Ah, cheat days. The day it's OK to eat a stack of pancakes for breakfast, a slice of pizza for lunch, and a slice of cake at dessert — right? Well, maybe not.
Turns out cheat days could be hurting you and your weight loss results more than you think.
The idea behind cheat days is to shock your metabolism and actually speed it up by eating more foods than your body is used to. However, the problem is cheat days is that they can actually be pretty damaging to your goals.
Registered Dietician Meagan Purdy says that while the idea of cheat days are great, the actual results are not. "What I’ve seen in reality is that cheat days often turn into cheat weekends that eventually can turn into cheat weeks and then months" Purdy says. "This encourages an all or nothing, binge/purge mentality that’s damaging mentally and can affect the ability to maintain weight through diet in the future."
In fact, for the average Joe, cheat days just mean that you're depriving yourself. Dani Singer, fitness director of Fit2Go Personal Training, says you should plan naughty or indulgent foods into your diet. "There should be no 'cheating' on your plan," Singer says. "In fact, if you find a need to cheat, it probably means you haven't planned your diet well enough."
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It might even be best to stop thinking of cheat days as entire days devoted to unhealthier eating, and instead incorporate cheat meals into your diet. Patrick Williams, certified personal trainer and owner of Fuel Rx Fitness, says cheat meals can be designed to boost your metabolism.
"Cheat meals should be designed to provide a boost in leptin," Williams says. "This is the 'starvation' hormone that can decrease when dieting or making big changes to one's eating habits. By stimulating leptin, you can actually increase your metabolism by having the right amount of foods that are normally on the naughty list."
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"If you know you’re going to eat out with a friend and want to enjoy a glass of wine, then I advise just making sure you fit in a workout that day and focus on taking in extra veggies and lean protein," Mader says. "But if you approach that same dinner with a ‘cheat day’ mentality you will more than likely overindulge and then the inevitable guilt sets in which can trigger emotional issues and binge cycles. Plan ahead when you want to enjoy something in moderation – but I strongly advise not using food as a reward."
If you absolutely need cheat meals in your diet, it's important to know the difference between a cheat meal to increase your metabolism and satiate a craving, rather than emotionally indulging in food. Jessica Rosen, holistic health coach and president of Raw Generation, says it's important to identify your triggers.
"For many people food is emotional, which gets them in trouble when things go awry — a stressful day at work, bumper-to-bumper traffic, or a fight with your significant other," Rosen says. "The key to staying ahead of the binge is to realize when you are using food to comfort yourself and to stop before you are a bag of Doritos deep. When you realize this is happening, put the food down and ask yourself, 'What can I do to feel better instead of stuff myself with unhealthy foods?'" Chances are venting, exercising or even sleeping could help you blow off some steam.
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All in all, cheat days should be practiced with caution, if practiced at all. Registered dietician Kristen Yarker has a great piece of advice: "'Cheat’ implies that you’ve done something wrong. Cheating on a test is wrong. Cheating on your spouse is wrong. Who, or what, are you cheating on when having a ‘cheat’ day? On your diet? A diet’s purpose is to serve you – not for you be loyal to it."
In other words, if you spend enough planning your diet and incorporating a healthy lifestyle, cheat days shouldn't even be on your radar — you can fit in little indulgences and still find a healthy balance.
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