Cheat Days – Yea or Nay?


I used to advise all my clients to have one cheat day per week.  My logic was as follows:

  1.  Rewards feel good and will make people more likely to stick with the program.
  2. Serum leptin levels are increased, which increases thermogenesis.  We all love burning fat!
  3. Increased basal metabolic rate (BMR).  BMR is the amount of energy expended while at rest.

I absolutely believe in calculated refeed days for those who have been calorie restricted for a certain period of time or are at a certain level of leanness.  A refeed day differs from a cheat day in that it is a programmed day with increased carbs that still need to be tracked and calculated.  All the benefits described above happen with a good refeed.

A cheat day, on the other hand, tends to be an all out binge fest:  donuts, pancakes and all the bacon for breakfast, wings and beer for lunch, Mexican and margaritas for dinner, topped off with a massive dessert.  This 3,000-5,000 calorie day just derailed all the progress made during the week.  Massive cheat days, especially those that involve copious amounts of alcohol, also tend to lead to additional cheat days just to make the head and tummy feel better.

The other thing I don’t like about the word “cheat” is that it has a negative connotation.  It labels food as either “good” or “bad.”  Psychologically, this can lead to an enormous amount of guilt.  When you’ve had an eating disorder, the last thing you need is to feel shame or guilt when eating.  Flexible dieting eliminates the need to cheat or binge.  You’re allowed the slice of pizza if it fits your macros.  Just remember to always eat 80% of your calories from whole food sources.  Enjoy that other 20% guilt free!