There are a lot diets of there that recommend a periodic cheat day. Two that are top of mind include The Four Hour Body plan by Tim Ferriss and the Five Factor Diet by Harley Pasternak. There are many more but I think of these two as I really like and largely recommend both of these plans.
I’ve done a few posts on The Four Hour Body and I’ll do one soon on the Five Factor Diet (but as it’s a popular celebrity plan, you can find info all over the place on your own).
There are a few logical reasons for having a regular cheat day:
- It can keep you on track - Seriously, can you follow a strict diet plan EACH AND EVERY DAY? If you can, well goodie for you. I know I can’t. So, a cheat day allows you to take a break or enjoy certain foods while keeping the big picture on track. In short, a periodic break can help you stick to your overall diet plan longer.
- It controls cravings - Any diet that says “you can’t have this” only makes you want to have whatever “this” is, right? A cheat day allows you to give into these cravings and then get right back on track. Again, this strategy can keep you motivated far longer.
- It cycles your calories - A bump in caloric intake from day to day (e.g. 1,500 one day, 2,000 another day) may keep your metabolism from falling into a rut as your body adapts to a constant calorie intake. There are benefits to this and you can read more on calorie cycling here. I also think this can help you bust out of a plateau.
- Come on, they’re fun, right?
But the “no-holds-barred” cheat day also scares the living heck out of me. The reason is I don’t want it to unwind all the good work you I’ve done and I don’t want a cheat “day” to turn into a cheat “couple of days.”
So how can you best manage a cheat day? Here are some tips:
- Really look at your intake on your non-cheat days. If your daily calories are typically very low, controlling a cheat to just one day is going to be very hard. Making sure you consume enough of the right foods on your “non-cheat” days if your first priority.
- Be careful of your domino foods. These are foods that once you start eating them it’s going to be hard to stop eating them. If you can’t get right back on track, you need to reconsider your cheat approach.
- Make a list of what you are craving most during the week. Eat those foods on your cheat day. This can satisfy your cravings and keep them from cropping up the next week
- Eat whatever you like, but don’t super size your portions. Please don’t eat until you make yourself sick as no good can come from that. Have the variety but you may find yourself over time not wanting so much of your cheat foods over time. Celebrate that!
- If cheating at home, don’t buy large quantities of your cheat day items. For example, if you plan to have potato chips, don’t buy a large bag that you’ll be tempted by during the next week. Buy the right quantities or get rid of what’s left when cheat day is done.
- Drink loads of water. Never cheat from your water and unsweetened beverage consumption!
Really, the best piece of advice is to know thyself and don’t force it. Try a cheat day for a few weeks and really enjoy it - and for heaven’s sake don’t feel guilty! But if you find this concept doesn’t work for you or you’re having real trouble getting back on track the very next day, consider a new plan. How about a cheat meal or a regular cycle of an occasional cheat treat?
It’s what works for YOU that matters and if you have to modify a diet plan accordingly to suit your individual body needs you are only figuring out your individual skinny code. Yay!
I personally go back and forth on my cheat day philosophy. I’ll do a cheat meal here and there and I may even do a whole day sometimes. But I really try to get back on track immediately and not turn my cheat day into a cheat 3-day weekend. I also don’t force too many restrictions on non-cheat days but really try to make good, natural choices. The only thing I really restrict is my sugar intake and I don’t have much of a (processed sugar) sweet tooth. Maybe I’m lucky (knock wood!) but I think I just finally evolved once I changed my focus and really learned about what I was consuming and what it may be doing to my health.
But french fries? Yeah, that’s my big cheat treat. I love them and I won’t even try and deny it.