Cheat days: Are they ever good for you?

February 20 2015

If you’ve been following the 40 Days of Fitness Challenge you will know that it’s nearly time for your rest day - phew!

While rest days are reserved for conserving and building energy for the week ahead, they can sometimes lead people to succumb to their cravings and ignore their diets. However, you may have heard a rumour that this is okay for one day a week, as there’s a way that you can eat the unhealthy foods that you crave and lose weight at the same time.

This mythical technique is otherwise known as a cheat day. But is there any truth to this fable?

The theory behind cheat days

The idea behind a cheat day is that you designate one day a week, usually a weekend or your rest day, where you don’t stick to your diet. Cheat days feed your psychological cravings, as well as your physical ones, so that you are less likely to fall off the wagon during the rest of the week.

Cheat days have also been known to boost your metabolism and levels of specific hormones like leptin and ghrelin that regulate appetite and energy in the body. Low-calorie diets can lead our bodies to try and conserve energy by decreasing levels of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4, which are used to control metabolism. This can leave you feeling weak and tired, which will affect your training performance.

According to BodyBuilding.com, we don’t start to see the effects of a low-calorie diet until after 72 hours, where our levels of leptin and ghrelin start to become significantly decreased. Therefore, having a cheat day once a week can, in theory, help to optimise the way our body controls hormones, to prevent us going into starvation mode and experiencing a weight loss plateau.

Cheat meals, not days

While the above evidence is credible, the idea of a cheat day has become somewhat clouded along the way. Instead of having an excuse to overindulge in an entire day of bad eating, you should be limiting it to one meal.

There is also a common misconception about the foods you can actually consume during a cheat day, as you still need to be sensible about what you eat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean you can eat ice cream or foods with no nutritional value.

Choose something that will satisfy your cravings, but will fuel your body properly too, like a cheese burger with a bun and skinny fries. This certainly isn’t diet food, but it is packed with protein and carbohydrates essential to fuel your body.

It’s not for everyone

While cheat meals can be the only way for some people to stay on track, they can also be a slippery slope and end up doing more harm than good.

The fear is that once you get a taste for the food you’ve been craving you won’t be able to stop, or you’ll end up binging and cancelling out all of the previous week’s hard work. If you think that chicken and steamed vegetables just won’t taste the same after you’ve had a cheat day, then it is safer to avoid it all together. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

Cheat yourself

Instead of trying to cheat on your meal plan, try and cheat yourself by swapping unhealthy foods in your diet for healthier alternatives.

For example, use sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, or use wholemeal crackers as opposed to bread. Swapping things will make you feel less restricted, which will help you to stay away from the cravings which lead to binging.

Of course, exercise plays just as an important role in your health as your diet. Get down to one of our gyms and kick start your own fitness revolution by getting a free Feburary pass today.