If you’re trying to lose weight or gain muscles, you’ve probably considered cheat days or alternatively, a simple once a week cheat meal where you get to indulge in your guilty pleasure. But is it okay to treat yourself every once in a while? Before answering the main question, let’s look at two claims surrounding the benefits of cheat days.
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Myth #1: Cheat days can help you lose calories by boosting your metabolism.
This theory claims that when you reduce your calorie intake, your metabolism adapts to this new level of calorie intake and slows down. On cheat days, the sudden spike in consumed calories supposedly accelerates your metabolism leading to a perceived increase in burnt calories. However, this claim isn’t true and cheat days aren’t necessary to burn more calories.
Myth #2: Cheat days can actually help you stick to your diet by altering hunger hormones.
What this theory claims is that cheat days encourage the production of leptin, a hormone that curbs your appetite, and hence makes you eat less. In reality, there isn’t much evidence to support this theory.
Does the extent of cheating matter when it comes to achieving your goals?
The goal of a weight loss diet is usually achieved as long as you don’t eat more calories than you’re going to burn. Although the weight gain / loss process is very complex and can differ from one person to another, as long as you don’t affect your overall calorie intake, you can probably get away with a cheat day if you don’t over do it. But if you’re actually trying to bulk and gain muscle, a cheat day is unlikely to interfere with your plans.
Your attitude towards cheat days can affect its effectiveness
Depending on whether you consider cheat days as a treat or if you associate them with feelings of shame can actually affect their outcome! One study showed that those who associated chocolate with celebration had more success losing weight than those who associated it with guilt. It’s not entirely your fault if you feel guilt as the word cheat doesn’t help with removing this association. This negative association can also cause disordered eating tendencies especially in young women such as excessively restricting yourself from food.
Not everyone has the same self control. For some, a cheat meal is a chance to go back to their old unhealthy eating habits and for others it’s motivation to keep sticking to their diet plan. Since not everyone can resist the temptation to break loose and overdo cheat days or even abandon their diet plan, the same results can’t be guaranteed for everyone.
Cheating should never be a solution to achieving your diet goals. Suddenly eating junk food can lead to bloating or indigestion. Cheating is also hard to measure so it's easy to overeat. This is why you shouldn't think of cheat days of free days where you get to eat as much food as you want.
Why you might need to change your approach
If cheat meals are all you’re thinking about throughout the week then you should probably change your approach. You’re bound to eventually hit some lows with your willpower so you better spice things up and make your everyday meals more interesting. Eating healthy doesn’t mean eating food you don’t enjoy!
Even with cheat days, you should make sure it’s all planned for so you don’t go on a binge eating run that can set you back a few weeks. A balanced approach is what you should go for.