“When do I get a cheat meal or cheat day?” is one of the most common questions I get regarding diet and fat loss.
It’s an interesting question because it sounds like it comes from a state of feeling deprived. One of the hardest issues people face when trying to lose fat is to undo all of the bad habits that got them to where they are in the first place. For some, a cheat meal can reinforce those behaviors.
Now a properly scheduled cheat day definitely has it’s benefits, especially if you’ve been in a long period of dieting and stayed within a caloric deficit for months (not days or weeks!).
It can provide a psychological break, restore glycogen levels, and improve your workout performance along with your leptin and thyroid levels.
Also, the leaner you are and the more muscle you have, the more you can get away with eating a few off meals here and there. A full blown cheat day wouldn’t interfere with your progress whatsoever.
That’s why someone like The Rock can have a cheat meal with pancakes, pizza, cookies, and sushi all in one sitting.
But with the way some people eat and where they’re at, a cheat day would be an absolute no.
A usual “cheat day” for most people is uncontrolled eating, usually in the form of carbs and fats. They also don’t have the dietary discipline to eat well consistently throughout the week yet.
This is because they’re overworked, not prepared, stressed, angry, irritated, tired, and overweight and need some sort of escape. For many, food and drink are emotional stress relievers.
But by the time their cheat day is over, it’s Monday. They beat themselves up and the never-ending cycle repeats.
Let’s factor out all the calories/macro totals from the binge and let’s take a look at the only behavior.
A cheat day (or weekend) can erase the good work you’ve put in throughout the week.
Although I do preach the practice of moderation, you also need discipline in order to reach that point of having a cheat day.
Instead of thinking that you get to have a cheat day, just have one meal where you get to indulge a little bit. The foods you choose should be in reasonable quantities. Some examples would be two or three slices of pizza instead of a whole one, or a burger with fries but skip the soda and dessert.
Worried your calorie/macro intake and about how much damage your cheat meal can do? Then look at it in terms of weekly averages.
For example, if you need to be at 14000 calories/week or lower in order to lose fat, then simply eat less during the other days of the week to make sure you’re around that point come Sunday.
And if having an off meal doesn’t work for you because it leads to a big binge, find ways to have one or two small indulgences such as a small serving size of ice cream fit within your calorie/macro range.
This is especially helpful if you’re eating a low carb diet, making it more sustainable long term. If you do this, you’ll be able to make progress in your fat loss journey sustainably without feeling deprived.