Cheat days tend to become munch-on-junk-food days. The name cheating implies that its wrong and causes guilt. Cheating make it difficult to form healthy eating habits. Most cheat foods are addictive, so overeating is inevitable. In trying to compensate, people tend to over-train which causes further damage. Its best to eat treats as regular foods, eat more quantity of healthy food or abstain completely.
Eating foods you enjoy for a whole day sounds appealing. Doesn’t it? After all, experts say that cheat days will help you keep your sanity while dieting, recharge your willpower, boost your metabolism, and much more.
Well, I agree with all these benefits. But, cheat days don’t work for everybody. For some dieters, cheat days are a recipe for failure and they can actually cause weight gain.
In case you’re not familiar with the concept of cheat meals or cheat days – it’s taking a break from dieting to eat foods you enjoy. This may be for a single meal – cheat meal, or a whole day – cheat day.
Now, I’m not telling not to have cheat meals. I just want to share some of their possible negative outcomes. After all, no single approach works for all; you have to find out what works for you.
9 Reasons Some Dieters Should Avoid Cheat Days
1. Food Obsession
Most dieters have one cheat day a week. This means that they have to wait for a whole week to eat certain foods. Since these foods are forbidden, dieters start thinking about them and fantasize about eating them all the time, according to research. It’s actually possible for dieters to crave foods they don’t enjoy simply because they’re forbidden.
Food obsession shifts the dieter’s mindset and they forget why they have cheat days in the first place. Instead of using cheat days as a flexible dieting approach, they see them as on opportunity to munch on junk food. So, they end up binging and overeating on cheat days. And as time goes by, the cravings become stronger and dieters eventually give in to them.
2. Cheating Is
A Bad Name
Since childhood, we’ve been told that cheating is a bad thing. Eating disorder experts argue that the term cheat day makes us feel like we are doing something wrong. And, that’s why most people have feelings of shame and guilt after cheat meals, even though they had planned for them. These feelings of guilt lead to emotional eating and dieters to continue binging days after the cheat day.
It’s highly likely for dieters to quit dieting, when they binge for several days. They feel that the damage is already done, so they give up and hope to start eating healthy again in future. Studies show that going on and off diets increases risk of disease and makes it harder to lose weight.1
3. Cheat Days Don’t (Significantly) Boost Metabolism
Well, overeating on cheat days actually boosts metabolism. But, the impact on metabolism is minimal and can’t enhance fat loss. According to a study, overeating boosts metabolism by 6-8% for up to 24 hours after the meal.2
This rise of metabolism doesn’t do much, and here’s why – if your resting metabolic rate is 1,500 calories, you’ll only burn an extra 120 calories in the next 24 hours. Now, 120 calories is nothing compared to the 1,000s of calories consumed on cheat days.
The other argument is that cheat meals increase leptin levels, which in return balances hormones like thyroid, testosterone, and consequently boost metabolism. But, the problem is, leptin levels will start to drop once you go on a calorie deficit again.3
Even though increasing calorie intake (for a day) boosts metabolism, the benefits are not enough to enhance fat loss.
4. Cheat Meals Lead To Binging
Repeated episodes of binging can cause weight gain. Recently, a client told me that she consumed an excess of 7,000 calories on a cheat day. That single cheat day can potentially sabotage 1 or 2 weeks’ progress.
When we overeat simple carbs and sugary foods – blood sugar and insulin level will spike and then they quickly drop. This instant-drop leads to cravings. Dieters continue to eat even when they’re physically full due to this effect.4
5. Cheat Days Lead To Over-Training
I’m usually baffled when I see experts advise clients to train hard to burn the excess calories consumed on cheat days. This is a bad advice and it doesn’t work.
You see, the body burns an average of 500 calories after a vigorous one hour workout. If you consume an excess of 5,000 calories on a cheat day, you’ll need 10 days of exercise to burn 5,000 calories. By then, you would have had another cheat day.
Frankly, it’s easier to regulate calories through diet than exercise. So, instead of pigging out and punishing yourself with exercise – eat less and exercise moderately.
6. Cheat Days Complicate Healthy Eating
To lose weight and keep it off, one has to follow a flexible dieting approach. A dieting approach you can stick to for a lifetime.
Cheat meals can work long-term for folks who have control of food. But, if you regularly binge and overeat, it’s only a matter of time before cheat days backfire on you.
You may argue that some professional bodybuilders have cheat meals. But chances are, they don’t struggle with cravings and binging. They can stop eating once they’re full.
Try to keep exercise simple as well. Don’t try to exercise in the fat burning zone or anything like that.
7. You Won’t Adapt To Healthy Eating Habits
It takes time to make healthy eating habits stick. If you’re just starting out on your weight loss journey and you’re already planning for cheat days, you’re doomed to fail.
Healthy foods don’t taste bad; you’re just not used to them. And if you continue eating junk food every week, you’ll never learn to appreciate the good taste of healthy food. The longer you stick to eating healthy foods the sooner you’ll start to like them.
8. Sugary Foods And Junk Foods Are Addictive
Food addiction is real. According to a study, foods like pizza, cake, ice cream, chips and cookies, are the most addictive. 5
It’s not possible for some folks to eat certain foods in moderation. They have to finish the whole thing. Therefore, they end up binging every cheat meal. And let’s face it; most of the foods folks over-indulge in on cheat days are downright bad for the health and weight.
9. Cheat Days Affect Social Life
Dieters feel that they should eat junk food on cheat days only. And eating ‘bad’ foods on any other day will sabotage their weight loss efforts. This makes it hard for them to be comfortable at events where there’s food. For instance, if you’ve had your cheat day on Thursday and you are served unhealthy food as an event on Saturday, you will be left with feelings of guilt since you have not planned for that ‘cheat day’.
What You Should Do Instead
Cheat meals won’t work for you if you’re a binge eater. So, here are alternative methods that may be helpful. Note that what works for someone else may not work for you. Anyway, here are some tips that work for most people and will probably work for you.
1. Eat Treats As Regular Meals
You don’t have to eat healthy foods all the time to lose weight and keep it off. Eat foods you enjoy every now and then. But, eat them as regular meals and include them in your total daily calorie intake.
Once you learn to treat these foods as regular meals, you won’t feel guilty when you eat them. Don’t plan for these treats, just prepare the ‘unhealthy’ foods when you truly want to eat them.
2. Complete Abstinence
Some dieters can’t have a cookie and be satisfied; they have to eat the whole carton. For such people, moderation doesn’t work, and the only way to avoid binging is complete abstinence. So, identify foods which make you lose control and stay away from them.
If maintaining a calorie deficit is taking a toll on you, do re-feeds every now and then. This is basically, increasing the amount of food you consume. But, in this case, eat the healthy food you normally eat, not junk food. Re-feeds are better than cheat days, because for one, healthy foods are not high in calories and they’re not addictive, so you won’t binge.
Final Word: As I mentioned earlier, no single approach works for all. You have to find out what works for you. If cheat meals don’t have any of these effects on you, continue having them. Whatever approach you choose to use, make sure you can stick to it long term.
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