Cheat Day on a diet: Pros and Cons

Cheat day on a diet

It is super enticing to include a cheat day on a diet. They are fun and let you enjoy yourself.

But how does having a cheat day on a diet affect you? Here are all the Pros and Cons to help you determine if it’s right for you.

What is a cheat day?

Before we discuss the pros and cons of having a cheat day on a diet, lets breakdown exactly what a cheat day is.

A cheat day or cheat meal is best described as a time where eating is done outside of the current diet plan. This can be done in a number of ways such as eating more calories or just eating different types of foods that normally wouldn’t be consumed.

Cheat days are quite common in the fitness space, they aren’t only used by beginners or those struggling with weight loss.

In fact on social media, cheat days are actually seen in a pretty glamorous light because of the absurdity some people have with junk food.

The Rock is pretty famous for this.

On his Instagram feed, you can frequently be amazed by the amount of food he has on his off days.

From a giant double dough pizza to a plate of full thick brownies and a tall glass of milk.

The Rock is no slouch in the gym, he is a prominent face of fitness, and seeing him eat like a maniac on his cheat days might have made you curious about trying it yourself.

Put the fears and myths aside because there are many we have trapped in our mind about cheating on our diets.

It might seem counter productive to have a really high calorie day while on a diet, but as long as your total weekly average is in check, you will be fine.

And now that you have a good general understanding about cheat meals, we can break down the benefits and negatives that come with it.

Pros of using a cheat day on a diet

1. Can improve diet adherence

Whatever diet you choose, be it Keto, zig zag dieting, intermittent fasting or what not, it can be very hard to stick to it for long.

Because going onto a diet can be a big change in your lifestyle, you can feel drained after a short time.

This is where a cheat day can come in handy.

Cheat days when used correctly provide you with a diet break, a meal or day where you can be more lenient and not have to feel restricted.

This study conducted back in 2015, compared eating on a strict diet versus dieting with planned “off days”.

Once the data was collected and analyzed, it was found that eating with cheat days implemented led to improvement in the following areas;

  • self regulation
  • motivation
  • improves results

It is important to note, these cheat days were planned and controlled.

But the results are still strong. Having the ability to stay motivated and getting the will power to make the right choices are two of the most important pieces of a successful diet.

Having a cheat day on a diet can help you achieve that.

2. Metabolism increase

Advocates for cheat days argue that you can achieve a boost in metabolism after the high calories.

Their reasonings usually involves the hormone Leptin.

Leptin is your “hunger thermostat”

When your leptin level is low, you feel hunger cravings and vice versa.

During periods of low calorie intake, Leptin levels tend to decrease.

Too much of this and relapses are bound to occur. This is the basic reasoning behind cheat days on a diet to maintain a high metabolic rate.

There is some support to back up the idea that cheat days increase Leptin levels. In the fitness world, cheat days are sometimes referred to as refeed days because of these philosophies.

If you find yourself struggling with cravings that are hard to control, having a cheat day on your diet could help you solve the issue.

3. improved energy/mood

Having a cheat meal can improve both your energy levels and mood.

Mentally speaking, its nice to have a break after the stress of dieting. When you diet for weight loss, it becomes very difficult for those who have adopted poor eating habits to keep going with a positive attitude.

As mentioned before, there are plenty of studies and research to back up the idea that cheat days on a diet shows significantly better results compared to being strict and restricting yourself.

A lot of this has to do with these breaks on your mind and body.

Not only do cheat days help decrease stress but they also aid in combatting the physical toll of low calories.

When paired with working out, it can feel like you aren’t giving your body enough fuel to recover.

Having a cheat day helps increase your energy level, even if just for a day or two. Plan a the high calorie day around a particularly intense workout, and you could see great improvements in your performance.

Even if you find that the difference isn’t great, it doesn’t hurt to test this theory for yourself. It could be the game changer you never knew you needed.

Cheat day on a diet Cons

1.Increased weight fluctuations

Weight check ins can be very frustrating. One day you are down 2 pounds while the very next day you somehow gained 2?

It is normal for the scale to bounce around, there are numerous factors like water retention, time of day, bowel movements etc.

Having a cheat day on a diet can even further open this annoyance. Typically a cheat day involves tons of carbs and heavily processed foods.

When it’s all said and done, you can feel like you gained 5 pounds after a bad day. Sometimes you did.

Water retention tends to go up after a cheat day because those types of foods encourage your body to hold water.

Every 1 carb can lead you to gain 2 – 3 grams of water.

Going by that rule, just 1 cup of spaghetti can lead you to gain 129 grams of water, about 1/3 of a pound.

