?

Firstly, you should set some boundaries, make a plan, and then stick to it. Make sure this is a break you want to take and are happy to take. You need to understand how this break is going to impact you and be mindful of your choices so you can have a great time and get back into it healthy, happy, and without any regret, guilt, or shame.

If you're taking a break for an event, ensure you know how long your break will last. Be specific. There is always going to be a reason to have a break, so make sure you're specific in your intentions or you could find yourself 2 months after that event still on a break for one more birthday, one more graduation, one more family reunion. I didn't think that possible, but it happened to me, and it was awful.

Have limitations. You're having a break for something specific, so keep it specific. Are you straying for a wedding? Then maybe outside the wedding event continue eating as you normally would, focus on low carb, or plan ahead if you want to live dangerously.

Know that this break is going to affect your weight (for the most part this will be water weight or quickly lost when you return) and it may also affect your mood, energy level, hunger, and may (temporarily) bring back cravings in some people. If you have insulin resistance your break may also affect you in other ways, and it may take a little longer to get back into things. You need to prepare for these things and have steps in place to avoid triggering any wolves to come for you from the forest when you're trying to have a nice time. Know these things are going to be impacted and give yourself the TLC, support, compassion, and understanding you need to stick to your plan and come through this break in a healthy way....and know when you can't take a break because you're not emotionally or physically able to and find a better plan.

Do you need to take a break or is there another way?


Some things that helped me on my journey

Just like you I walk in my own set of woods with my own wagon heading towards my own goals, with my own wolves to deal with and my own moments where I fall off or even leap off. Some of the things that have helped me navigate these times are listed below. I hope they help you with your journey too!

Amy Burger's 8-part article series, ITIS (It's The Insulin Stupid), helped me understand Insulin Resistance and how far reaching it can be in the body http://www.tuitnutrition.com/2015/09/its-the-insulin-1.html

Fat Head Documentary (free on some streaming platforms or on Youtube) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evcNPfZlrZs

Why you might need to cut fat http://www.tuitnutrition.com/2017/08/how-to-cut-fat-on-keto.html

What Fat Adaption is, and why you shouldn't freak out about being kicked out of ketosis, and more http://www.tuitnutrition.com/2016/01/dont-be-a-ketard1.html

Why protein is your best friend for weight loss http://www.tuitnutrition.com/2017/07/gluconeogenesis.html

Ken Berry has lots of fantastic videos https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIma2WOQs1Mz2AuOt6wRSUw

Diet doctor has lots of guides, including visual guides on food and articles and recipes https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/guides

Written by Jade Elizabeth
Published: April 23rd, 2022

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