If you have ever been on a diet, you know the excitement of a cheat meal. Sometimes it’s even hard to wait for it because these nasty thoughts you make are everything you look forward to.
But how do you decide whether to have only one cheat meal or to enjoy everything you want for one whole day?
A day of going all out can definitely harm your diet progress. I remember waking up one day after a binge being 3kg (6lbs) heavier. Knowing that it’s mostly carbs and water retention still doesn’t make it easier. If you want to lose weight on schedule, gaining 3kg over night can play dirty tricks with your mind. It’s important to not freak out when that happens.
What is it that makes a dieter so excited?
When people are on a diet with food restrictions and they can’t eat the dirty food that they love, it is an option to choose a day in the week where they can eat whatever they want and crave.
A cheat meal is only one meal you cheat on your diet with. It is only one meal.
A cheat day is a whole different dimension. You choose a whole day and eat whatever you like for the whole day. Some people even stay awake until midnight to use the full potential of their cheat day.
Risk and Benefits
You can use a cheat meal or day to “boost” your metabolism. When you are in a caloric deficit for a long time, your metabolism slows down and your body gets used to the low calorie amount and starts burning less. To avoid that you trigger a leptin release with overfeeding your body to signal your brain that your body gets enough energy. This should make you burn more calories again.
A cheat can also have psychological benefits. Some people just need a smaller target to stay on track; something to look forward to. Make sure it doesn’t make you crazy because here is also the danger:
After breaking a restrictive diet, many people – including myself – get this “all or nothing” mindset. You might think: “Now it’s too late anyway” and you start to binge, with consequences. Some people can’t even get back on track from this. Keep in mind that you’re breaking your discipline.
Everybody overeats now and then, so when this happens it’s nice to have a backup strategy to get back on track. I gave you some tips in another article here: “What to do after eating too much?”.
When does it make sense?
A cheat meal or even a cheat day can make sense. When you change your diet, your metabolism needs about three weeks to change and adapt. Before being on a diet for at least three weeks, it makes no sense to have a whole cheat day.
Cheat meals are even better for the mind and don’t have such big effects.
I would recommend to not even restrict your diet. Better have some “cheat meals” now and then. There is the option to replace unhealthy stuff with healthier energy-dense options, like I show you in the recipe section. The benefit is that instead of eating “empty calories” you feed your body with the vital nutrients it needs.
Eating a raw dessert from natural ingredients doesn’t make you feel like garbage afterwards. Eating a whole industrial processed cake, that is full of refined sugar, does make you feel bad.
If you still decide to have a whole cheat day, it makes sense to structure it and implement good habits around it to get real benefits and minimize the consequences. On The Champion’s Diet I devoted a whole chapter to this subject where I give you an idea on how to structure your cheat days.
5 actions for a successful cheat day
Working out on your cheat day makes you much more insulin resistant. Being able to absorb and use the energy you consume is better than storing it.
- Eat protein with every meal!
Protein has satiating effects. This can prevent you from eating more than you actually need.
- Drink 4 litres of water
With the high amounts of carbs you eat, your body also retains water. Trust me, you will feel way better and less bloated when you ramp up your water intake around your cheat days.
- Keep fibre intake high
If you don’t already eat enough fibre from vegetables or other sources, you can supplement with psyllium husk. This will help you to digest all the bullshit you ate a little bit better, also making you less bloated.
- Choose high quality
Refeeding with quality nutrients is simply better. Don’t fuel your body with the cheap and dirty stuff. If you eat cake, get it fresh from the bakery or make your own. Or better just eat high quality carbs like sweet potato instead of eating the cheap 1$ ice cream from the supermarket. Cheap and dirty stuff doesn’t even taste nice. Don’t eat it just because it’s your cheat day!
To be honest, I would rather allow myself some treats now and then instead of having cheat days. This way I’m in a way better state of mind and body. I do cheat days only in restrictive diet periods.
A cheat day can have benefits, but you must do it correctly. Use some of the tips above in combination. To make it easier for you, I created a cheat day point system:
The Champion’s Diet Cheat-Checklist
Simply subscribe to the newsletter and I will send you a checklist with tools to implement on your cheat day. For every box ticked you collect points. Goal at the end of the day is to get at least 10 points. Having at least 10 points will maximize the benefits of the cheat day and prevent you from overeating, bloating and other negative side effects.
If you want to have a cheat day without the bloating on the next day, simply put your email below: