Struggling to lose weight but having a limitless ‘cheat day’ each week? Using it as an excuse to eat ‘bad foods’ ? This could potentially be what is holding you back from your weight loss goals…
What is a cheat day?
People have different ideas of exactly what a ‘cheat day’ looks like and I think this is where the problem begins. The common thread running through everything is it is a day off from a diet or nutrition plan you are following. A chance to take a break and eat the foods you love again that are normally restricted e.g. high calorie, fatty foods, caffeine, sugar etc.
The term ‘cheat days’ is a huge trend at the moment, especially on social media which glamorises the idea as well as confuses the subject. I am sure you have seen Instagram full of people and their ‘food porn’ (the hashtag has almost 3M posts currently) – gorging on burgers, pizza, their weight in fried chicken and milkshakes oozing out of the glass decorated in cookies, cream, unicorn sprinkles, dripping with syrup and a waffle on top for good measure – all seemingly without a care in the world for how many calories they are consuming.
Breaking it down
There are several things to consider here:
(a) ‘limitless’ versus ‘controlled’ cheat days
Maybe that celeb is eating that burger and still looking that good, but I can assure you, the chances they are having a ‘limitless’ cheat day every week is pretty slim.
Having a day when you can literally eat a limitless amount of what you want can be extremely destructive as you are essentially just undoing all the good work you have done for the rest of the week.
Social media gives you just a snapshot of time – they may have not eaten for the rest of the day or have done a hellish workout. Or, more likely, if they are having a ‘cheat day’ it is within a controlled nutritional plan i.e. they have a certain calorie allowance for that cheat day which has been made up from having a deficit on other days that week, so, by the end of that week, they have still hit their calorie goal.
(b) weekly ‘cheat days’ versus occasional ‘diet breaks’
Research has shown that occasional cheat days (or diet breaks) can be extremely beneficial especially when hitting plateaus in weight loss for example. That said, they usually come with a calorie limit and aren’t limitless – they also aren’t likely to be weekly.
Weekly cheat days can work for weight loss but only if your weekly calories are still in a deficit to your maintenance calories (i.e. the number of calories your body burns through at your current activity level to maintain your current weight)
Having a day off can be helpful if you are on a very strict diet plan as it gives you permission to indulge at a certain point enabling you to potentially stick to something the rest of the time. The chances however of you overindulging are quite high unless you have really good self control and willpower – a skill that a lot of us lack when it comes to food.
Here’s a thought though – unless you are an athlete, have medical advice to or are training for a body building competition, should you really be on such a restrictive plan you need a break from it?
(d) ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods
Cheat days encourage you to put foods into 2 different groups i.e. ‘good foods’ – what you eat during the controlled phase and ‘bad foods’ – what you eat when you cheat. This is not a particularly healthy way to view foods especially as food holds such emotional connections. Sure, there are more nutritionally dense and less nutritionally dense foods, but the labels good and bad sometimes aren’t helpful.
My take on it all
If a weight loss ‘diet’ or plan needs a ‘cheat day’ it is demonising certain foods, restricting you the rest of the time and isn’t sustainable long term.
My approach is all about looking at the long term, creating a sustainable lifestyle that works for you, enjoying food and the things you like doing. All in moderation as they say – 80% wholefoods and 20% whatever you want. Flexible dieting allows you to not only continue eating the foods you love but can be made to fit around the individual – if you want the occasional day where you go out, drink 5 pints and have a McDonalds on the way home – absolutely, you can just flex the rest of your week to accommodate that. But, lets not call it a ‘cheat day’ as you aren’t really cheating on anything….
Photo credit: iStock.com/Krylov1991