So you’ve made the decision to give in. First and foremost, don’t be too hard on yourself. It happens all the time. What happens to your metabolism when you eat a lot of carbs and insulin? Even a few rapid forkfuls can quickly transform you from little doses of good carbs spread out throughout the day to 100 or more grams of pure sugar in one sitting. It’s likely that you’ll encounter some side effects, but you’ll be able to overcome them.
First and foremost, the good news. Your keto card will not be taken away by the carb cops. There is no other permanent fate in store for you. You’ll go about your day like a normal, living human being. There is no such thing as a truly long-term risk increase. Nonetheless, you’ll probably feel bad about cheating on your keto diet.
Your Pancreas Activates Its Overdrive Mode. Within minutes, your pancreas releases a torrent of insulin to try to absorb all of the extra glucose that has suddenly entered your system. Remember that while glucose is muscle fuel in the muscles, it is poisonous sludge in the bloodstream. Your body is well aware of this and is doing everything it can to get it out. Depending on how much you ate, how big you are, what your normal carb load is, and how strongly you tend to “feel” the effects of sugar and other substances, you may feel flushed, a bit high, spastic, worried, or sick. Ironically, you might not even perceive these sensations if you’re insulin resistant.
Excess glucose is stored as fat in the body. A see-saw effect is now created by the influx of insulin. Some of the sugar is stored in muscles if your glycogen stores have room. If there isn’t any more room, the excess is stored as fat in fat cells. The body increases its efforts to achieve homeostasis in response to this quasi-emergency that your brain interprets as a life-threatening stress by producing both epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol from your adrenals. Your heart begins to race, and you begin to feel uneasy, perhaps even sweating. And we’re probably still in the first hour after you ate that cake!
Sugar coma. Burnout sets in after a period of time has passed. When all the glucose in your system has been removed, you’ll feel lethargic and off-kilter, as if your internal circuits have all been fried after sparking in a bunch of now-smoldering wires.
Your immune system begins to deteriorate. The wreaking havoc that sugar has wreaked on your immune system — the swings in glucose and insulin, cortisol and adrenaline – have thrown your immune system into overdrive. The function of immunity-related phagocytes, the cells that surround and consume pathogens, is decreased for at least five hours after simple sugar consumption, according to research1. Within the first several hours after sugar raises oxidative stress2 on the body, free radicals, or harmful oxygen atoms, have a field day. In response to the stressors, your blood thickens even more. For more than 24 hours, a large quantity of sugar can weaken the immune system.
Your sleep has been disturbed. You try to sleep it off at the end of the day, but you toss and turn as your heart continues to beat quicker than normal. There’s no surprise there: the ancient hormonal system’s interconnectivity is perplexing. You lay there cursing not just the cake, but the entire societal tradition of celebrating birthdays. You think you should be done with this sugar business by now when the sun rises and you roll out of bed. Perhaps, but perhaps not.