Cheat days. The ins and outs
It’s been six days of working out, eating right and taking charge of your health. But staying focused and disciplined can be hard, and it’s Saturday night, your friends are planning an evening of fun with pizza and a few beers, and there is no way that either is on that restrictive meal plan.
Maybe you should rethink that outdated notion.
Many experts suggest that taking a day off once a week and allowing yourself the freedom to eat what you want – including pizza – can make it easier to stick to a diet plan and make it seem more palatable the rest of the week because you don’t feel deprived.
Also, pizza can be a great fuel for a morning bike ride thanks to muscle-friendly carbs, and if you load it with veggies, it can be nutrient-dense as well.
So maybe it’s time to take some expert advice and give into those cravings, at least once a week. Because letting yourself go free can ultimately lead to better results on the scale.
Why a free day?
According to those in the know, giving yourself a free day makes dieting easier in the long run, because feeling deprived over a long period of time can lead to cravings that you can’t ignore. Then, those cravings can nag and nag until finally, you give in, then feel like a failure and quit your nutrition plan altogether.
That restrictive nature of a diet is why most fail, but the approved cheat day erases those feeling of deprivation, making the diet easier to handle.
So, how much should you cheat?
Some experts say gorging on vices like chicken wings, tacos and ice cream to the point of nausea is the way to go, since after the food is gone, the sick feelings will remain, turning the next six days into an opportunity to avoid that which made you feel bad, like a drinker who downs too many tequila shots, then can never look at tequila (or smell it) again.
Also, some doctors suggest that gorging on desired foods like cupcakes, pizza, donuts, and other items that often land on the list of no-no items for dieters tends to replenish depleted carbohydrate stores, vital to keep your body’s muscles working so you have the strength to get through a tough workout. And when you replenish those carb stores, it fills you up, making it easier in the days following the gorge to maintain a healthy eating plan because nagging hunger pangs will be better kept under control.
The bottom-line is that how much you should cheat is up to you. Cheat until your heart is content. Indulge in the foods you otherwise cannot eat. It’s your day. Think of it as Friday – a day and opportunity to let off steam and enjoy yourself in order to go back into work on Monday and do the best job possible. However, in your case you’re not working for someone else, but rather yourself. Also, you’ll be the one profiting from those six days of eating right and working out.
The biggest benefit that comes from eating massive amounts as part of a cheat day is that it can help erase the plateau that often comes when dieters cut back too much.
That plateau is caused by sluggish metabolism, which slows down as levels of leptin, a hormone responsible for energy levels and calorie burn, fall, which tends to happen when dieters eat too few calories or go too long between meals. It’s the body going into survival mode, inspired by our hunter-gatherer caveman ancestors, who often were forced to go for long periods without anything to eat.
By enjoying a cheat day once a week, your body won’t feel as if it’s been starved or wonder where or when the next meal is coming. Your metabolism will continue to burn at a normal or possibly an improved rate. This means that your body will burn calories around the clock at an above average rate.
Boosting metabolism by enjoying a cheat day is something quite counterintuitive, yet it works. Most people wouldn’t imagine this being possible in their wildest dream. Unlike others who are ignorant of this little known secret, you’re now in the know. Not only do you get to enjoy a day of lavish eating, but also you can do so without a guilty conscience and knowing that your metabolism is going to thank you for it.
The pleasure principle, revisited
And while it feels good to succumb to the simplest of joys and eat what we like, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do too much damage during a free day, since a stomach that’s been eating right for six days will feel full more quickly than one that has been gorging on the empty calories of burgers and fries for that same period. That means those favorites are going to fill you up faster, and you’ll eat less than you think during what seems like a binge.
In addition, after a day of eating favorite junk food, those veggie-rich salads are going to look pretty good, leading to cravings for good food rather than junk. That’s the mind-body connection talking, reminding you that veggies, berries, and lean meat do a body good by boosting mood and making everything feel great, and work better.
You’ll eventually find that eating healthy foods six days each week will become more and more pleasurable. You’ll still need to indulge in cheat days, however you’ll do so without worrying “what if” one cheat day turns into two, three, or more cheat days. You’ll be in control and probably find yourself only indulging in one to two decadent meals on your cheat day or possibly only a dessert or two.
Don’t cheat on cheating
Experts are quick to point out that adding yogurt or a handful of wheat crackers to a restrictive diet is NOT cheating, and won’t be enough to send metabolic rates soaring.
Those who tout the cheat day suggest eating as much as possible on those free days, taking in enough calories to ensure that metabolism gets the boost it needs.
But remember, those with diabetes, heart disease or other health concerns need to make smarter choices on their free day than others, and should choose healthier carbs and fat sources to maintain good health.
There are many positive aspects of adding a cheat day into your diet and lifestyle. We’ve already covered most of them; however let’s sum them up here:
- Taking a day off can rev up metabolism, making your body work harder at erasing extra calories during the other six days of the week.
- Diet-approved cheating erases the feelings of being deprived, making dieting easier.
- By erasing the idea of “good” foods and “bad” foods, it is easier to achieve a healthy lifestyle that focuses on nutrient-rich foods but allows for pizza, a beer, or burgers when we want them.
- By making a cheat day acceptable, it dissolves the failure aspect of the cheating, and will keep more dieters on the wagon.
And the cons?
Some people who are firmly entrenched in old-fashioned diet mentality might feel that a cheat day where anything goes is counter-productive and can erase all the good accomplished over the previous six days in one taco-filled sitting.
Like a heroin addict, the one free day can lead to two, then three, and before you know it, you’re back on the couch, buried underneath pizza boxes and take-out containers.
Just remember that junk-food junkies can recover, and having just a taste doesn’t have to lead to full-fledged failure. Even if you fall off, and a cheat day turns into two, cutting yourself some slack and erasing the guilt will allow you to crawl out from beneath the pizza boxes and start again.
But for those of us who can’t help but view a free day as a license to cheat – and will respond to those tacos like a former smoker having “just one drag” of a cigarette and then smokes the whole pack – working cheats in on a daily basis could be a better way to go.
That way, you only have to follow a strict plan for a few hours, rewarding your discipline with a treat like a square of dark chocolate, a carb-rich lunch to fuel a late afternoon workout, or a glass of wine.
Take the “die” out of your diet by inserting a cheat day. There’s no need for you to be miserable while improving your health and creating the body you deserve.
But lastly, be aware. If you just ate clean for the entire week and dive into a cheat meal pay attention to how it makes you feel. Are you bloated, tired, is your mind foggy. Become aware. Maybe next time tame that cheat meal down a bit. Or maybe to cheat in a healthier way. Instead of those two snickers bars, a bowl of ice cream, and that double-double burger was a little much. Maybe a PB&J will suffice net time.
What’s your favorite cheat food? How often do you cheat?
Butter Pecan Ice cream…. just say’n
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