Cheat Day – some swear by it, others demonize it. I know representatives from both sides very well and can understand their arguments.
Precisely for this reason I am also convinced that a Cheat Day, if used correctly, can make a significant contribution to a successful diet. However, it is also a fact that the wrong use of Cheat Days can ruin your dieting efforts for a whole week.
That’s why it’s important to know how a good Cheat Day really works and how you can use it effectively in your diet. Because this understanding can decide whether the Cheat Day is your secret weapon in your diet or whether you ultimately only score your own goals with it.
In the following, I want to bring you closer to the maximum benefit from using such cheat days in the future,
Then you should understand why I don’t want to miss out on the occasional cheat day in my diet and how you can also benefit from targeted use.
The Cheat Day helps you to maintain your calorie deficit
Weight loss is primarily based on achieving a calorie deficit. You take in less energy than your body uses and you lose weight. So far so good.
However, if you keep your body in fewer calories than it needs for a longer period of time, sooner or later it will respond. He tries to take precautions in the event of a persistent undersupply. For situations like this, the body basically has three very simple tricks on how it can ensure that it has to use less energy.
1) Reduction in the release of thyroid hormones:
If the body is supplied with less energy than it consumes over a longer period of time, one reaction is the reduced release of the hormones TSH (thyrotropin), T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). Among other things, these hormones increase metabolic activity at rest and thus your basal metabolic rate, regulate your body temperature and promote protein synthesis, fat and carbohydrate metabolism.
The greater your calorie deficit and the lower your reserves (your body fat percentage), the faster this hormonal adjustment takes place. Your energy expenditure and your fat burning decrease. This effect is admittedly not huge, but also not to be underestimated.
If you are interested in the topic, you can find more information about the interaction and effect of the various thyroid hormones here.
2) Reduction of “unnecessary” muscle mass:
If after a while the body has to assume that the deficiency will last longer, then it will think about what it can do without, what it uses up energy for. With a restrictive diet, the hard-earned muscles quickly become a potential candidate for prank.
You may think your muscles are important. However, they are not essential to your body. Muscles are a luxury good for him. They are a luxury that requires energy to be maintained. Muscles are a luxury that he can do without when it comes to survival.
If you want to define your muscles instead of losing them in the diet, then you can counteract this with the right training and a targeted diet. For this reason, losing weight without exercise is not a good idea at all!
3) Less movement
One thing that is often lumped together with the first point is that if you have a persistent calorie deficit, your body will modify your exercise behavior. This happens very subconsciously and gradually. You probably won’t even notice it if you don’t pay attention to it. However, the effects on your calorie consumption should not be underestimated.
These can be small, unconscious movement patterns that you do not even notice yourself. For me this is, for example, rocking my feet and regularly changing my sitting position at work. But it can also be larger, everyday exercise habits. You may notice that as your diet progresses, you use the stairs less and less and the elevator more often.
The bad thing about these three things is that after you stop (or abandon) your diet, they don’t stop working immediately. This then increases the notorious yo-yo effect. So what can you do to minimize these effects?
There are various things that you can and should do to counteract these austerity measures of your body:
- Sufficient and correct hypertrophy training and an adequate supply of micro and macronutrients for maximum muscle maintenance in the diet
- A targeted, regular breaking of the calorie deficit through a Cheat Day
- It can’t hurt to include a crunchy tabata workout in your training plan every 2-3 days
- Don’t underestimate the importance of sufficiently conscious exercise in everyday life
If you pay attention to these things, then your body will not go into economy mode as quickly and strongly and you will be successful with your diet.
It’s hard to do without – don’t do without anything on your Cheat Day
A restrictive diet is always associated with abstinence. Anyone who tells you you can go on a diet without giving up anything is simply telling you nonsense. If that were the case, you wouldn’t need a diet to lose weight. It doesn’t matter whether you are doing low carb or IIFYM .
The only crucial question is how this waiver feels for you. Is it difficult for you or is it easy for you to do without? Is the waiver long-term or short-term? The answers to these questions determine whether it is easier or more difficult for you to stick to your diet .
