A cheat day is a day when you decide to let go of your clean eating habits. Essentially, if you have been eating healthy and restrictively for the last six days (i.e. sticking to your diet, tracking your macros, calories and avoiding junk food), then a cheat day would be you choosing to ‘break the rules’ and eat what you have been depriving yourself of.
What Do People think Of Cheat Days?
How much harm could a chicken bucket or a tub of ice cream do, right? Well, there is disagreement between those who say that cheat days are beneficial and others that think it is a bad idea.
Those arguing for cheat days say that there is evidence of an increase in body metabolism after a cheat meal and that this causes you to burn calories faster. The science behind this is that the body secrets more leptin, which helps maintain energy balance in the body.
Another argument for cheat meals is that they help those on low-calorie diets eat better. Since there is a planned day to ‘let loose’, those on such a restricted diet have a lesser chance to go looking for chances to sneak something in because they have something to look forward to. This helps keep the binge-inducing meals at bay.
Those against cheat days say that it is a slippery slope and it is best to avoid cheat meals if one does not want to end up overindulging and ruining all the hard work they already put in.
The Effect Of A Cheat Day
So, what does a cheat day do? The argument that a cheat day improves metabolism is false. Eating more to burn more is counterintuitive. The body has a self-regulating system and, when loaded with high-sugar meals (as the cheat day meals tend to be), it responds by producing more insulin. Insulin promotes glucose uptake so more of it can be used as energy. If there is enough energy, insulin signals the liver to take up glucose and store it as glycogen. Metabolism seems to increase after eating, but only until energy needs are met – the rest of the calories are stored as fat.
Another effect of a cheat day is that it may lead to the development of other unhealthy habits such as over-eating on the cheat day or cheat eating too frequently.
The Best Way To Cheat
Is there a ‘good’ way to cheat? It is true that sticking to a diet can be mentally exhausting and that you may need a break once in a while. Here are some things you can implement on your diet which might make you feel less guilty about your cheat day:
- One way you can ensure you do not go overboard is to plan your cheat day. The same way you plan the ‘diet’ days, cheat days should not be an exception. You can choose sweet but nutritious foods or you can just make sure your portions are of an adequate size;
- Cheating on an exercise day is also a way to ensure you burn off the extra calories from your cravings;
- Implementing the 80/20 rule – 80%of the food you eat is healthy and in line with your diet and 20% are cheat meals to help satisfy cravings.
Fitness journeys should not be a dreaded experience and cheat meals are a way to liven up the experience. As long as you do it correctly and not over-indulge, then you can enjoy the little pleasure that comes with satisfying one’s cravings.
Try your best not to look at cheat day as a ‘bad’ thing because a negative connotation might result in guilt. Instead, look at it as a source of motivation to keep going!