Why You’ll Do Better With a Cheat Day

By Nancy Andrews

Why You’ll Do Better With a Cheat Day

Apr 30th, 2012 | By Nancy Andrews | Category: Coach Nancy - The Way I See It..., Nutrition & Weight Loss, P90X Diet

One of the hardest things I frequently see in the people I work with is the ability to embrace the concept of ‘cheat’ days. They aren’t really cheats though – they are planned and have a purpose. However, the feeling bubbles up that this is cheating and therefore bad and if they just skipped the cheat day, they’d lose more weight than if they took on the extra calories once a week.

The thing is, however, that line of thinking is dead wrong from a physical perspective and creates a deep seated desire to quit the diet (due to continual deprivation) long before the optimal weight is achieved. In fact, for many all it takes is two or three weeks of stalled weight loss to get them to give up. And then they really lose – but not weight – just their goal of becoming the person they really want to be.

Now before I list the benefits of cheat days I need to be clear on a very important point. Cheat days only work when you are running at least a 600 or better caloric deficit on your 6 non cheat days each week. Let’s explore this a bit further. If you are looking for a 1lb a week weight loss (hard to lose more fat than that a week and we don’t want to lose muscle). So if you restrict your daily caloric intake by roughly 800 calories a week (assuming a 2,200 maintenance level caloric target) you eat 1,400 calories a day for 6 days. Now on your cheat day, you really go at it and eat 3000 calories – more than 2x what you were eating in the prior 6 days. Your weekly caloric deficit will still get close to the 3500 you need to lose one pound of fat.

Now you may be thinking that if you skipped the cheat day, you’d lose more like 1.25lbs and that would be better. But the longer you calorie restrict, the lower your body’s leptin level falls and that’s not what you want.

Now I’m not going to get technical here about what leptin does other than to say that it clearly regulates your hunger and is now thought to also impact both your fat and bone metabolism in a way that more leptin improves both fat and bone metabolism. So you can see that keeping your leptin levels up is a huge postive factor in getting your body to your goal.

Leptin gets raised when you indulge in a refeed. For best results you add a lot of carbohydrates in on your cheat days. So for me, it’s my day for popcorn, bread and pasta. While additional fat calories don’t have much of an impact on leptin, I add in fat for pyschological reasons.

A cheat day when properly indulged will not only help you from feeling hungry all the time, it will also help you avoid temptations we all inevitably face (e.g., the birthday cake at work or the smell of fresh baked goods at the grocery store). When you have a cheat day, you are never more than 6 days away from the next cheat day. That makes saying ‘no’ to whatever your temptation is a lot easier.

Finally, if you are eating clean and healthy 6 days a week and then really indulge on your cheat day, you will notice by the end of it you feel sluggish and bloated. I find I don’t sleep well the night following my cheat day as well. All this makes me more than eager to eat properly again. In fact, I rarely feel tempted by any naughty foods for the first 2 – 3 days of my clean eating. And by day 4, I’m not that far away from my next cheat day and can begin planning what I want to eat.

So take that cheat day. It really will keep your body from getting too efficient on lower calories and it makes keeping to your diet completely doable for months or even years!


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