Many find it particularly difficult because they are aware of not dieting and appear long-term. Even the best bun made from low carb flour isn’t a fresh pretzel from the baker. With a Cheat Day you don’t have to go without anything. At least you never have to do it for long and the next Cheat Day is always in sight.
It is easier to drive shorter distances
It is a psychological phenomenon that many people find it difficult to accept short- and medium-term sacrifices for long-term improvement.
How strongly this phenomenon is already pronounced in us as children is also shown by the delayed reward paradigm set up by Walter Mischel. You are probably familiar with the surprise egg advertising that is based on this phenomenon:
The children cannot estimate how long they will have to wait before receiving the second surprise egg. The renunciation is too great for many and they give in to temptation.
When something similar happens in a diet, it is frustrating. In some people, this can even lead them to abandon their diet. This has happened to many and will continue to happen to many who try to change themselves and their bodies.
You have the choice to do what you want now, or what you want most!
You don’t want this to happen to you. So make sure that you don’t feel like you have to go without something for a long time. A Cheat Day will help you.
With the Cheat Day you are practically planning a little relapse. This is actually something good and desirable. It is, so to speak, like you are successfully doing many small diets in a row. Many people find it much easier to persevere this way.
If you now have a cheat day a week, then you know that you have to go without something for a maximum of 6 days. For most, this is a manageable amount of time.
You can find more background information and solutions to the challenges of your subconscious in my articles about self-motivation and how to make fitness a habit and of course in my book The bastard killer .
My Cheat Day Trick – The Wish List
If you still find it difficult to withstand the temptations of everyday life despite a firmly planned cheat day, then I have another simple trick for you. I never do without something in a diet that I really want. At the same time, however, I rarely give in to temptations when they arise.
To ensure that, I write down everything I feel like, very simply on a piece of paper, in a small book or on my mobile phone. At the end of the week (or two) I made a list of delicious things to throw at on my Cheat Day.
It’s like this: Often you don’t even know how much you really want something. Only when you can relate something to something else can you judge its value.
Let’s say you walk past an ice cream parlor and feel the need to eat a large sundae. The decision is now whether you eat the sundae or whether you let it be. The benefit of the ice cream cup (good taste) arises in relation to the benefit of not using it (fat loss). We have already learned from the children with the surprise eggs that short-term benefits are usually preferred to long-term benefits. 😉
If you now note that you would like to eat a large sundae and then have a list with a lot of such temptations before your next cheat day, you will only be able to judge what you really want most of them .
Just give it a try. Your subconscious can usually be convinced of this quite easily if you make it clear to yourself that you don’t have to go without anything if you really want to. Incidentally, this also helped me personally to increase my stamina in other areas, because it changed my perspective on short-term needs.
How often you should do a cheat day
The simple answer is: do a cheat day as often as you need to to stay motivated with your diet. I could start with duration, weight loss, and body fat percentage now. Instead I prefer to say the following: Start doing a Cheat Day when you have the feeling that you can no longer consistently adhere to your self-imposed dietary rules.
This shouldn’t be necessary, especially at the beginning of a diet. Here you are still motivated and have a lot of willpower. In addition, the body hardly reacts (except with a really hard crash diet ) in the first few weeks with the feared saving measures.
However, if you notice that you are finding it difficult to persevere, then you can plan your first cheat day. I advise you to try it out first with a cheat day every 14 days. For many, that’s enough. If you don’t feel too restricted and / or have already reached a very low body fat percentage, that should be sufficient.
It is often a big problem that you are constantly surrounded by too many temptations. So don’t make your life unnecessarily difficult and try, for example, always to go healthy shopping directly. If there is nothing in the house that tempts you to cheat, then you can endure longer without Cheat Day. Ultimately, every Cheat Day that you don’t need will lead you to success a little faster.
Cheat day or loading day, call it whatever you want
Of course it is important that you don’t escalate completely on your cheat day. Just because it’s a Cheat Day doesn’t mean you just have to eat as much as humanly possible. But that is exactly how many understand this day. This is exactly the reason why Cheat Days have such a bad reputation. Some Youtubers and Instagramers sometimes make me a bit angry with the way they portray their Cheat Day escalations.
