Susie Burrell

‘your food, your body, your life’

The truth about cheat days

If you have ever been in fitness or body building circles, you will be very familiar with the idea of a ‘cheat’ – the meal or even day where you ditch your strict diet and literally eat whatever you like. So do cheats actually, how do you cheat the right way and what are the benefits?

Do cheats work?

For many years cheats have been a common theme in a number of diets without us really knowing whether they work or not. Now we have evidence that perhaps they do have their benefits with a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology to show that dieters who included a regular cheat of significantly more calories at the end of the week lost just as much weight as those who did not. Dieters also reported higher levels of dieting motivation when they could look forward to a cheat at the end of each week. While this is a one off study, it does fuel the question of how or why a cheat works or at least helps the dieting process.

Why do cheats work?

Physiologically it has been shown that after periods of strict calorie restriction, a cheat (note not binge) meal, which contains significantly more calories actually helps to body to continue to burn body fat. It is thought after caloric deprivation, a flood of calories tells the body that it is not starving and can continue to burn, not store fat.

Even more importantly psychologically there are a number of potential benefits associated with looking forward to a cheat. Factoring in a meal off a strict diet gives dieters something to look forward too; it helps take the pressure of the brain to continually have to maintain will power and helps to balance the demands of life with the goal of weight loss and calorie restriction.

Should you include a cheat on your diet?

A well balanced diet does not require you to stick perfectly to your diet 100% of the time – fat metabolism and physiology is much more complicated than that. Rather it is about achieving the right conditions for fat metabolism, and getting the right mix of calories, macronutrients and training to continually burn body fat most of the time. This means that a one off meal that does not fit your regular diet prescription poses no issue and as such supports the idea of a ‘cheat’ once or even twice a week. The issue with the idea of a ‘cheat’ though is that many people find it difficult to limit their cheats and end up ‘cheating’ all the time, which kind of defeats the purpose.

How do you cheat the right way?

So if the idea of a ‘cheat’ sounds appealing and will not halt your fat loss attempts the key thing to remember is that a cheat is one meal, not a binge in which you eat everything in sight, or definitely not an entire cheat day! Rather it is one or two meals each week in which you can enjoy a few drinks; have a pasta or pizza or indulge in a restaurant meal. It helps you to factor in life events in which extra calories are likely to be consumed and if you do not overdo it may even enhance your fat loss attempts.