Are "Cheat Days" necessary in fitness?

There is so much fitness- and diet-related information out there--and most of it is conflicting!  Low-fat and high carb, or low carb and high protein? Keto? Paleo? Most of us know at least one person who swears by one of these diets.  So how do we know which regimen to choose for ourselves? The truth is, there is no one strategy that works for everyone. You need to find a plan that cuts overall calories but still allows you to enjoy your favorite foods.  Otherwise, you may feel bored or deprived and give up entirely. One strategy that can help you stick with a healthy eating plan while still losing weight is to incorporate a cheat meal or a cheat day here and there. Done right, a cheat meal can be a critical part of a weight loss strategy.


How Can A Cheat Meal Help Me Lose Weight?

Including a cheat day or a cheat meal in your meal planning might seem counterintuitive.  After all, how can a diet work if you don’t stick to it all the time? But the truth is, adding in a planned cheat day or cheat meal can help you in two ways: by giving you the mental power to stick with your meal plan most of the time, knowing that you have a treat to look forward to, and by tricking your body’s hormones to keep you in maximum weight loss mode.

The psychological aspect is probably easiest to understand.  When you know that you have a small splurge planned every few days, you may have more mental power to make good choices for all of your other meals.  If you feel constantly deprived, you may feel discouraged and more inclined to throw in the towel on your good intentions. A planned cheat meal or cheat day can get you through all the other strict days you need in order to lose weight.

The hormonal aspect may be a little harder to grasp, but it’s not really that difficult to understand.  There are two main hormones that regulate appetite and energy levels: ghrelin and leptin. When we restrict our calorie intake, ghrelin levels increase and leptin levels decrease.  Increased ghrelin levels stimulate the appetite, which can lead to hunger and, as a result, binge eating. Decreased leptin levels tell your body that you are in starvation mode, making it cling to fat and hindering weight loss.  An occasional cheat meal or cheat day can reset these hormone levels, telling your body that you are not starving after all. This will allow your body to let go of fat stores, without feelings of intense hunger or deprivation.


The Best Cheat Meal

Now, planning a cheat meal is not the same thing as planning to pig out!  A cheat meal is not an excuse to seriously overindulge and eat whatever you want.  The best cheat meal is higher in calories and higher in carbs, but still low in fat.  Eat until you are full and satisfied, not stuffed. Eating a higher calorie, high carb meal to satisfaction is ideal for resetting your hormone levels for maximum weight loss.  Aim for a cheat meal roughly twice a week or a cheat day twice a week.  Any more frequently and you will sabotage your weight loss efforts.


If you are interested in learning more about how to incorporate cheat days into your healthy lifestyle, reach out to the staff at the Fitness Loft.  Our nutritional coaches would love to help you reach your fitness goals!

Christian CollinsComment