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Some health and fitness experts say that a Cheat Day in which you can eat whatever we want for one day per week can be helpful when we’re dieting. For example, some celebrity trainers like Harley Pasternak recommend a Cheat Day to help keep you from feeling deprived and give you something to look forward to each week. Others, like “The 4-Hour Body” author Tim Ferris take the Cheat Day to the next level by allowing an all-out gorge fest for all of his favorite vices so that he has no desire to even look at them during the rest of the week. Says Ferris, Cheat Days can increase fat loss by making sure your “metabolic rate doesn’t down-regulate from extended caloric restriction.”
However, there is a lot of debate over the Cheat Day concept in the health world. Let’s take a look at the physical and emotional impacts.
EFFECTS OF A CHEAT DAY ON METABOLISM
One claim states that a Cheat Day increases leptin production, the hormone that is said to maintain metabolic energy levels and cause weight loss. Temporarily upping calorie intake can increase leptin production by as much as 30% for up to 24 hours. However, studies have shown that perhaps only certain ‘cheat’ foods have this effect on leptin, and the evidence is somewhat confusing. One study indicated that metabolism is only increased by cheat eating a high protein meal, but not with a low protein meal. Another study indicated that resting metabolism was increased by carb bingeing. Finally, drinking alcohol has been found to decrease leptin production in some studies. Other studies don’t support the ‘metabolism increase’ theory at all, showing that cheating only increases metabolism by 3 – 10% for less than 24 hours…not enough boost to warrant the extra calories. Although some studies indicate that a Cheat Day may boost metabolism temporarily, it may not be worth the risk of blowing your progress for one day of gluttony.
All in all, the concept of what constitutes a Cheat Day varies from expert to expert, but those who interpret a Cheat Day as a ‘gorge fest’ will probably be doing their weight loss goals more harm than good. Done incorrectly the Cheat Day could actually a cancel out a week’s worth of your clean eating progress. If you’re not careful, you could end up cheating yourself, cheating your progress and cheating your results.
Cheat Day proponents state that cheating helps dieters stay more consistent with their diet plan because it keeps them from feeling deprived and helps satisfy cravings. However, this depends greatly on your attitude towards food and the significance you attach to different foods. Many women attach ‘good’ and ‘bad’ labels to foods and to themselves. If you believe you’re being ‘bad’ by having one sweet, fatty or carb-laden treat, consider whether a Cheat Day could lead to a psychological chain reaction of all-or-nothing behavior that might send you off of your intended diet for more than just that one day. If you know you engage in thinking thoughts like, “Well, I was bad all day yesterday. I may as well give into my sugar craving today,” a Cheat Day will probably not work well for you.
CHEAT MEAL INSTEAD OF CHEAT DAY
At Athlean-XX for Women, we prefer the concept of a Cheat Meal instead of a Cheat Day. In his blog post on the men’s Athlean-X blog, program creator Jeff Cavaliere (he’s the brains behind Athlean-XX for Women too!) states that if you’re eating 35 – 42 meals per week (that’s right – we recommend women eat 5 – 6 times per day), “getting only one or at most two of these “wrong” will still leave you at a damn near percentage of perfection!” The concept is that if you eat a larger meal than usual or a higher caloric meal than usual once per week, that’s a lot less risky than sabotaging a whole day. Jeff states that you can also use this Cheat Meal to your advantage. Here are his recommendations to the guys:
1) TRAIN HARD the day after your Cheat Meal to take advantage of muscle glycogen levels.
What’s Jeff saying? When you eat more than usual, your muscles fill up with stored carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. Any excess carbs are either used immediately as energy or will be transported and stored as fat. The idea is to train hard following a big meal so that you’ll be able to take advantage of this extra energy!
2) Drink LOTS of Water following a Cheat Meal!
Every gram of carbohydrate can soak up to 3 grams of water, so by drinking copiously you’ll help minimize the bloat caused by the extra carbs in your Cheat Meal. The extra water you drink will help to flush it away.
3) Wait at least 3 days between Cheat Meals – but a week is better!
The idea of putting some space between Cheat Meals is to keep from giving into cravings and keep the occasional cheat from becoming a habit.
Jeff’s final advice is to focus on enjoying the healthy food you’re eating and the healthy lifestyle you’re creating rather than rewarding good behavior with bad foods. It might be helpful to plan out your cheats as well, so that you can enjoy them without them getting out of hand. For example, my Cheat Meals occur during my once weekly trips to the Sushi Restaurant. I don’t usually eat white rice at home, but when I have sushi, I do have a single 5-piece roll, supplementing the rest of my meal with sashimi, miso soup or seaweed salad. They also give out mint taffy candy that I LOVE after the meal, so I allow myself 3 – 4 pieces. Outside the sushi place, candy is off limits for me. Find what works best for you and stick with it!
At Athlean-XX for Women we believe that flexibility is key to creating a healthy lifestyle you can stick with. We designed Athlean-XX for Women to be sustainable, flexible and enjoyable because we want it to be the LAST diet and fitness plan you’ll ever need! On the Athlean-XX for Women nutrition plan, you’ll be eating healthy, tasty foods 5 – 6x per day so that you never feel hungry. You’ll also get your metabolism running high all day in fat burning mode! The nutrition plan is flexible too – follow our 12 weeks of set meal plans or make up your own using our guidelines! Join us on Team Athlean to discover your plan for lifelong diet success!
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