If you want to use cheat meals to aid your weight loss, this article will show you reasons to avoid cheat meals and cheat days.
Eating the foods you enjoy for a whole day sounds appealing, doesn’t it?
After all, experts say that cheat days will help you keep your sanity while dieting, recharge your willpower, boost your metabolism, and much more.
Well, I agree with all these benefits. But cheat days don’t work for everybody. For some people, cheat days are a recipe for failure and they can actually cause weight gain.
In case you’re not familiar with the concept of cheat meals or cheat days – it’s taking a break from dieting to eat the foods you enjoy. This may be for a single meal – cheat meal, or a whole day – cheat day.
Now, I’m not saying that cheat meals are bad. I just want to share some of their possible negative outcomes. After all, no single approach works for all – you have to find out what works for YOU.
Reasons to Avoid Cheat Days
1. Food obsession
Most dieters have one cheat day a week. This means that they have to wait for a whole week to eat certain foods.
Since these foods are forbidden, dieters start thinking about them and fantasize about eating them all the time, according to research. It’s actually possible for dieters to crave foods they don’t enjoy simply because they’re forbidden.
Food obsession shifts the dieter’s mindset and they forget why they have cheat days in the first place. Instead of using cheat days as a flexible dieting approach – they see them as an opportunity to munch on junk food.
So they end up bingeing and overeating on cheat days. And as time goes by, the cravings become stronger and dieters eventually give in to them.
2. Cheating is a bad name
Since childhood, we’ve been told that cheating is a bad thing. Eating disorder experts argue that the term cheat day makes us feel like we are doing something wrong.
And that’s why most people have feelings of shame and guilt after cheat meals, even though they had planned for them. These feelings of guilt lead to emotional eating and dieters to continue bingeing days after the cheat day.
It’s highly likely for dieters to quit dieting when they binge for several days. They feel that the damage is already done, so they give up and hope to start eating healthy again in future.
Studies show that going on and off diets increases the risk of disease and makes it harder to lose weight.
3. Cheat days don’t (significantly) boost metabolism
Well, overeating on cheat days actually boosts metabolism. But the impact on metabolism is minimal and can’t enhance fat loss.
According to this study, overeating boosts metabolism by 6-8% for up to 24 hours after the meal.
This rise of metabolism doesn’t do much, and here’s why – if your resting metabolic rate is 1500 calories, you’ll only burn an extra 120 calories in the next 24 hours. Now, 120 calories are nothing compared to the 1000s of calories consumed on cheat days.
The other argument is that cheat meals, increase leptin levels, which in return balances hormones like thyroid, testosterone, and consequently boost metabolism. But the problem is – leptin levels will start to drop once you go on a calorie deficit again.
Even though increasing calorie intake (for a day) boosts metabolism – the benefits are not enough to enhance fat loss.
4. Cheat meals lead to bingeing
In my article about bingeing, I mentioned that cheat days have become binge days. And it’s so true. Most dieters end up bingeing and overindulging in junk food.
Repeated episodes of bingeing can cause weight gain. Recently, a client told me that she’d consumed an excess of 7000 calories on a cheat day. That single cheat day can potentially sabotage 1 or 2 weeks’ progress.
When we overeat simple carbs and sugary foods – blood sugar and insulin level will spike and then they quickly drop. This instant-drop leads to cravings. Dieters continue to eat even when they’re physically full due to this effect.
5. Cheat days lead to overtraining
I’m usually baffled when I see experts advise clients to train hard to burn the excess calories consumed on cheat days.
This is bad advice and it doesn’t work. You see, the body burns an average of 500 calories after a vigorous one-hour workout. If you consume an excess of 5000 calories on a cheat day – you’ll need 10 days of exercise to burn the 5000 calories. By which time, you would have had another cheat day.
Frankly, it’s easier to regulate calories through diet than exercise. So instead of pigging out and punishing yourself with exercise – eat less and exercise moderately.
6. Cheat days complicate healthy eating
To lose weight and keep it off, one has to follow a flexible dieting approach. A dieting approach you can stick to for a lifetime.
Cheat meals can work long-term for folks who have control of food. But if you regularly binge and overeat – it’s only a matter of time before cheat days backfire on you.
You may argue that some professional bodybuilders have cheat meals. But chances are they don’t struggle with cravings and bingeing. They can stop eating once they’re full.
Try to keep exercise simple as well. Don’t try to exercise in the fat burning zone or anything like that.
7. You won’t adapt to healthy eating habits
It takes time to make healthy eating habits stick. If you’re just starting out on your weight loss journey and you’re already planning for cheat days, you’re doomed to fail.
Healthy foods don’t taste bad – you’re just not used to them. And if you continue eating junk food every week, you’ll never learn to appreciate the good taste of healthy food. The longer you stick to eating healthy foods the sooner you’ll start to like them.
8. Sugary foods and junk foods are addictive
Food addiction is real. According to this study, foods like pizza, cake, ice cream, chips, and cookies, are the most addictive.
It’s not possible some folks to eat certain foods in moderation – they have to finish the whole thing. Therefore, they end up bingeing every cheat meal.
And let’s face it – most of the foods folks overindulge in on cheat days are downright bad for the health and weight.
9. Cheat days affect social life
Dieters feel that they should eat junk food on cheat days only. And eating ‘bad’ foods on any other day will sabotage their weight loss efforts.
This makes it hard for them to be comfortable at events where there’s food. For instance, if you’ve had your cheat day on Thursday and you are served unhealthy food as an event on Saturday – you be left with feelings of guilt since you have not planned for that ‘cheat day’.
What you should do instead
Cheat meals won’t work for you if you’re a binge eater. So here are alternative methods that may be helpful.
Note that what works for someone else may not work for you. Anyway, here are some tips that work for most people – and will probably work for you.
Eat treats as regular meals
You don’t have to eat healthy foods all the time to lose weight and keep it off. Eat the foods you enjoy every now and then. But eat them as regular meals and include them in your total daily calorie intake.
Once you learn to treat these foods as regular meals, you won’t feel guilty when you eat them.
Don’t plan for these treats – just prepare the ‘unhealthy’ foods when you truly want to eat them.
Some dieters can’t have a cookie and be satisfied – they have to eat the whole carton. For such people, moderation doesn’t work, and the only way to avoid bingeing is complete abstinence.
Identify foods which make you lose control and stay away from them.
If maintaining a calorie deficit is taking a toll on you – do refeeds every now and then. This is basically, increasing the amount of food you consume. But in this case – eat the healthy food you normally eat, not junk food.
Refeeds are better than cheat days because for one, healthy foods are not high in calories and they’re not addictive, so you won’t binge.
As I mentioned earlier, no single approach works for all – you have to find out what works for YOU. If cheat meals don’t have any of these effects on you, continue having them.
Whatever approach you choose to use – make sure you can stick to it long term.
What are your thoughts about cheat meals/ days?