Cheat day – the term sounds a bit devious, doesn’t it? However, it’s fairly common in the fitness world to have a day each week where you increase your calorie intake and eat foods you wouldn’t normally eat when you’re trying to stay lean. You might not gobble up an order to French fries on an average day, but on a cheat day, that order of fries is fair game.
What’s the purpose of a cheat day? One reason you have them is to get a psychological break from eating only healthy foods and it gives you a chance to indulge in your favorite high-calorie and not-so-healthy treat. It’s mentally reassuring to know you don’t have to completely give up comfort food favorites, like macaroni and cheese or pizza.
Another reason a cheat meal has potential benefits is your body can adapt to a low-calorie diet. When you restrict calories on a consistent basis, your metabolism slows. Makes sense, doesn’t it? When you supply your body with less energy, it compensates by burning less fuel. Plus, chronic calorie restriction lowers leptin, an appetite hormone that when it drops stimulates hunger. A reduced leptin level leads to cravings and makes it harder to stick to a lower calorie diet. In addition, leptin slows your resting metabolic rate. When your leptin level is low due to chronic calorie restriction, it’s harder to lose weight.
As fitness trainers point out, easing up on dietary restrictions on some days can boost your leptin level and give your metabolism a boost. Plus, you get the satisfaction of knowing you can still enjoy your favorite foods, just not every day.
The Downside of Having a Cheat Day
A day where you can eat what you want is certainly compelling. However, taking this approach could also stall your weight loss attempts, depending on how you go about it. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight and cut your calories back by 500 per day, you’ll have a 3,000-calorie deficit by day #6. If day #7 is a cheat day and you triple your calorie consumption by eating 1,500 more calories than usual, you’ve undone half of the calorie deficit for the week.
It’s not hard to eat 1,500 additional calories on a cheat day, especially when a single fast-food meal or restaurant splurge can set you back by 2,00 calories. Business Insider photographed various fast-food meals and their calorie content. A bacon clubhouse fried chicken sandwich, mozzarella sticks, a large order of fries, and an Oreo McFlurry clocked in at 2,010 calories! The sad truth is it’s not unusual for a fast food meal to top 2,000 calories. Plus, if you have a cheat day and eat what you want ALL day, you can do some serious damage. Sure, the extra food fires up your metabolism a bit, but not enough to make up for the extra calories.
Most of us underestimate the calorie content