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Cheat Day Once a Week: Ruiners or Saviors in Disguise?

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A white dinner plate with a sad face drawn on it

Oscar Wilde once said, “I can resist anything except temptation.” How many of us have had this same sentiment when we are in the midst of changing our eating habits for the better? We may start a diet with the best of intentions but taking cheat day once a week sometimes turns into a two- or three-day affair, despite our best efforts.

The experts at Bare Performance Nutrition know that eliminating foods like refined sugar and carbs can be a daunting challenge. That’s why we’re exploring the concept of a “cheat day” diet and whether it will hinder or help your fitness progress.

A Cheat Day Diet Defined

Remember taking “skip days” in high school? A once-a-week cheat day is the same concept; while it seems like any other day, this one day gives you a free pass to eat whatever you want without having to count calories or stick to your diet program. Bacon? Check! Chocolate sundae? Check! While it can be any day of the week, most people tend to pick a weekend day when they are off from work so they can fully enjoy the decadent experience.

What’s the theory behind having a cheat day in your diet? Many believe that taking a cheat day will help them avoid cravings and stick to their diet and health goals. In exchange for sticking to a healthy diet for the majority of the week, you get one designated guilt-free cheat day a week to indulge in whatever food has been calling your name.

Cheat Day Diets: Sneaky but Scientific!

The whole “cheat” thing may sound illicit, but it’s actually a concept that bodybuilders and professional athletes often include in their training programs. Why? When you’re on a diet, such as a low-carb one, you are reducing the number of calories you’re consuming. You may notice that the weight comes off quite easily...at first. But our bodies are smart and over time they realize that we’re eating less energy than what we’re burning. To counter this, the body adjusts its metabolism, effectively slowing it down so that it becomes more efficient. As a result, weight loss stalls out. By incorporating a once-a-week cheat day into your diet, you’re introducing more calories for a finite amount of time, enough to “fool” the body into shifting your metabolism back into high gear. An example of an epic cheat day: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been known to eat eight slices of French toast topped with apple pie—in one sitting!

Man prepares to eat a cheeseburger.

3 Tried-and-True Benefits of Having a Cheat Day Once a Week

Thinking of introducing cheat days into your diet? Here’s why it could be a good move.

1. It Can Help You Stick to Long-Term Goals

One study comprised of three different experiments lends credence to the concept of a cheat day diet. In the first study, participants were asked to imagine being on a 1,500-calorie diet each day or on a 1,300-calorie diet that included a 2,700-calorie “hedonic deviation” at the week’s end. The people who had the option of a cheat day believed they’d have more self-control on their stricter diet than the people given the 1,500-calorie diet. When study participants actually began their diets, participants who had the cheat day once a week reported feeling more motivation and self-control to stay on their diet. They also lost the same amount of weight as the people who didn’t have a cheat day. At the end of the experiment, participants who were allowed a cheat day once a week believed the cheat day path was more motivating than had they dieted without it.

2. It’s a Natural Metabolism Booster

As mentioned above, after dieting for some time, you may find your metabolism slowing. Much of that has to do with leptin, the “starvation hormone.” This chemical tells your brain when you’re full, helps regulate energy, and suppresses our desire to eat more food; however, when you decrease calories, your leptin levels are affected. This reduction can make it harder to keep losing weight—even if you’re still eating less. Adding a cheat meal or cheat day to your diet can help you to incorporate more calories for a brief window of time which should amp up your leptin levels and restart the body’s dieting process once more.

3. It Can Help You Do the Right Thing Right Now

This all sounds great in theory but what happens when you’re at the office and that box of cheese danishes is calling your name? The beauty of a cheat day diet is that it can help you make smarter choices about food in the here and now. Intuitively knowing that your once-a-week cheat day is coming up can make it easier to say “no” to those everyday temptations.

Birthday cake slides off of a table

3 Cheat Day Diet Dangers

1. Pigging Out “Because It’s Okay.”

Don’t get confused: cheat day diets are designed to help you avoid mid-week slips and enjoy foods or a meal that you’ve eliminated from your diet. They shouldn’t be used an excuse to gorge on anything or everything in sight! If you find you are eating as many Whoppers or pizzas as you can on cheat days—even though you’re really in the mood for a fresh salad—it could be a sign of a deeper problem with food.

2. Making Food an Enemy

In the same vein, having cheat days once a week often has the effect of making certain foods out to be the bad guys. What if, instead of spending an entire week obsessing over chips and then eating an entire bag of them on your cheat day, you sat down with a typical serving (10-12 chips), enjoyed them, and then resumed your regularly scheduled eating? For many, that makes a lot more sense than waiting for their once-a-week cheat day to come up.

3. You’re Not a Personal Trainer (Probably)

Cheat day diets make sense if you’re athletic or constantly training. But many of us on a regular diet aren’t really eating as healthily or working out as hard as we think we are. Eating more, burning less, and then treating yourself could be why you’re not getting results from your diet. You may choose to have the occasional cheat meal instead of an entire cheat day once a week.

Whatever your weight loss journey looks like, let the experts at Bare Performance Nutrition come along for the ride! Whether you’re trying out cheat days in your diet for the first time or are an experienced athletic pro, our no-nonsense athletic supplements help you achieve your fitness goals. Contact us today to find the product that fits your weight loss goals.

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