First off, if you want achieve your weight loss, weight gain or performance based goals you have to make a decision. It all starts with a decision to change your lifestyle. Now moving on to the topic of cheat days….
Oxford Dictionary defines cheat day as “a day on which a person following a diet disregards restrictions on the amount or kinds of food they can eat.” For most people who follow an extreme diet, cheat day involves binge eating easily 5,000-10,000 calories. If you don’t believe this, write a list of the foods you would eat if you thought you “deserved” a day to eat whatever you want. Then look up the calories for those foods. Total them. Boom. You will be surprised how quickly it will add up.
Extreme dieting and extreme binging aka “cheat days” are not healthy on either end of the spectrum. Instead, it is important to find a balance. Eating whole, minimally processed foods are an important first step. Each meal should contain a lean protein such as chicken breast or fish, substantial serving of vegetables and a single serving of healthy fat like avocado or nuts. There is no need to starve yourself. In fact, when most nutrition clients start eating adequate amounts of the right kinds of macronutrients (as mentioned above), they find they are eating more often than before!
Instead of cheat days, I propose a couple of ideas:
- Don’t extreme diet. Follow the example above for consistently eating whole, minimally processed, delicious foods that your body was built to consume. Once you get used to eating clean, you will not feel deprived. In fact, you will feel so healthy most of the time you will not even desire cheat days.
- Refeed. One of my favorite options for people who consistently eat clean with a less than maintenance caloric intake for weight loss purposes, is a refeed day. Refeed day can be helpful mentally and physically. It is not a cheat day, but it does have the emotional refueling one might think a cheat day could provide, without the negative side effects. A refeed day is a day with higher than usual carbohydrate intake that temporarily takes you out of deficit while keeping you within your maintenance calories.
- Treat yourself. If you have been working hard towards your goals, why would you want to “reward” yourself with something that will set back the progress you have made? You will always be in the one step forward, one step back dance. Instead, find healthy ways to reward yourself for your consistent, hard work; massage, a new pair of shorts for your leaner body, go to a movie, call your friend and tell her about your accomplishment.
Let’s say you consistently eat clean but you are heading to a birthday party and want to partake in the cake. Would this be acceptable? My answer is based on how many birthday parties you attend? If you are going to a birthday party once a month, by all means, eat the birthday cake. Consuming birthday cake every weekend, you will be moving farther and farther away from your
goals. Obviously the birthday cake is a metaphor for “cheating”. Once a month is a reasonable option. Once a week or once a day is a habit.
I am going to tap into my inner Yoda.
Simple, it is. Easy, it is not.
But hey, you can do things that are hard, right? You do it everyday. Everything starts with a choice.