Do You Need a Cheat Day? Part I

You’ve been dieting all week, you’re 100% compliant with your food choices and you are following the plan exactly. But then, the weekend comes along and all hell breaks loose and you eat everything in sight – Have you undone all your good work, or can this actually benefit you?

Firstly, I’d like to point out that if you need a whole cheat day, you’re dieting wrong. This is basic psychology – if you restrict and eliminate something that you really want, it will inevitably lead you to wanting it more. This is where balance and mindfulness comes into play with your food choices and your lifestyle. In other words, the more you restrict, the more you’re going to rebound.

When working with clients, I’ve found that the following three factors are key for dieting success:

  • Balance
  • Sustainability
  • Enjoyment

If you’re not ticking these boxes, you will be restricting your intake far too much and will more than likely fall off track by having a cheat day, leading into a cheat ‘few’ days, relapsing and returning to your old eating habits. This will lead you back to square one – another diet failed, and no progress is made.

Total daily calories appear to be the main driver for fat loss and fat gain, i.e. the energy balance equation, in other words, calories in Vs calories out. In terms of diet choice, there may be many methods of achieving fat loss; however personal preference appears to be the determining factor to successful dieting. Therefore finding a diet that is sustainable, enjoyable that allows balance in terms of food options and fits your lifestyle and goals is going to be essential.

Therefore, when it comes to cheat meals or ‘free’ meals, give yourselves a calorie allowance. Once your calorie recommendations have been set to facilitate your goals, you can work cheat or ‘free’ foods into your day – Remember the 80:20, 90:10 rules? Whatever way you look at it, employ this tactic where 10-20% of your calories can come from whatever you like, assuming that 80-90% of your foods come from nutrient dense, naturally occurring and minimally processed sources to cover the majority of your nutrient requirements to prevent deficiencies. Therefore, I don’t advocate or necessarily like cheat days as it promotes bingeing and unhealthy relationships with food, however cheat or ‘free’ meals is something I do encourage, or at least have the option to have if needed.

The second reason for having cheat days are; refeed days

Often found within calorie and carbohydrate cycling methods of dieting where one day per week you’ll increase your calorie intake significantly in order to simulate metabolic rate. Since increasing your metabolic rate will result in increased energy/calories expended (and vice versa) , it will result in having a greater potential for long term fat loss and mitigating fat loss plateaus down the line. However this is where dieters go wrong where these days are simply used as an excuse to binge and potentially over spill on calories, leading to a reduced rate of fat loss or in some cases increased fat gain. Furthermore, the increased caloric intake aimed to increase metabolic rate has evidence to suggest that it’s short lived and may not benefit your fat loss potential long term. When setting calorie goals, look long term that covers the entire week. For example; If your fat loss requirements are 2,500kcal per day, equating to a calorie allowance of 17.500kcal per week, but on a cheat day your calorie intake exceeds 7,000kcal – your new daily average calorie intake becomes 3, 142kcal. This calorie intake will most definitely result in a calorie over spill and any potential elevations in metabolic rate will not cover such a large calorie surplus.

However, there appears to be a far more effective method of approaching reefed days. In part two, I’ll show you how you can eat more food for a longer period of time to maximise your time when dieting.

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