Combine that with the amount of water that salt makes you retain, and it is easy to see why your weight jumps up so fast.

All this water weight can become a problem for your diet because if you aren’t prepared for it, you can quickly become unmotivated and possible even give up.

Of course there are things you can do like drink plenty of water or not weigh yourself after a cheat day, but it is still a big inconvenience none the less.

2. Promotes bad food relationships

Having a good relationship with your food is important for long term health.

Yes, some food is more nutrient dense and provides more bang for your buck, but the idea of “bad food” should be avoided.

That’s why it’s important to be very aware of your eating habits if you include a cheat day on a diet. Cheat days can lead to the development of these bad food relationships.

Sectioning off certain foods to days of high calories can have your mind associate them with negativity. The more you restrict yourself from these foods that you enjoy, the higher chance of failure.

Remember the study we mentioned earlier about strict dieting versus including a cheat day?

The strict dieters had less success. A cheat day can be very useful but, try not to label certain foods as villans.

Another potential food issue is binge eating. Binge eating is the process of habitually eating large amounts of food in one sitting and feeling like you don’t have control over it.

Sound familiar? Cheat days follow that same pattern, encouraging you to have a meal of huge portion sizes.

It takes self control, but cheat days usually does not mean you can consume anything and everything you desire. Have a plan ahead of time.

If you do find yourself having uncontrol able binge eating tendencies, speak to a medical professional about what you can do.

3. Possible calorie overconsumption

Speaking of binge eating, a really bad cheat day on a diet can throw off the work you put in during the whole week.

Lets take someone who wants to lose 1 pound a week. They would need to have a average daily calorie deficit of 500 to achieve that goal.

Going out for a milkshake, burger and fries for a cheat dinner, can mean eating an extra 1500 to 2000 calories!

That means 4 days of hard work down the drain.

A cheat meal is one thing, but a cheat day can meet that or even exceed it.

You have breakfast, lunch and dinner to make bad choices. After a week of strict eating you might even fall prey to your cravings and have “junk food” all day.

A good plan to avoid this is to pre determine what foods you plan on eating on your cheat days. Maybe you really wanted to go out for deep dish pepperoni pizza, or have a nice thick slice of chocolate cake.

Those sound like delicious rewards, if you want them you can have them. By planning ahead you can avoid overeating but also enjoy what you truly want. None of the filler foods that catch your eye like sodas or candy.

These calories add up fast and might not even be that satisfying.

Regardless of the planning you do, be wary because a mistake when using a cheat day on a diet can sink your whole ship.

4. Guilt

Finally the last con that can rear is ugly head is the guilt that can come from a cheat day. Dieting takes big changes to how you think about eating. If your eating habits were bad enough, it could have been an entire change on your outlook with eating.

That’s why its normal to feel guilty. But guilt itself can cause problems.

The feelings of regret from a cheat day ruin the whole idea of re-energizing yourself.

It can also cause negative emotions associated with dieting, causing yourself to believe its impossible for you to lose weight or have success with healthy eating.

Nearly a third of all Americans have feelings of guilt after eating.

Don’t label foods as bad or good. All food is good but just in different portions. Like anything, moderation is key.

Realize that it is ok too have burgers! It’s great to have ice cream and chips. Don’t go overboard of course, but restrictions also aren’t the answer.

Feelings of guilt are a tough item to balance when using cheat days on a diet, and it’s something you might face.

Cheat day on a diet: Conclusion

Cheat days are a great inclusion anyone can include into their routine. They are not very difficult to conduct, nor are there too many rules.

The idea is simple, have a meal or day with some foods you wouldn’t normally include in a diet. Eat more then normal if you’d like, just not too much.

The Benefits we mentioned were;

  • increase in metabolism
  • improve diet adherence
  • better energy and mood

But of course with everything, there some downsides to go with the upsides.

Having a cheat day on a diet can lead to the following negatives;

  • increase in weight fluctuations
  • overconsumption of calories
  • bad food relationships
  • guilt

At the end of the day, regardless of the success of other people, what works for you is what you should stick to.

Having a cheat day could be something that improves your performance like never before, or it could impede your progress for a little bit before deciding to drop it all together.

It might be worth trying in conjunction with a good meal plan.

There are a lot of benefits to working out instead of just dieting. If you want to start working out, check out my free foundations program created for Troxfit readers.

The foundations plan gives you everything you need to get started and comfortable with the movements of exercises.

All you need is a pair of dumbbells and a Yoga ball to get started! Download the free Troxfit Foundations guide here.