For this reason, many feel better when they refer to this day as Refeed Day or loading day, as it better describes the actual purpose for them.
Especially if you are on a very restrictive low carb diet , the Refeed Day may be an important part of your diet concept. On this day you should give the body specific carbohydrates so that it can replenish its glycogen stores. The targeted use of such days is even more important when using anabolic or ketogenic nutritional concepts in which carbohydrates are almost completely dispensed with. However, this also takes away a bit of your flexibility when it comes to choosing your food.
For this reason I stick to the definition of Cheat Day, because for me the benefit is primarily the psychological component that helps with perseverance.
Avoidable Errors – The Wrong Cheat Day
But if Cheat Day has so many advantages, why is it so vilified by some people?
The biggest mistake many people make on their Cheat Day is to overeat. On your Cheat Day you can eat what you want. So they cram everything in that fits in. In one day they try to catch up with everything they have left over the entire week and often with success.
No more hunger or appetite is no reason to stop eating. After all, the Cheat Day must have been worth it. After all, you want to reward yourself for the tough last few days … Ideally, you even manage to eat something for the next few days. With this approach you screw up the whole diet.
This is exactly the reason why many do not see Cheat Day as an effective means of supporting a diet.
A diet is always based on a calorie deficit. If you eat so many calories on your Cheat Day that you increase your average calorie intake above your energy requirement, you will not lose weight. In this way, people always manage to gain weight while on a diet.
The right (intelligent) Cheat Day
But now you are here because you want to have success with your diet. A properly applied Cheat Day can definitely help you with this. A good cheat day in your diet week looks something like this:
As you can see, it is ultimately a very simple basic principle that you should also observe here if you want to lose weight. On this day, eat a little more than your calorie requirement, but make sure that you do not exceed your weekly requirement.
Now you may find it difficult to keep the necessary measure on your day of sin. For this reason I have put together a few simple rules that should help you to achieve the best possible results and not to fall out of the ordinary.
1) Think carefully beforehand what you want to eat
Take a look at your list the day before Cheat Day and then decide on a handful of things that you feel like doing the most. So you can already buy what you need and at least don’t worry about your cheat day. In addition, you already have a rough overview of the expected amount of calories.
2) Eat slowly and with pleasure what you feel like
That’s what Cheat Day is for. If you want, you can make a bowl of chocolate crispy muesli for breakfast. Make yourself some pancakes. Treat yourself to an ice cream sundae in the sun in the park. Don’t let anything forbid you! But above all, do it slowly and with pleasure and don’t get into gluttony.
3) Only eat while you are still hungry
Eat what you feel like, but really stop when you are no longer hungry. Don’t force yourself to eat more than you are really hungry just so you have eaten everything on your list. This alone shouldn’t completely ruin your dieting success with a single day of cheating.
4) Keep an eye on your calories on your Cheat Day
On your Cheat Day you should eat what and as much as you want. You should eat more than your daily requirement. However, it can make sense to keep an eye on the calories anyway to be on the safe side. I plan my Cheat Days in advance, so I am always on the safe side and can look forward to the upcoming meals the whole day without worrying that I will excessively overrun my calorie account.
5) Have a good feeling while cheating
Make yourself aware that you are doing something good for yourself and your diet with Cheat Day and enjoy the day. Be proud that you have successfully followed your diet for another week. You have been on the diet for so long and are slowly but surely getting closer to your goal.
Stick to these rules and nothing stands in the way of your successful Cheat Day!
Your conclusion on Cheat Day
As you can see, such a cheat day has some advantages for your diet. Used correctly, it can help you to overcome your weaker self , stick to your diet and thus noticeably contribute to your weight loss success.
However, it is really important that you follow the rules and not deceive yourself with this day. Be honest with yourself, be proud of what you have already achieved and look forward to everything that you can still achieve. Your diet is sure to be a success!