Cheat Day: How Much Cheating is Too Much?
You know, dieting and cutting body fat just isn’t that fun when it comes down to it.
Just a few of the negative experiences that dieters routinely report are; diminished sex drive, low mood, brain fog, trouble sleeping, feeling cold constantly, frequent toilet visits, and falling ill too easily.
This all makes sense. Our bodies simply need a certain number of calories and various nutrients in order for us to feel our best and function optimally. When we’re actively restricting calories to burn fat, we put stress on our bodies.
In any case, dieting isn’t likely to be a highlight in anyone’s life.
For that reason, there are a lot of different strategies that people use to make dieting less stressful. “Cheat days” — exception days where you’re able to eat whatever you want — are one of the most common therapeutic strategies.
Here’s a quick look at cheat days, and how much “cheating” may be too much.
Benefits of Cheat Days
Some of the benefits of cheat days include…
Improved diet adherence
This means that you’re more likely to stick to your diet if you allow occasional exceptions. This effect is psychological — if you’re following a lifestyle that says “no pizza ever again in your entire life”, you’re likely to get demoralised and throw in the towel sooner or later. If you can still eat pizza, but only occasionally, things don’t seem too bad.
This isn’t just hypothetical, either. A 2016 study found that dieters who had a weekly cheat day performed better across various metrics.
Related to the above point, life is just brighter if you allow yourself to indulge every once in a while, instead of being too hard on yourself.
Potentially improved metabolism and fat burning ability
There is some research that suggests being in a caloric deficit for too long can harm your metabolism and your ability to burn fat over time.
A famous 2016 study looked at former competitors of the weight-loss show “The Biggest Loser”, who had been on a severely calorie-restricted diet for 30 weeks during the show, and found that their metabolisms were still significantly slowed even 6 years after their appearances on the show.
Various athletes and fitness enthusiasts argue that a weekly high-calorie cheat day may help to keep the metabolism from plummeting during a diet.
Downsides of Cheat Days
There are a few potential downsides to cheat days. Including…
Cheat days may tempt you to drop your diet
On the one hand, cheat days may help you stick to your diet by removing feelings of deprivation. On the other hand, gorging yourself on your favourite foods for one day a week may make it all the harder for you to go back to your diet the next day.
Cheat days can encourage binging
Ok, sure, cheat days are sort of all about binging. Nonetheless, if you’re eating at a modest caloric deficit all week, and then chow down on 20,000 calories each Sunday, you may well stall your fat loss progress. You should indulge, but still be mindful of not going too crazy.
Try eating 3 square meals on your cheat day, and finish each meal when you feel satiated (but not stuffed).
Calories in Some Popular Cheat Day Meals
If it helps, you can probably find how much calories of your favourite cheat meals online so you don't go overboard and can keep on track with your calorie intake. Here are just some examples of some popular cheat day meals to give you an idea of how many calroies might be in your favourite cheat day meals...
- McDonalds Big Mac — 540 calories
- McDonalds Large Fries — 510 calories
- Dominos Large Classic Crust New Yorker — 585 calories (per 3-slice serving)
- Dominos Large Classic Crust Original Cheese and Tomato — 528 calories (per 3-slice serving)
- Pizza Hut Large Classic Margherita — 187 calories (per slice)
- Pizza Hut Large Classic Pepperoni Feast — 234 calories (per slice)
- Burger King Whopper Sandwich with Cheese — 740 calories
- Burger King Bacon King Sandwich — 1150 calories
- KFC Fillet Burger — 440 calories
- KFC Boneless Banquet — 974 calories
- Haagen-Dazs Salted Caramel Pint — 282 calories (per 100g)
- Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough — 280 calories (per 104g)
This is an example of a dieting approach that has become more popularised recently but it's not so say that you should take on this approach - what's important is that you find and take the approach which works best for you, your needs and lifestyle.