Should You Cheat on Your Diet One Day a Week for Better Results?

A once weekly diet cheat day: Should you or shouldn't you?

Depending on who you ask, some people think that diet “cheat days” can actually boost your chances of overall weight loss success. Some people even say that these days can help keep your metabolism running more effectively because your body is “shocked” by the sudden amount of high calories it’s consuming, therefore keeping your metabolism from slowing down due to dieting.

Putting scientific theories aside and focusing only on the mental aspect of cheat days, I do believe that they can be helpful. Reason being, they may help you to ultimately stay on course because you know you have some wiggle room and the freedom to eat the things you really want every now and then.

The idea behind a cheat day, whether weekly/monthly/etc., is that you commit to eating well for the large majority of the time, but you allow yourself to have one specified time period where all bets are off.

Cheat days are structured and planned out ahead of time to allow for cravings to be given into; therefore, you’re able to avoid becoming fixated on foods that are deemed “forbidden”. Planning a weekly cheat day is a good place to start because you’ll know that your favorite things are always within reach sometime in the near future and not perceived as being “off limits forever”.

For some of us, starting a “diet” or trying to consistently practice more healthy habits makes us fear that we will have to eat salads every day for lunch forever and give up our beloved pizza, cookies, and beer. Dreading what we think is going to be a difficult process before we even begin, we decide it’s just not worth it.

If this sounds like you, consider practicing the weekly cheat day. Putting aside a day when you can give into your vices may be what you need in order not to give up, or even start, altogether. For those who tell themselves that everything in moderation is okay, but then find that their moderation quickly becomes out of control, while their goals stay difficult to reach, a more structured schedule of indulging may help.

Here are some pointers to help you use the cheat day to your advantage, while also not letting it offset all the effort you put in throughout the rest of the week.

Really Save Up for it

The whole premise of a cheat day is that you “earn it.”

For example, you may want to commit to eating really well Sunday-Wednesday of each week, loosening up slightly Thursday and Friday, and then using Saturday as your designated cheat day. The specifics are obviously up to you, but make sure you are planning ahead so that your week has enough days that are NOT cheat days (usually the weekdays).

Going into each week knowing that you’re committing to eating well for at least the next 4 days gets your head in the game and you started on a good path. In just 4 days, your cravings should begin to decrease, your energy should increase, your sleep and digestion should improve, you will look better overall, and your tastebuds should start shifting towards appreciating more unprocessed clean foods.

Chances are, you will feel and look much better after 4 days of eating very cleanly, and you will remember that feeling. You’ll get to know what your body should feel like when you’re taking good care of yourself, which becomes useful because you can compare it to how you feel after a cheat day or two (pretty crappy). Noticing this contrast over time makes you less eager to have a balls-to-the-walls cheat day very often.

Avoid Going Hog Wild

Disrupting the diet concept

Yes, the point of the cheat day is to give into your cravings so they aren’t haunting you throughout the week, but that doesn’t mean you need to get completely carried away.

Most of us have a few favorite “bad” foods that we crave and feel like we need to have every now and then (ice cream, cheese burgers, french fries, etc.). Identify the foods that matter most to you and have one or two of them, but do keep in mind your overall goal. Remember that life is long and this day is not your one and only chance to indulge in everything you can get your hands on. Maybe you just really want a couple slices of pizza? Then have them, and see if you can move on afterwards. Don’t just eat everything at the party because it’s there; instead, eat what matters most to you.

Just because you have a whole day to cheat doesn’t mean you need to use it.

Maybe one meal is enough for you? Over time you should be able to get a better grasp on cravings and cut down your day long binge to only one thing, like an ice cream cone or dinner at a restaurant that wound up getting a little more out of hand than you’d like.

Stick to Only One Day

Don’t let your cheat day turn into a cheat week.

It is easy to make up for 1-2 bad meals; it’s a lot harder to make up for a week of bingeing. Give yourself some limits and stick to them. As the weeks go by, you will become more confident that you can stick to a plan like this and keep doing it with more ease.

Enjoy it and Move On

Young woman on the market

If you are going to have a cheat day, don’t feel guilty about it. Guilt is the enemy of self-worth and -confidence, and we need a lot of both when trying to maintain positivity and willpower.

Guilt only makes us feel stressed, which in turn actually triggers us to eat even more garbage since it drives us to seek comfort through food. As long as you stick to eating cleanly for the majority of the time and within the parameters of your cheat day, don’t stress over what you have every now and then. Many people who have lost and kept off weight for good did so by permitting themselves a cheat day and claim that it did not stall their weight loss.

You should feel proud of yourself, not ashamed or deflated, if you make a plan to eat well 80% of the time and give in to your cravings only 20% and stick with it. Bottom line: Avoid stressing over your splurge and feeling like you want to throw in the towel. Remember that it’s what you do on a regular basis that ultimately matters – not what you do once in a while.

I’ve been able to maintain my weight with this approach and also don’t feel deprived even though I eat really well overall. I’ve found that as time has gone on and I’ve gotten more and more used to eating very cleanly, I have less of a desire for full on cheat days. Sure, I still want a slice of pizza or to split a brownie sundae sometimes, but these days I actually do prefer eating healthy meals over very heavy greasy ones 90% of the time (no BS). I’ve learned to give in to the cravings that matter most to me (usually pizza, the bread basket at restaurants, wine, and anything chocolate) and in turn to have less of the “bad” foods that are offered to me but are not even really my favorites.


About the author

Jillian Babcock

Jill is a healthy food lover and Certified Holistic Health Counselor. She loves “healthifying” recipes and practicing yoga as she works toward become an instructor. You can find her around NYC seeking out all the latest things related to health and fitness.

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