Don’t Fear the Cheat Day

September 6, 2022  Adriana Lee Avatar
Don’t Fear the Cheat Day

Cheat days are an integral part of any meal plan. It sounds counterintuitive—won’t a cheat day slow down your progress? You’ve worked so hard all week and on the weekend it’s easy to lose all of your progress. Or is it?

In the Slow Carb Diet, a diet popularized by Tim Ferriss in The Four Hour Body in 2010, of the diet’s five rules,  rule #5 is to never skip your cheat day. In fact, he even encourages you to make yourself sick from eating junk food every so often. 

Why does this work? And how can you make your cheat days work for you?

What is a Cheat Day?

A cheat day is essentially one day where you eat whatever you want. Plain and simple. Throw out whatever eating rules you follow the rest of the week and indulge. 

Why It Works

Studies have shown that eating a cheat meal causes the body to produce higher levels of leptin, a hormone secreted by fat cells that is responsible for maintaining energy balance in the body. Leptin production may increase by up to 30% for up to 24 hours. What exactly does that mean? Put simply, the body increases its metabolism, causing you to burn calories faster. 

In addition to the positive effects cheat days have on your metabolism, there’s a psychological reason that cheat days are so effective. Having a cheat day to look forward to each week makes it much easier to eat well the other 6 days of the week. Without cheat days, it’s easy to feel deprived while on a diet or meal plan. That feeling of deprivation is breeding ground for unplanned binge meals, which are much more difficult to bounce back from. In fact, if you really go nuts on your cheat day and it makes you feel a little sick, you won’t crave junk food as much the rest of the week. Let’s face it, everyone cheats on diets. Cheat days allow you to cheat smart and guilt-free. 

How to Harness the Power of the Cheat Day

In my opinion, you do NOT need to weigh yourself the day after a cheat day. The weight you gain on a cheat day is temporary. If you’re curious and know it won’t deter or discourage you, feel free to weigh yourself. 

Side Note on Weight as a Measurement:

While weighing yourself is an easy way to see whether or not a diet or meal plan is working, it’s actually extremely ineffective. Weight has little to do with health. Instead, I suggest taking measurements. Measure your chest, waist, abs, hips, arms, thighs, and calves weekly.  In my opinion, this gives you a much more accurate measurement of success. 

There are three principles to follow in order to make your cheat days really work for you, according to Tim Ferriss’ The Four Hour Body.

1) Minimize the release of insulin

  • Your first meal should not be a cheat meal. Eat a breakfast high in protein and insoluble fiber. This first meal should be about 300-500 calories. My go-to for this is eggs and lentils or black beans.
  • Before your second meal, consume a small amount of fructose by drinking some grapefruit juice. This will help to regulate your blood glucose. 
  • Throughout the day, consume citric juices. Squeeze some lemon or lime into your water or onto your food, or drink a beverage like citrus kombucha. 

2) Increase the speed of gastric emptying

  • This is how quickly food exits the stomach. Normally you wouldn’t want to increase that speed so that your body can fully absorb all of the nutrients from your food. But during cheat days, speed this up by consuming caffeinated drinks like green tea and yerba mate tea. 

Engage in brief muscular contraction throughout your cheat day

  • Do 60-90 seconds of exercise immediately before your cheat meals, and again about 90 minutes after. 
  • Air squats are a great option for this because they don’t take up any space. (You can do them in a bathroom stall. No one will know!) Wall push-ups are another discreet option. 
  • Why is this important? It brings glucose transporter type GLUT-4 to the surface of muscle cells. Once you eat your cheat meal, insulin will trigger that same GLUT-4 response on fat cells. You’re essentially opening up gates for the calories to flow to and getting your body to put that glucose into muscle instead of fat cells. 

If you’ve ever tried a diet or meal plan and experienced a plateau, maybe the missing ingredient was a well planned cheat day. There’s no reason to miss your favorite foods. You can indulge and enjoy your meals and actually hit your goals faster because of that one indulgent day!

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