Cheat days are probably something you’ve heard about on dieting forums or blogs or by talking to friends and family who have attempted to lose weight.
According to research, one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to weight loss is sticking with the program. A diet that restricts your eating habits and preferences can be hard to adhere to long term and can make the entire process of weight loss a whole lot less appealing.
For this reason, many people encourage a cheat day or cheat meal from time to time to give you something to look forward to and a chance to enjoy the foods you love. But, the big question is, are cheat meals necessary to be successful? Let’s explore the topic further from a scientific and psychological view to decide if it’s a good addition to your diet plan.
What’s the Difference Between Cheat Days and Cheat Meals?
What are cheat days and what are cheat meals? Identifying this difference can be all it takes to create a successful diet plan or all it takes to destroy all of your hard work.
A cheat day enables you to consume anything you want for the entire day. Of course, this also means you take in significantly more calories in that one day than is healthy for weight loss.
Similar to cheat days, but on a smaller scale, cheat meals allow you to eat whatever you want for that one meal only. Some people include a cheat meal once or twice per week, while others choose to eat healthy all day except for that one meal. But, the question remains – are cheat days good or bad?
Pros of Having Days When You Cheat
There are several benefits of cheat days. Knowing what they are can help you add them your program in a healthy and effective way.
One of the theories behind a cheat day is that it boosts your production of leptin, a hormone that helps boost metabolism or the rate at which you burn calories. A faster metabolism means more optimal calorie burning. Effective calorie-burning results in weight loss. The subject is still being studied, but you might notice some benefits from having a cheat day now and then.
Another benefit of your cheat day is helping keep you from feeling deprived. Being on a diet can be difficult as you try to avoid the foods you love and stick with the ones that are low in calories and conducive to weight loss. Having a day to eat what you want to can help motivate you on the other days because it gives you something to look forward to. You can also use your cheat days as a reward for sticking with your program for the rest of the week.
Drawbacks of Adding a Cheat Day
While there are certainly some benefits that go along with a cheat day, there are some drawbacks to consider as well. The first one is that a cheat day can feel so good that you add more than you should or you just throw in the towel and forget the whole weight loss program that you’re on.
It’s a slippery slope that is especially dangerous for people who have a hard time stopping once they start with unhealthy eating habits. You might think you can go back to your healthy eating plan after a cheat day, but it’s likely a lot harder than you think.
Another potential drawback to your cheat day is that you could undo some of your hard work. If you go completely crazy and eat thousands of calories worth of food over the course of the day, you could be hindering the successful weight loss to that point.
Learning how to diet is a balance of making healthy eating choices and allowing yourself a treat now and then. Getting it right can make all the difference in your weight loss goals.
How to Make Cheating Work for You
Understanding what you’re up against when you choose to add cheat days or cheat meals to your routine can often be all it takes to get it right. However, there are some additional ways to ensure that your days off from dieting are helpful and not harmful. Research shows that planning your cheat times very carefully can really help you get the most out of them.
The first thing to do is to make sure you aren’t cheating too often. Because weight loss occurs when you take in fewer calories than you burn, cheat meals that occur on a regular basis can get in the way of your goals. Consider how much control you have over yourself. If you can enjoy a cheat meal once a week and be done, go for it. If you find that you have a hard time stopping once you start, you might be better off planning a cheat day or two every month.
Planning your cheat days around special occasions can also help. For example, if your best friend is getting married or you’re planning a big family dinner at a fancy restaurant, plan your cheat days to coordinate with these events. Because these o often mean that these occasions menu consists of high calorie and fatty foods, making sure you’re prepared means enjoying a meal and the occasion without getting in the way of your dieting goals.
You might also choose your cheat day to be one in which you plan to physically exert yourself in some way. Perhaps that means a big training day at the gym or a marathon you’ve been working toward. Because you’ll burn so many calories on those days, making them your cheat days can help limit the damage you do to your calorie intake versus your calorie output.
One of the most important ways to make your cheat days work for you is to avoid feeling guilty about them. Guilt can lead to overeating so you want to keep it at bay as much as you can.
At the same time, feeling bad for your eating choices can lead you to fall off the dieting bandwagon altogether. Keeping a food diary is an easy way to track your eating habits so you can choose when and where to cheat for the most benefit.
To be successful on a diet the science and psychology have to be in sync. Your emotional approach to cheat days and cheat meals needs to factor in the biological factors – i.e. the calories.
You can read more information on health and dieting in our blog. Good luck with your weight loss journey!