What do chips, donuts, ice cream, cookies and french fries have in common?
While these foods are not typically seen in a "clean eaters" food log, for one eagerly anticipated day, these no-no’s can become the indulgences of choice for many of even the strictest dieters.
We've all heard (and probably used) the term "cheat meal" or "cheat day" etc....but what does it actually mean? Should we be incorporating these kinds of meals/foods into our routine? When? Why?
...Feeling overwhelmed yet?
While there is a plethora of information on the internet, there's almost too much to know what is true anymore!
That's why we're here to help!
Cheat day is a term used in many diet plans to describe the one day of the week or month when you can eat whatever you want. In other words, it’s a day to “go off the plan”. Some people use this day to binge on their favorite “unhealthy foods” that they can no longer eat while on a particular plan. Others also treat themselves to a high calorie meal at their favorite restaurants, ordering dishes that their plans didn’t allow for, such as chicken parmesan, fried calamari, bacon double cheeseburger, and creamy fettuccini.
Many people claim that cheat meals or cheat days can contribute to the success of a diet, and in fact, even have many benefits. Is this true? Well...in some cases "cheat meals" can prevent you from feeling deprived, boost metabolism, and increase chances of success with a diet, etc… However, this is not always the case. Claiming that it is beneficial to binge out on sugar, refined wheat or trans fats just may not make sense in the long term, and thus, not be as beneficial as you initially thought.
Refeeds vs Cheat Days
There has been a significant amount of support for occasional “refeeds,” as in eating more carbs or calories than usual in one day when you are strictly dieting. "Refeed days" are used by bodybuilding competitors and athletes to reset their hormones (leptin and ghrelin, aka fat burning). However, it is important to note that "refeed days" are typically strategically placed in one's diet, and are added only after a relatively strict diet plan has been followed consistently. You might call these "refeeds" healthy cheat days because you are no longer calorie restricted but are still eating foods you regularly would (aka, not indulging on processed and/or sugar-dense crap). Refeed days are absolutely fine!
Ok, so what about "cheat"/"eat-whatever-I-want"/"stuff-my-face" days?
Benefits of Cheat Days
One of the main benefits is that cheat days give you an incentive to continue on your plan and can increase motivation. Cheat days on a diet can be a welcome break that - despite what it might sound like at first - provides you with added incentive to stay on your diet plan.
In some cases, a cheat meal means that you no longer have to longingly look at an item of food and think you can never have it again. Additionally, the prospect of being able to eat something “forbidden” tends to increase our energy levels as well. The fact that it is a psychological break from the grueling process of dieting is also highly beneficial. It is like taking a little vacation to recharge your batteries, in other words.
Cons of Cheat Days
The biggest disadvantage, however, is that some people eat so much on their cheat day that they undo all the previous hard work. As much as people praise the psychological effects, there are plenty of reasons why they won’t work for many people. Several people who have tried these types of diets claim they feel guilty, shameful, and bloated after a cheat day. This feeling has been described as a sort of “sugar hangover.” In addition, no cheat day really goes without some sort of damage, hence the name “cheat.” It has been proven that once an individual eats something high in fat and/or sugar or both, areas of the brain light up that make it hard to stop eating and feelings of satisfaction are turned down. Binge days have also been shown to cause digestive problems and eating disorders, as it leads to guilt the following days, which encourages extreme cuts in calories to make up for it.
A cheat day only works with dieting when it’s enough to feel indulgent, but not so much that you set yourself back or end up wanting to eating more. Eating healthy, good and wholesome foods should not be a chore, it should be a natural lifestyle choice. Hence, if you feel like eating nothing but processed foods, carbohydrates and sugars on your cheat day, then your mindset isn’t quite there yet. That doesn’t mean it can’t get there and even if you find you truly binge on one of your cheat days, all is not lost, but the temptation is often hard to resist.
Some experts feel that people need to move away from the idea that it is a cheat “day”. Using terminology like “treat meal” instead of “cheat” helps with many of the negative psychological effects. For some people, it works to have 1 day out of the week where they can simply eat without counting calories. Other people prefer to have 1 out of every 5 daily meals to be one that they can simple enjoy. Others still span their cheats over even greater periods of time.
In order to make cheat days or treat days work for you, you have to figure out what is most beneficial to your own needs and aligns with your current goals. Hence, if you don’t feel like having a cheat day, you also shouldn’t feel pressured into having one, as this is likely to only backfire on you, meaning you might end up falling victim to the yoyo effect.
Remember that life is about balance and choices!
What will you choose?
CrossFit 6S team helping you achieve your fitness goals.