Going on a diet or trying to enter a caloric deficit in general can be hard work, and takes a ton of sacrifice.
It means giving up your favorite foods in favor of healthier options which may or may not get your taste buds tingling with excitement and anticipation.
For this reason, a lot of people take cheat days, or a designated day when they can go all out and finally have a taste of a McDonald's burger or tub of ice cream before they go back to their normal diet.
Some think the concept of cheat days does more harm in the end, while others feel it’s necessary to help keep you on track and in lieu with your goals.
So which is it?
Keep reading and find out.
Cheat Days: The Pros
We’re going to go from the good to the bad on this one. First on the list is;
They keep you happy and motivated
Food has an immense psychological effect on people. You could be down in the dumps, unmotivated, and lethargic, and all it would take to get you bursting into song is your favorite meal or snack.
Simple as that.
Food is good, and our favorite foods play a huge role in our productivity, and moods as well, so going on a diet and totally depriving yourself of what makes you happy could be hellish and too much for some.
Cheat days help to solve this problem because of the ‘reward system’.
By having a cheat day, you can have a day to look forward to when you can eat all you want without feeling guilty.
This can provide you with the proper motivation you need to ‘earn’ that meal or that day, allowing you to go even harder in the gym or gain laser-sharp focus in sticking to your diet.
They help you stick to your diet.
Think of this; would you rather have your favorite food once in two weeks or never at all?
Many people prefer cheat days because it’s easier for them to follow through. The prospect of giving it up totally and sticking to healthier options they may not like can be too much for most people.
Because of the massive psychological effect that food has on people, they tend to be miserable and unhappy all the time, leading to them putting in lackluster performances in the gym, and most times, they will eventually fall out of their diets.
This is one of the major reasons why dieting has a bad rep, and is statistically, and admittedly has very low rates of follow throughs and often compounds the problem, leading to eating disorders and body dysmorphia.
Many people want to jump in head-first. They’re motivated. But motivation doesn’t last. Habits and proper planning does.
The best day to get into shape or a caloric deficit is to gradually wean yourself from fast foods, or stick to healthier foods and then having your cheat day not far off.
They help you appreciate food & your fitness journey
These benefits are purely psychological, but they can also be taken to your diet and workouts as well.
Most times, people tend to over-indulge in unhealthy diets because they do not appreciate food or healthier diets.
On a normal day, people tend to order more fast food than they need, causing them to stuff themselves or just throw it away, wasting food.
However, when you have a committed diet, and are dedicated to seeing it out, when the time does come for you to kick back and relax, you order exactly the amount you need, don’t overindulge and savor each bite of your long awaited cheat meal.
Also, when you have a cheat day, you’re more motivated to hold out more and not want to have anything put a stain on your record.
Lack of Discipline/Overindulgence
On the other side of the coin, cheat days can make you overindulge and ruin your goal of getting into a caloric deficit. This can be a big issue for people with discipline and restraint issues.
Imagine trying to lose weight and get into shape, you’ve been on a diet all week long, and on your cheat day, you ruin all your hard work for the week by choking down a dozen burgers.
People repeat this sequence for weeks and when they realize they’re not making any progress because they’re going around in circles, are always quick to call out dieting as being ineffective, instead of their own methods.
Not suitable for people with trigger foods or eating disorders
If you have an eating disorder or a trigger food that can make you go off the edge on an eating spree, you may want to consider ditching cheat days…
Especially if you’re trying to lose weight for health reasons.
Is there anything like eating too much on my cheat day?
Yes, overindulgence is a serious problem when it comes to cheat days.
For some, the pressure of a single day where they can eat anything they want can be too exciting and they tend to fall off and defeat the whole purpose of getting into a caloric deficit.
If you’re afraid that you may have this problem, don’t wait for cheat days, but have a cheat meal instead.
Your cheat meal can be once a week, or every 2 days and should ideally have healthier ingredients or components.
For example, have a burger with extra tomatoes and lettuce. Have a smaller serving of fries, and drink orange juice instead of soda.
This way you can always eat your favorite foods while staying healthy and being smart about it.
How do I get the healthier options on my cheat days?
Our in-house nutritionist and fitness coach Arman Eckelbarger has talked about how he manages to stay fit and eat his favorite foods EVEN when competing.
Find out about his fast food strategies on our YouTube channel here. Be sure to like and subscribe when you do!