“Cheat” days – Otherwise known as a “free” day, is a day designated to let yourself relax and eat the foods you love but can’t have under strict dietary guidelines. But won’t that undo all the hard work you’ve been doing? Maybe, but in the long run it will actually improve your chances of success. A strict diet is the way to success. But we are only human, and human nature dictates that once in a while, we fail. If we are too strict on ourselves all the time, we are prone to participate in binge eating. It may come in a week, it may come in a month, or it may come in several months, but it will come. And then, your prior success will be undone.
It may surprise some, but some of the most successful (and most strict) diet plans such as Weight Watchers, allow a cheat day once a week. This could range from one meal of whatever you want to a whole day of whatever you want. This is designed to give their users a guilt free excuse to eat their favorite foods and then to go back on the diet when that time period is over. It is also designed to prevent your body from getting used to a set amount of calories per day and reaching the plateau effect. What you eat on these cheat days is entirely up to you. Some people throw all caution to the wind, and others spend the whole day eating one thing they’ve missed, such as Fritos.
Depending on how you conduct your cheat days, it may even benefit your body and overall weight loss goals. Erik Fromm, a champion heavyweight, uses “clean cheating” every 3rd day. He doesn’t throw all caution to the wind, rather “When I cheat, I eat foods such as fat free frozen yogurt or I’ll have a carb drink. Both of these options have no fat and a moderate amount of carbs in the form of sugars.” On the other two days in the cycle, his diet is largely protein based, but these small carb filled items boost his metabolism and replenish glycogen stores in the muscles(1).
So given all the ways you can approach your “cheat” day, here is what I suggest. Don’t go crazy and throw all caution to the wind. You will just end up making yourself sick, due to all the extra carbs and fat your body is not used to. Instead, conduct your meals as you would on a regular day. But add one extra element to one or two of your meals that would not normally be there. In other words, if you love the great wall chocolate cake from PF Chang’s, add that as a dessert to a diet smart dinner. This way, you won’t add a significant amount of calories to your diet or make you sick, your metabolism will speed up, and you will be less likely to participate in binge eating.