By Diana Sanchez, Staff Writer
Thinking about incorporating cheat days into your diet? Oh, I get the appeal. Eating healthy most of the time but being able to give in to your cravings for a whole day? Sounds more than fair, and is certainly a more balanced approach to nutrition (it definitely beats eating unhealthy ALL the time!)
But is it a good idea?
What is a cheat day exactly?
A cheat day is a day that you set aside to not count calories, to eat junk food, to break your intermittent fasting routine... you get the idea. Basically, whatever diet you’re on, you get one whole day where you don’t have to follow the rules. For many, knowing that day is right around the corner may just be enough to keep them focused the rest of the week.
Surely, if you’re eating healthy every day of the week you can splurge a little on the 7th, right? I’ve done cheat days before while trying to lose weight and generally opted for my cheat day to be on Sunday because that was usually a major family day where I could participate in breakfast or brunch, lunches, and dinners without feeling guilty at all. Dieting can be tough on your social and family life and being able to “break the rules” one day a week really helped me. In fact, making healthy choices all week really helped me feel like I earned those cheat days. And I enjoyed the heck out of them.
That can be a good thing - but it can also be a bad thing.
How can cheat days go wrong?
The biggest issue that I can find with cheat days is that you might accidentally be training your brain to think that your diet, rather than a lifestyle, is simply temporary - especially if you are binging on your cheat days to make up for all the other days you were on a diet. I’ve done that, too. In other words, some part of you, subconsciously or otherwise, might be thinking that just like your diet has cheat days scheduled in, that once your diet is over, every day can be a cheat day again. That’s a sure recipe for fad dieting and failure.
In other words, you are not training your brain to eat healthily and have better portion control - you’re just teaching it to wait until you can eat whatever you want. This can lead to a bad cycle of diet, weight loss, eating unhealthy, weight gain, back to diet, and so on.
That’s not a fun cycle to be trapped in!
But what if you have a healthier approach to cheat days? What if you don’t binge, but don’t worry about the rules so much either?
How to have a healthy cheat day while dieting
The great thing about cheat days is that there are no strict rules. You can make a cheat day whatever you want it to be. For example, maybe it’s not the whole day - maybe it’s just one meal. Or perhaps, you have just a few hours to “cheat” on your diet. You can certainly take a healthier approach to a cheat day that works with your diet and your health goals and doesn’t derail what you’ve been working towards.
Cheat days can be a great motivator for dieters, but it’s how they’re implemented that can make all the difference. If your cheat day isn’t derailing your efforts or allowing you to scarf down 3,000 calories in a single day, it can be a great addition to your weight loss program.
What kind of cheat day works for you?