You know what it’s like: be ‘good’ all week, because you know you’re going to let yourself go crazy on Sunday – and you’re going to justify it, too. The theory on cheat days is mixed – we ask the experts, are cheat days actually good or bad for you?
“Some people find cheat days really beneficial. Knowing that a cheat day is coming up can enable people to resist temptation during the rest of the week,” says nutritionist Shona Wilkinson.
It could be that calling it ‘cheat day’ is the problem, not the act of cheating itself. Gabriela Peacock is a nutritionist. “I don’t like the term ‘cheat day’, it insinuates you are breaking rules. I also don’t agree that changing the way you eat for a day is cheating on your existing lifestyle,” she says. “That said, if you follow a strict diet, I do think it can be beneficial to take a step out every now and again. To me the term ‘cheat day’ is more damaging to the idea of healthy eating and good nutrition than the actual act of taking a 24hour break from your ongoing diet and lifestyle choices.”
She goes on, “from the perspective of weight loss, taking a day to break your ‘normal’ can offer a great chance to relax the mind, and encourage enjoyment and pleasure from food. It can prevent the craving and mental attachment we develop to foods when we restrict or remove them.”
David Wiener is nutrition specialist at fitness app Freeletics. “There is evidence to suggest that cheat days can aid weight loss because overeating increases the production of leptin, a hormone which is secreted by the body’s fat cells and is responsible for controlling hunger and feelings of satiety. In theory, increasing the production of leptin should mean your body burns more calories following overeating, however, the extent of this is still being researched,” he says.
“The cheat day raises the issue of being on a “diet” rather than just eating healthily. It can also lead to foods being given the status of being either “good” or “bad” which is not a great thing,” Shona says.
She goes on, “the cheat day may not help you get rid of your sweet tooth. If you eat healthily, you will notice the amount of added sugar some foods have and not like them. This is great because it will mean that you will naturally reduce your sugar intake. If you have cheat days which may include high amounts of sugar, you may not ever get to this stage and still want sugary foods.”
Luke Worthington is a human movement and elite performance specialist. “If you feel you have to ‘cheat’ on something then it would imply that you’re depriving yourself of something. Diets (and I hate that word) shouldn’t be so draconian that you feel you can’t wait for them to end, or that you have to cheat on them. If you decide you want to make changes to your nutrition – then those changes should be sustainable. You should be able to enjoy occasional meals out and have a social life. Going too hard too soon, or depriving yourself of enjoyment will mean adherence to any changes are minimal.”
“A cheat day, or series of cheat days can set you back with your weight loss goals. Cheat days and meals can also leave you feeling fatigued and bloated, which could lead to skipping workouts and not being as focused,” David says.
“The problem is that cheat days seem to work for some people and not others,” Shona says.
She continues, “what kind of person are you? Do you need strict boundaries? Are you able to manage the 80/20 approach? Do cheat days’ work for you or do you just overindulge and undo all your hard work? Does it help you because you can resist certain foods knowing that you can have them the next day? The answer is that cheat days may work for some people and may not work for others. Everyone is individual and you need to find a strategy that works for you. My advice – follow a healthy food intake and lifestyle and allow yourself the occasional indulgence!”
Boring, but oh-so-true.
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