Are Cheat Meals Necessary?

Chips, donuts, ice cream, cookies and French fries…

All these foods typically not seen in a clean eaters food log. However, for one eagerly anticipated day, these no-no’s become the indulgences of choice for many of even the strictest dieters. 

‘Cheat day’ is a term used in many diet plans to describe the one day of the week or month when you can eat whatever you want. In other words, it’s a day to “go off the plan”. Some people use this day to binge on their favorite “unhealthy foods” that they can no longer eat while on a particular plan. Others also treat themselves to a high calorie meal at their favorite restaurants, ordering dishes that their plans didn’t allow such as chicken parmesan, fried calamari, bacon double cheeseburger, and creamy fettuccini.

Many people claim that cheat meals or cheat days are important when dieting, and cary many benefits. Preventing you from feeling deprived, boosting metabolism, and increasing chances of success with a diet, etc… This is not always the case. Claiming that it is beneficial to binge out on sugar, refined wheat or trans fats just may not make sense in the long term.

Refeeds vs Cheat Days

There has been a significant amount of support for occasional “refeeds,” as in eating more carbs or calories than usual one day when you are strictly dieting. Bodybuilding competitors and athletes benefit from these by resetting their hormones leptin and ghrelin when being very rigid with dieting. You might call these refeeds healthy cheat days where you are no longer calorie restricted but are still eating foods you regularly would. These are absolutely fine. 

Argument for Cheat Days

One of the main benefits is that cheat days give you an incentive to continue. Cheat days on a diet can be a welcome break that, despite what it might sound like at first, provides you with added incentive to stay on your diet plan.

It means that you no longer have to longingly look at an item of food and think you can never have it again. Additionally, the prospect of being able to eat something “forbidden” tends to increase our energy levels as well. The fact that it is a psychological break from the grueling process of dieting is also highly beneficial. It is like taking a little vacation to recharge your batteries, in other words.

Cons of Cheat Days

The biggest disadvantage, however, is that some people eat so much on their cheat day that they undo all the previous hard work. As much as people praise the psychological effects, there are plenty of reasons why they won’t work for many people. Several people who have tried these types of diets claim they feel guilty, shameful, and bloated after a cheat day. This feeling has been described as a sort of “sugar hangover.” In addition, no cheat day really goes without some sort of damage, hence the name “cheat.” It has been proven that once an individual eats something high in fat or sugar or both, areas of the brain light up that make it hard to stop eating and feelings of satisfaction are turned down. Binge days have also been shown to cause digestive problems and eating disorders, as it leads to guilt the following days, which encourages extreme cuts in calories to make up for it.

A cheat day only works with dieting when it’s enough to feel indulgent, but not so much that you set yourself back or end up wanting to eating more. Eating healthy, good and wholesome foods should not be a chore, it should be a natural lifestyle choice. Hence, if you feel like eating nothing but processed foods, carbohydrates and sugars on your cheat day, then your mindset isn’t quite there yet. That doesn’t mean it can’t get there and even if you find you truly binge on one of your cheat days, all is not lost, but the temptation is often hard to resist.

Some experts feel that people need to move away from the idea that it is a cheat “day”. Using terminology like “treat meal” instead of “cheat” helps with many of the negative psychological effects. For some people, it works to have one day out of seven where they can simply eat without counting calories. Other people prefer to have one out of every five daily meals to be one that they can simple enjoy. Others still span their cheats over even greater periods of time. In order to make cheat days or treat days work for you, you have to figure out what is most beneficial to your own needs. Hence, if you don’t feel like having a cheat day, you also shouldn’t feel pressured into having one, as this is likely to only backfire on you, meaning you might end up falling victim to the yoyo effect.

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