Any “die”ter will agree that cheat days are the days we live for – that one day where we can give in to the cravings that have been haunting us all week. Maybe it’s the morning donuts in the break room; maybe it’s the queso and chips that cause us to salivate at lunch; or maybe it’s that succulent cheesecake for dessert that we dream about – no matter what it is, to each one of us it is heaven on a fork, spoon or hands!
This is the thing though, for how many of us our one “cheat meal” becomes maybe a little more? A “cheat snack” with that meal, then ah, what the hell, a cheat day – does it really matter? Well, if I can do a day…what about a weekend. “I was good all week right?!? I deserve this!” Jason Maxwell, who wrote How To Rock A Cheat Day (Without Feeling Bad Or Getting Fat) says “Over time, your body realizes it is taking in fewer calories than it is burning. In turn, it will try to balance calories-in versus calories-out by becoming more efficient and your metabolism drops. This is not good when fat loss is the goal. Cheat days will trick the body into thinking it is getting enough calories (if not too many) and the body will then ignite its fat burning metabolism.”
In the Cheat To Lose Diet Joel Marion states that cheat days can actually help you lose more weight. Higher caloric meals produce higher leptin levels in your body. Leptin is the hormone that keeps your body from feeling like it’s starving. So, higher leptin levels lead your body to thinking it is better fed and nourished, encouraging your body to release more fat and body weight.
Ok, so all of this sounds good, right? Obviously, we are cheating for the greater good – to continue our mission to lose weight or continue to be healthy, but not be totally obsessive. However, what kind of cheat you have will definitely have an impact on you – negatively or positively. What we need to keep in mind though is the one truth: calories in needs to be less than calories out in order to lose any weight. So, to lose 1 pound, you need to reduce your total caloric intake by 3,500.
Then what happens when we cheat……by the numbers:
Monday – Friday we keep our calories at 1800. So, come Friday evening, we have consumed 9,000 calories (of course this isn’t taking into account any physical activity we do). So, Saturday we have this overwhelming NEED for pizza, wings, and beer – hello 3,500 extra calories (in a MEAL!). Well, here comes Sunday, which is our actual “cheat day”. Enter the delicious temptations we have held off all week for a grand total of something around 3,500 calories or more….and let’s face it, most of the time more. Now in just 2 days we have consumed around 7,000 calories!!! In 5 days we took in 9,000, but now in 2 we hit 7,000?!? That surely can’t be good. So, here’s the flip side.
According to Greatist in The Problem With Cheat Days “Restricting ourselves throughout the week and then slamming our bodies with sugar and fat once our cheat day rolls around, can have a ‘massive impact on blood sugar and insulin levels.’ You’ll wake up the next day craving more sugars and simple carbs, and you’ll find yourself feeling pretty ragged.” While on the subject of uncontrollable cravings, you need to realize that cravings are a sign that your nutrition program isn’t sound. Most cravings come from overly restricting yourself. There is that fine line you are walking between a cheat day and all out binging, especially if your nutrition program is not one that you truly like or believe in.
I think it all comes down to moderation. Research suggests eating a balance of foods – with none of them labeled “bad” – is the best way to reduce cravings and reduce the chance of falling away from a healthy eating program altogether. With whatever eating program your follow, try to find a balance to where you aren’t completely eliminating a complete group of anything. Maybe it’s just a quarter of a cup of ice cream you allow yourself, or a glass of wine, but if you just tell yourself “no” or beat yourself up, it will unravel and you could just fall away from any program. Patience and persistence are keys to a lasting program. You need to be patient with yourself and realize there will be “bad” days or weekends or even weeks, but that is where persistence will pay off and you don’t just quit.