Is a "Cheat Day" OK?
It's a beautiful spring Saturday. It's the kind of weather that makes one want to ditch the food log and head to the ice cream stand for a large cone with sprinkles. I mean...will one ice cream cone really sabotage all the work I put into my health all week? Is it OK to "cheat"?
What is a "Cheat Day"?
The "Cheat Day" comes in many varieties. For some it is choosing a specific food to indulge upon once a week, others it is a whole meal they splurge on and for others it is a whole day of unabated gluttony. For every type of cheat, there is also a theory as to why it is OK to include in a healthy lifestyle.
In a 2017 article cited in the International Journal of Obesity, subjects experienced greater weight and fat loss with Intermittent Energy Restriction. In simple terms, by cutting calories or restricting the amount of energy you consume, the body adapts. While at rest, those on restrictive diets experienced a decrease in Resting Energy Expenditure, the number of calories burned while at rest. Following two groups of obese men, one group sustained a restrictive eating diet for 8 continuous weeks (no cheat days) while the other group followed a 30 week plan that included 8-2 week restrictive eating with 7-2 week balanced recovery days (calories in/calories out). This study concluded that by following the 30 week restrictive/recovery plan.metabolism was boosted and participants lost more weight overall. (https://rdcu.be/cNy4H)
What does this have to do with a cheat day?
OK...enough science talk. Is a cheat day good or bad?
Restrictive eating is a must if the goal is to lose weight. The old saying "Calories in/Calories out" still holds true and effective. It is fair to say cutting calories one only one of many actions necessary for healthy and sustainable weight loss, seeing the focus of this article is about adding calories, it is necessary to keep the focus on this balance. Restrictive eating is a more scientific term for cutting calories. Your body requires a certain number of calories to fuel every day activities from breathing and digesting to walking and running. Calories are converted to energy and this energy is burned as fuel. If the body runs out of energy from the food you eat, it turns to the energy you have stored. Where is energy stored? In your fat cells. Do the math! If you eat 1500 calories of food in a day, but you burn 2000 calories through activity, your body will get those 500 extra calories from the fat stores. Do this for 7 straight days and you will likely find a one pound weight loss by the end of the week. (1 pound body weight is made up of 3500 calories. 500 stored calories burned times 7 days a week = 3500 calories!)
The downside to this, and what the above cited study shows is continuous restrictive eating results in fewer calories burned while at rest, or in simpler terms, a slower metabolism.
Enter the Cheat Day
If we read into these results, it may be safe to say that having a recovery day each week could result in a more efficient metabolism. In other words, focusing on restrictive eating or calorie cutting 6 days a week and adding in a 7th day of recovery may help keep the metabolism fire burning more efficiently and effectively to aid in weight loss.
This does not give license to an all out gluttonous binge. The goal on a recovery day is to balance calories consumed with calories burned. This may mean adding in a special dessert, a celebratory treat or a special indulgent entree at your favorite restaurant (or in my case, a small cone with cookie dough ice cream and sprinkles).
You are NOT a cheater!
One final note....
Giving food and eating habits negative labels like "Good" or "Bad" or thinking of having a treat as "cheating" can have a psychological effect on how we feel after we enjoy a treat. Cheating implies you are doing something sinister or bad which may result in feelings of guilt. When in control of your eating habits, treats should make you feel happy and satisfied. Treating these foods as celebratory and taking the time to connect to your feelings, the environment, and all the senses will allow you to feel satisfied, help reduce cravings later, and keep you from feeling guilty.
So on this beautiful Saturday, temps in the 80s, I am planning a lovely walk to the ice cream stand with my family and enjoying a tasty treat.
I'm Liz. Mom, wife, teacher, Health Coach. My passion lies in everything health and wellness. When new research and trends pop up, you can bet I am finding the best resources to information, weeding out the not so good and making the great easy to digest. From meal planning and recipes to exercise and mindfulness, wellness touches upon so many dimensions. Your path to optimal health is out there and I can help you find it.