I’d venture to guess that a majority of you bros who’ve been on a diet, on some point during said diet have had yourself a cheat day or two…or several.
While cheat days can be an enjoyable break from dieting, did you know that they not only can help your diet adherence but improve results as well?
Yes, helping yourself to pizza, burgers, ice cream, donuts, wings, and other amazingly delicious foods on occasion can benefit you! Here’s how…
Cheat Days Increase Adherence
Dieting doesn’t necessarily have to suck, but it’s not always easy. You’re eating less food than your body is use to, which is going to have some side effects, both physically and mentally.
One of the mental side effects of dieting is that you can’t necessarily just eat whatever you want. Sure, if you’re following flexible dieting guidelines and counting your macros like I do with my clients, then you’re going to have room to indulge a bit. But it’s never what you want.
As humans, we’re horrible at restricting ourselves. If we tell ourselves we can’t have something, then that’s all we crave.
By allowing yourself a cheat day you can help reduce cravings, because you know that you have a day where you can eat whatever you want. This also increases the likelihood that you’ll stay on point with your diet the rest of the week.
Cheat Days Affect Hormones
Dieting affects a number of physiological processes in the body, including our hormones. One hormone affected by reducing your caloric intake is Leptin.
Also know as the anti-starvation hormone, leptin controls a number of other hormones that have to do with fat loss. When leptin levels are high, fat loss comes fairly easy. When leptin levels drop, losing fat becomes more difficult.
Leptin levels are also controlled by the amount of body fat you have. The higher your body fat levels, the higher your leptin levels. (This is one of the reasons why the more overweight you are, the quicker you tend to lose fat when you start dieting).
So as you can see, dieting and declining body fat levels have a negative effect on leptin levels; except we need high leptin levels to lose fat. This is where cheat days come in.
Since decreasing your energy intake causes leptin levels to drop, increases your intake can temporarily raise leptin levels, helping restart fat loss. This bump in leptin production also helps increase the production of other fat-burning hormones like T3 and T4, which help regulate metabolism, as well as thermogenesis, meaning that the temporarily increase in calories will cause your body to burn more calories as well.
How to Cheat
While cheat days are great and a lot of fun, they aren’t for everyone. You need to assess your individual situation based on the following factors:
1). As we learned, the more you restrict calories the more your leptin levels will drop. If your diet puts you in a caloric deficit of 20% or less you probably don’t need to/shouldn’t cheat more than once or twice per month. If you’re in a deficit of 25% or greater then you can likely get away with cheating once per week.
2). If you’re seeing a good rate of fat loss (1-2lbs per week consistently), then you probably don’t need to cheat. If your progress stalls out for two weeks or more, or you’re really struggling mentally with your diet, you can throw in a cheat meal and go from there.
3). The leaner you are (sub 10% BF for men, 15% for women), the more you can get away with cheating. This is because your leptin levels are already going to be naturally low due to low body fat levels. The higher your body fat levels, the less you need to cheat because your leptin levels will still be fairly high.
4). A cheat day isn’t an excuse to eat yourself into a coma. Believe me from someone who’s been there, eating past the point of satiety may seem like a good idea at the time, but you almost always regret it. Eat until you are comfortable, not stuffed.
5). Whether you’re having a cheat day or a cheat meal, limit yourself to just that. One of the biggest problems people have with cheat days is they let them spill over into two, three, four days, or a week, and all of a sudden you’ve undone all your progress. Plan what you want to have. Buy it the day of, eat it, and then be done. When the next day comes, get right back to your plan.
Cheat days, when used correctly, can be a great tool to not only increase diet adherence, but help produce results as well. Implementing them in the right situation, as part of a proper nutrition plan, can help make dieting more effective and enjoyable.
Want to know if cheat days are right for you? Send me an email and I’ll let you know how to fit them into your plan.