If you want to successfully lose weight, then you should completely stuff your face with all the unhealthy food you want at least once every two weeks. That might sound a little counter-intuitive, but this is actually an integral part of many of the most successful diets and when you really break it down it actually makes a lot of sense on a biological and a psychological level. Here we will look at what a ‘cheat day’ is and just why it’s so important for your progress when you’re trying to shed excess fat.
What Is a Cheat Day?
The general concept behind cheat days is simple: on just one day of the two-week period, you get a ‘free pass’ to eat whatever you like and to go nuts with your diet. This means you can eat ice cream, it means you can help yourself to seconds at dinner, and it means you can forget all those little rules you’ve probably been following diligently up until now. It’s a ‘cheat day’ because you’re cheating from your diet, but as it’s permitted – and even scheduled – it’s not really cheating in the sense that we know it.
This idea is going to sound absurd to many people and you might find yourself now worrying that you’re going to get bloated and immediately lose the benefits from all your good work so far. This is understandable, but actually you have no need to worry: cheat days are actually generally shown to help you lose weight rather than causing you to put it back on.
How Cheat Days Work – The Psychological Element
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when taking on a diet is that you’re only human. No matter how hard you try to stop yourself from eating cake or chocolates, or sticking to half your usual calories, you are going to find that you still find yourself wanting to go back to your old ways. And eventually, even the most iron-willed, probably will find themselves caving in and giving up.
By giving yourself one day of reprieve though when you can eat whatever you like, you will know that somewhere on the horizon is the opportunity to eat that thing you’ve been craving – which will make it that little bit easier for you to just hang on and to say ‘no’ in the meantime. Knowing there’s light at the end of the tunnel and that you’ll be able to get your reward at the end of the week can help to make you that much more vigilant in sticking to even a very strict diet.
The other point to remember is that on those occasions when you do slip up, it can often be very disheartening. When you crack and eat a whole family-sized bag of crisps, many people will think that they’ve undone all their good work and will end up giving up entirely as a result.
If you have a cheat day though, then you can salvage this situation simply by saying ‘let’s make today the cheat day’. That way you haven’t broken the diet and you can continue with your winning streak – which is much better for morale.
Finally, having cheat days shows you that it doesn’t really matter if you occasionally slip up. What’s more important is changing your habits in the long-term and altering your metabolism and your ability to burn fat through diet. Using cheat days is a constant reminder of this and it allows you to stay focussed on the ‘bigger picture’ instead of sweating the small stuff.
The Practical Element
Giving yourself a cheat day is also very useful from a practical perspective. One of the biggest problems with sticking to any new diet you see is getting that diet to fit around your lifestyle – and particularly getting it to fit around your social calendar. Most of us are going to have at least a few days every month when we attend dinner parties or go out for meals at restaurants. Likewise we’ll probably have occasions when we’re travelling and won’t have access to our normal foods, or when we’re in a big hurry and don’t have time to cook low carb meals. Whatever the case, having a cheat day can again allow you to be strategic – all you have to do is to switch up your weeks so that your cheat day falls on the day you’re meeting friends. This way you can even stick to your diet through Christmas – though you might want to give yourself one more cheat day for that period…
The Biological Aspect
But using cheat days is not just a handy way to let yourself off the hook when you slip up with your diet – it also actually serves a genuinely useful role in making sure the diet works.
In particular, cheat days are incredibly important for any diets that are highly strict and force you to cut out lots and lots of glucose in the form of carbs. The reason for this is that your body will think it’s starving after a while and thus will switch to a state where it conserves energy. Among other things this means increasing the role of the mitochondria – the sheaths around our cells that provide energy. Once those mitochondria improve their function this makes us more energy efficient which is good in some ways but worse in others – as it means more of the excess energy gets stored as fat. Likewise your metabolism will just generally slow down to the point where food is less likely to get quickly used as a source of energy.
Having a cheat day though reminds your body that food is still coming in and that you’re not starving. Ultimately this prevents the body from going into that starvation mode and keeps your metabolism running fast so that you don’t pack on the pounds.
The moral of this story then is to go easy on yourself. The most effective diet plan is not necessarily the strictest one, it’s the one that is realistic and sustainable in the long-term.