Is It Okay To Take a Cheat Day?

by Jen on April 20, 2012

Hi, and welcome to another Fitness Friday post!

In the dieting world, there is this notion floating around of a “cheat day.”  What is a cheat day?  Is it a day you can eat anything you want?  Or is it just a cheat meal?  How much can you cheat on your diet?  Will a cheat day set me back?

I know I had all of those questions and more when I first made the switch to a healthier lifestyle.

Cakes and hands

I remember when the book, Body For Life, first hit the market.  It was a huge seller.  I remember people excitingly telling me about the book, and how it recommended incorporating a cheat day in your diet plan.  Well guess who went out and bought the book the next day?  Yup.  Me.  I couldn’t believe it…could I really eat anything I wanted for a whole day and still lose weight?

After eating fast food, takeout, cake, cookies, chips, pop, and candy for an entire day, week after week, I wasn’t losing any weight.  I was following the rest of the plan; eating right the other 6 days of the week, exercising 6 days a week.  So why wasn’t I seeing results?

Sadly, I had to admit it, I was pretty sure my cheat day was sabotaging my weight loss.

So, are there any benefits to a cheat day?  Some experts say there are.  These experts say that after a long week of restricting calories, having a day where we don’t restrict what we eat may actually boost our metabolism temporarily.  However, is our metabolism boosted enough to burn those few thousand extra calories we just consumed?  Probably not.

Then there are the studies that say allowing a cheat day to satisfy our cravings allows us to stick to our diets.  While this may be true, I don’t think a day of binging is what we are talking about here.

I know in my experience, having an all-out cheat day didn’t do me any good.  In fact, it made things worse.  I found my cravings would get so out of control after having a cheat day that I found it hard to resist junk food during the week.

So what did I do?  I got rid of the “cheat day!”

What’s worked for me is to stick to healthy eating 90% – 95% of the time.  The other 5% I indulge.  But I don’t indulge in the junk foods that I used to eat.  I pick foods that will satisfy my cravings but still have a little bit of a health benefit.  For example, I buy organic dark chocolate bars (at least 60% cocoa), and once a day, I have one little square from that bar.  And I enjoy every second of it.  Or on the weekend, I’ll bake my family a dessert, but one that contains some healthier ingredients such as coconut oil or unsweetened applesauce…like the Hot Fudge Sundae Cake I posted yesterday.  Or when we order in pizza, I’ll order the multi-grain thin crust.  I’m still satisfying my craving without feeling totally guilty about it.

I’m not saying that you have to adopt the 95%/5% rule, that’s just what works for me.  If you can eat healthy 80% of the time and only allow yourself to splurge the other 20% of the time, then you are definitely on the right track.  But don’t allow yourself an entire cheat day.  Instead, have a cheat meal, like take-out pizza for dinner, or chocolate cake for dessert.  You won’t feel guilty about that little splurge, and the best part, you won’t sabotage your weight loss goals!

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