Can You Cheat to Win at Weight Loss? The Psychology of Scheduling a Cheat Day

Monday, July 27, 2020 - 17:18
If you’ve been devoted to a healthy lifestyle and a diet rich in lean proteins and vegetables, you might still find yourself craving the occasional pizza, sweet treat, or salty indulgence.  Cravings are a completely natural part of any healthy lifestyle and every time you power through a craving and make a healthy decision, you grow mentally stronger.  If you’ve been considering adding a cheat day to your healthy lifestyle, FitClub has the facts about the value of a cheat day, the science behind it, and how to make it work for you.

1. What is it?  A cheat day or a cheat meal is simply deciding in advance that for either one day or just one meal, you’ll allow yourself to eat whatever it is you might be craving without any guilt.  The strategy is based on the idea of rewarding yourself for an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle.  Cheat days or cheat meals can allow to you enjoy that slice of birthday cake, have a pizza with family and friends, or otherwise indulge to beat the feeling of deprivation you might feel if you strictly avoided unhealthy foods all day every day.

2. Does it work?  The research behind cheat meals and cheat days implies that there may be a temporary boost for your metabolism by adding calories infrequently to an otherwise well-regulated, healthy diet.  If cheat days work for you, it’s more likely due to the motivation factor.  It is easier for some people to maintain a healthy diet knowing that they have set aside a day for an indulgence.  Perhaps you’re more motivated to eat a strict diet of fruits and vegetables and lean proteins if you know that on Fridays you will order your favorite pizza.  For those that can make the motivation factor work to their advantage, the key is limiting the cheat to one day or one meal, and having the self-control necessary to not let the cheat ooze into one more day, snack, or binge.  Using the pizza as an example, if the Friday night cheat meal is pizza, don’t let the leftovers be your breakfast and lunch on day two!

3. What to watch out for.  Losing weight really is dependent upon how many calories you consume and how many calories you burn.  If losing or maintaining weight is your goal, one cheat day could set back an entire week of healthy workouts and meals.  If, for example, you’re able to healthfully create a calorie deficit of 200 calories each day through both consistent exercise and healthy meals, and you schedule one cheat day each week, you’ll have a net calorie deficit of 1,200 calories (not quite ½ a pound worth of calories) heading into your cheat day.  It is incredibly easy to eat an extra 1,200 calories in one day!  One trip through your favorite fast food restaurant can easily add those calories right back into your week.

Do you use cheat days or meals as part of your healthy lifestyle?  What works for you and what warnings would you give others?