Should I have a cheat day? That depends on your current nutrition plan.
If you are following the 80/20 rule (eat healthy 80% of the time and allow for not-so-healthy foods in your eating plan 20% of the time) then no, you don’t need a cheat day.
Cheat days are for people who are being very restrictive with their caloric intake. It’s for people who are tracking every macro, or cutting out entire food groups (like carbohydrates) altogether.
For these people, cheat days are very important because:
- Cheat days are good for mental health. Being very restrictive and not allowing oneself to enjoy the foods that make life worth living (read: bread and chocolate) can be really challenging. Having a cheat day can be a light at the end of the tunnel.
- Refeeding (there is a difference between cheating and refeeding, but to keep things simple, we are going to use these terms interchangeably.) There are some negative effects to being in a calorie deficit (a requirement of losing weight) and a cheat meal or a refeeding day is designed to counteract those negative effects such as lower hormone levels, increased hunger, lethargy, tiredness, and weight loss plateaus.
The human body (this amazing machine built for SURVIVAL) has a remarkable adaptation when it starts to lose fat. As the body’s fat stores start getting smaller, the body does everything it can to slow down the process of losing body fat. It doesn’t know how long this period of calorie restriction is going to last. So to avoid starvation, it upgrades to Defcon 2: Adaptive Thermogenesis. That’s a fancy way of saying the body tries to decrease the amount of energy it uses-makes you tired-and increases the hunger hormone leptin-makes you hungry. Although this is a problem for people who want to lose weight, it has helped the human species survive for millennia.
By having a cheat day 2-4 times/month, a person could temporarily increase their energy and decrease their leptin levels. They could also reduce the effects of adaptive thermogenesis which can help the body’s fat-burning process keep working efficiently. Luckily, carbs are the best for increasing leptin levels and giving us instant energy. This is great news when all you’ve been craving all week is a muffin!
Most people do not require cheat days, but for people who are restrictive with their nutrition plans. A cheat day 2-4 times per month can help break through weight-loss plateaus and help one keep their sanity.