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What is a Cheat Day? How Often Should You Have One?

In our daily lives, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is always a challenge, especially when we constantly face temptations from delicious but not-so-healthy foods. Have you ever wondered if there is a method that allows you to control your weight, maintain your health, and still enjoy your favorite foods without feeling guilty? The answer lies in two words you may have heard before: “cheat day” So, what is cheat day and how does it work in your diet plan? Let’s explore this concept with Grove Health Bondi in the article below!

What is a Cheat Day?
What is a Cheat Day?

1. What is a Cheat Day? 

A cheat day is a designated day where you temporarily break your strict dieting rules and indulge in your favorite foods. On this day, you are allowed to eat any foods you crave without worrying about the restrictions of your regular diet. After the cheat day ends, you return to your planned diet regimen.

Cheat Day
Cheat Day

2. How Does a Cheat Day Work? 

A cheat day can serve as a motivational tool in your diet plan, helping you stay committed to your healthy eating habits. This strategy taps into the psychology of dieting, making it easier to resist food temptations knowing that a cheat day is coming up.

According to research by Evan M. Forman and Meghan L. Butryn: “Some people can effectively resist food temptations when they know their cheat day is approaching.” However, the ability to resist food temptations varies among individuals. Overeating on your cheat day can undermine your weight loss efforts by consuming more calories than needed. Therefore, while you can eat more freely, it’s essential to set reasonable limits.

How Does a Cheat Day Work
How Does a Cheat Day Work

3. Benefits of a Cheat Day 

  • Psychological Relief: Knowing that you have a cheat day can reduce the mental strain of dieting.
  • Increased Motivation: It helps keep you motivated by providing a break from strict eating habits.
  • Metabolism Boost: Occasional indulgence can prevent your metabolism from slowing down due to constant dieting.

4. Dangers of an Improper Cheat Day 

Here are some potential dangers of an improperly executed cheat day:

Dangers of an Improper Cheat Day 
Dangers of an Improper Cheat Day

4.1 Feelings of Guilt and Regret 

During long periods of strict dieting, many people miss and crave their favorite unhealthy foods. This can lead to uncontrolled eating on cheat days, resulting in feelings of guilt and regret after consuming too much of those foods (study by Roeline G Kuijer & colleagues).

4.2 Impact on Emotional Eaters 

Emotional eaters are individuals who turn to food to express joy or soothe negativity. For them, a cheat day can become an opportunity to overeat. Subsequently, they may feel regret, and this heightened sense of guilt can drive them to eat more, creating an endless cycle that undermines their dieting efforts.

4.3 Negative Influences from Social Media 

Social media often showcases people with perfect bodies enjoying cheat meals. This can weaken the resolve of those dieting, making them more likely to abandon their dietary plans.

4.4 Reinforcement of Binge Eating Habits 

The cheat day strategy can exacerbate eating issues for individuals prone to food addiction, eating disorders, or those who struggle to self-regulate their eating habits.

5. Difference Between Cheat Day and Cheat Meal 

Both cheat day and cheat meal allow dieters to indulge in their favorite foods after a period of controlled eating. However, there are key differences:

  • Cheat Day: A full day where you can eat whatever you like. This can help maintain motivation to continue with your controlled eating plan.
  • Cheat Meal: One meal in a day where you can eat what you want. Cheat meals can help prevent boredom with strict diet foods. You can have cheat meals 1-2 times a week.
Difference Between Cheat Day and Cheat Meal 
Difference Between Cheat Day and Cheat Meal

6. How to Execute a Cheat Day Effectively 

Here are some tips to help you have an effective cheat day while still achieving weight loss:

  • Plan Ahead: Schedule a specific day each week for your cheat day and plan your meals for that day to ensure your total calorie intake stays within 1,600–2,400 for women and 2,000–3,000 for men. Planning your food intake in advance helps maintain your weight loss progress while enjoying a carefree cheat day.
  • Don’t Make Every Day a Cheat Day: Succumbing to food temptations can derail your diet plan and cause you to fail in your weight loss efforts. Avoid scheduling cheat days spontaneously or too frequently. It’s best to set a fixed cheat day each week to maintain discipline.
  • Continue Exercising: Cheat day is not an excuse to skip exercise. Exercising can help burn some of the calories consumed during cheat meals, mitigating any potential negative effects of the cheat day.
How to Execute a Cheat Day Effectively
How to Execute a Cheat Day Effectively

7. How Often Should You Have a Cheat Day? 

There is no specific rule for the frequency of cheat days. Typically, having one cheat day a week, with controlled eating on the remaining six days, is common.

Note: Cheat days are not acceptable in some dietary regimes. For example, the ketogenic diet requires strict adherence to all meals without allowances for cheat days.

8. Conclusion 

The cheat day strategy works best in flexible dieting plans. Knowing how to implement cheat days in your diet can boost motivation and aid in weight loss, but it is not suitable for those who cannot control their eating. Plan your cheat days, practice self-control even when eating freely, and maintain regular exercise to achieve your desired physique. Good luck!

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Glenn Salkeld
Glenn Salkeld
Professor Glenn Salkeld is a health economist with more than 30 years experience in public health research and a PhD in the economics of preventive health care. Glenn has a particular interest in screening and diagnostic test evaluation based on the implementation of multi-criteria decision analysis.

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