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My Perspective on Cheat Days

To cheat or not to cheat, that is the question.  No, ladies, not on your boyfriend: on your diet.  You work hard all week, trying to keep your calories in check and trying to stay away from the ice cream that sits in your freezer.  You nail your workouts, and now you’re finally able to squeeze back into your size 4s.  But, every now and then, you want to go out to dinner with friends and eat some pizza and wash it down with a beer, or you want to eat chicken wings on Superbowl Sunday.  Having a “cheat day” is essential, in my opinion, for successful dietary compliance.  But there’s a huge difference between a cheat day and a cheat meal, and which you eat is highly dependent upon your goals and upon the intensity of your workouts. Cheat meals serve no metabolic purpose.  Let me repeat, cheat meals serve no metabolic purpose.  They in no way shape or form PROMOTE fat loss.  The spike in calories/carbs from just 1 meal isn’t really enough to refill glycogen and spur weight/fat loss.  Cheat meals are more for your brain than they are for your body.  It’s nice to be able to go out to dinner with friends and have a delicious meal and a glass of wine.  If you’re eating maintenance calories or above during the week, you should utilize the cheat meal to stave off cravings and to mentally check out for a few hours.  Another important thing to note here, if you’re not working super hard in the gym (ie, metabolic circuits, HIIT, other things that make you want your mommy), then the cheat meal is best. During a cheat day, the body is on a quest for fuel.  It’s not an excuse to eat like a jerk just because you can.  If done correctly, cheat days can promote weight and fat loss, and the spike day will actually keep your metabolism from down-regulating.  Because you’re not starving off your body fat, you can stay lean while keeping your muscles full, and this “supercompensation” actually tricks your body into burning fat instead of muscle.  Your nutrition during the week is imperative here.  You should be eating sub-maintenance calories during the week, with 1 spike day on the weekend.  This means you’ll be hungry during the week.  Very hungry.  You cannot have a cheat day if you’re taking little nibbles of things here and there during the week, or if you’re eating above maintenance.  100% dietary compliance allows you to eat more.  90% does not.  In terms of your workouts, if you’re working out like a BEAST during the week (again, I mean minimal rest, MET work, HIIT, etc), you can support a cheat day.  But, most folks don’t workout hard enough to utilize this cycle diet approach.  If you want to eat like a man, you have to workout like a man.  This is why the average person cannot support an entire cheat DAY. Something to keep your eye on if you utilize the cheat day is your weight.  Gaining 10lbs is not unheard of (done it!!), but your weight should return to pre-cheat levels or BELOW by mid-week.  If not, your weekly diet/workouts aren’t supporting your spike day. For me, I typically eat sub-maintenance during the week, workout like a complete animal, and then have a cheat day on the weekends.  It’s always a fantastic day where Jim and I check mentally check out, put the food scales away, and put a hurtin’ on some food.  During my cheat days, I can eat without stopping.  I rarely feel full, and it’s as if my body can’t get enough.  To me, that’s a sign that I need FUEL. You can have your cake and eat it too, regardless of if you have an entire day or just 1 meal.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: dieting should never be about deprivation.  There’s no reason that a healthy lifestyle can’t include some not so nutritious foods.  But you do have to be careful.  Figure out which approach is best for you based on your weekly progress, nutrition, and workouts. Then work in some yummy treats that you enjoy.  Unplug, relax, and eat some pizza while you watch a movie.  It’s good for you.      width=Beth is an NPC and OCB figure competitor and has been competing for 3 years.  When she’s not rocking the stage in her stiletto heels, she’s either at work as Project Manager at a Pharmaceutical company in Durham, NC or she’s in the gym training clients or teaching spin classes.  In her very minimal free time, Beth likes to sleep, eat, play with her dog, and spend time with her boyfriend and friends (who also like to sleep and eat).