Are Cheat Days Necessary?
Ever since our species began watching what we eat and restricting our calories for health reasons or physical appearance, we have also found ways to cheat and still eat unhealthy foods justifiably. While it’s almost impossible to find out who first came up with the idea of a “cheat day”, there was no denying its popularity among a large variety of people.
The idea of eating a healthy diet six days a week and taking one day to not worry about calories or healthy meals to ease the mind and “reset the metabolism/fill glycogen stores” to keep fat loss going and spirits strong during those tough times of calorie restriction. Recently though the validity of cheat days have become more shaky, as well as being thrown to the side as old school “broscience” that will do nothing to increase your metabolism and will only slow your progress.
What should you believe? Should clean eating be the norm or can occasional controlled binging be okay while on a calorie restricted diet? In this article we will be discussing the different forms of cheating on a diet as well as how to find out if it can be done effectively…
Strategies for Cheating On a Diet
While the old idea of gorging for an entire 24 hours on junk food is the most widely known form of cheating on your diet, it is far from the only technique that individuals use. For some, an entire day of eating donuts and candy might seem excessive especially for those who can eat close to 5,000 calories in a day, effectively undoing a fair majority of the deficit they built up over the week. In this situation (or the situation where a whole cheat day might turn into a cheat week then month followed by an abandoned diet), cheat meals are the next go-to way to indulge.
With cheat meals you are limited to only eating a large quantity of food (usually at the end of the night) in a single meal, meaning whether you eat until you’re content or until you are about to burst at the seams, it will be less calories overall than starting in the morning and continuously eating junk all day until the night. The theory is that your stomach can only hold so much at one time, so if you end up eating 2,000 extra calories from a large pizza at dinner, that is still better than eating an extra 1,500 calories per meal. This strategy is quite effective as the feeling of stuffing yourself on pleasure food is usually enough to hold most over for the rest of the week until their next cheat meal.
Another popular way individuals cheat on their diet is known as flexible dieting or the 80/20 rule. This strategy isn’t as much cheating as it is allowing yourself to be lenient on a daily basis as long as you still hit your macronutrient (protein, carbs and fat) goals. It is referred to as the 80/20 rule because 80% of your daily diet will be coming from healthy foods such as meats, veggies, fruits, complex carbs, and anything else that would be okay for a “clean eating diet”. The other 20% can be from whatever kind of junk food you would like whether it be an ice cream cone or a few pizza slices. This ratio has been accepted by most fitness and dietary professionals as an effective way to stay on course with a diet and still enjoy a sweet or savory treat ever so often.
Unlike having cheat days/meals, flexible dieting allows you to hit your macro/micronutrient goals every day of the week while still having a chocolate bar for pre-workout one day and cheesecake for dessert another. Sometimes it is hard to stick with a 100% clean eating diet during the week and some might get cravings on Tuesday even though they just had a cheat meal Sunday, this is a recipe for eventual binging and subsequent bailing of one’s diet. The 80/20 rule allows you to have just enough pleasure food to prevent binging and in most circumstances doesn’t require cheat days at all. Combine flexible dieting with intermittent fasting, and you have the perfect storm for a successful and pleasant diet (but that’s a whole different article).
How To Do a Cheat Meal/Day Diet Right
Realistically, only 1% of people who diet to reach a normal body weight or a beach ready body weight will be able to do so without having temptations or unflinching when eating asparagus and chicken breast with no skin every day for months on end. In reality cheat meals or having dessert when going out for dinner every so often is part of being on a diet because without it we tend to develop a bad relationship with food. Dedication can get us so far but we have to ask ourselves at what point is it worth giving up the foods you love? In this writers opinion, there is nothing wrong with cheat meals or indulging on the foods you want when you do it right to keep progress steady.
To do a cheat meal right, it should be treated like a refeed, which is a controlled increase in calories but still from healthy sources to replenish glycogen. What this means is you should still count calories and aim to only go 500-1000 calories over your maintenance level. Don’t worry about hitting your fat and carb macros, as both will probably be over what your goals are depending on your cheat meal of choice. What is important is hitting your protein and micronutrients as most who don’t track on the days when they cheat rarely hit their protein or micro goals for the day. But as long as those numbers are hit, go crazy and eat an entire tub of ice cream or destroy ten plates of sushi within that calorie limit!
Take Home Message
While it may be a bit of a controversial topic, when done in a controlled manner, cheat meals or indulgences can be a great way to keep an individual on track with a diet for the long haul. Some enjoy an entire day of junk food but unfortunately, some can almost complete undo their calorie deficit for the week in a single day. This is why recently single cheat meals are becoming more popular in the way that it is possible to fill all urges to eat sweets and junk but once you’re full, you’re done for the day (hopefully very fulfilled).
For those who don’t enjoy cheat meals can take up flexible dieting which allows for a wide variety of healthy foods along with just enough of a treat to hold you over until the next day. At the end of the day though, you can do any kind of cheat day/meal/flexible diet routine you want, as long as you enjoy it because that will be the only long-term sustainable diet worth doing!