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Is it okay to have a cheat day and still lose weight?

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Yes. In fact, having a regularly scheduled cheat day each week can actually be good for weight loss by preventing binges, reducing cravings, providing a mental break from dieting, and boosting metabolism—if it’s done in a healthy way. By healthy way, I mean using it as a day when you give yourself a break from measuring every portion and counting calories and allowing yourself a little leeway to enjoy a favorite food or two. You still consume plenty of water, and try to get fruits and vegetables in, but in a more relaxed way. What’s not considered healthy (or good for weight loss) is to use a cheat day as a time when you go to extremes with eating or binges.

There’s no pressure to add a cheat day. In fact, most don’t want to or feel they need to their first few weeks of a diet. But when the newness wears off and motivation starts lacking or a plateau hits, adding a cheat day may help.

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If “cheating” scares you, then have a cheat meal instead. Plan it for a meal each week when you’re able to relax, like every Friday night or Sunday brunch, so you can fully enjoy and savor it. The diet and lifestyle changes you’ve adopted will help guide your cheat meal and keep you from going overboard, but it’s also helpful to plan your meal ahead. And, if you do mess up and cheat too much, get right back on track, and use it as a way to learn how to make better choices on your next cheat day.

I was talking to a client about his health goals and weight loss and he asked, “Can I have cheat days?” I’ll admit my feathers got a bit ruffled, mainly because it’s a mindset that too often leads to failure.

But his question deserved an honest answer. Yes, you can have cheat days. But the more important question is: “Will cheat days support or sabotage your efforts?”

The definition of cheating speaks to the trap that “cheaters” often find themselves in: “to behave in a dishonest way in order to get what you want,” according to the Cambridge English Dictionary. So, to pull from that definition…what do you want?

Cheat days can be tricky, but they do offer some benefits.

When you restrict calories, your metabolism can take a hit. Cheat days may help kickstart your metabolism to offset any slowdowns. Splurging also can satisfy those inevitable cravings, helping you stay on track long-term.

But cheat days can be the end of yet another attempt to lose weight.

Here’s why. The concept of cheating equates with being on a diet. The word “diet” has a well-deserved negative connotation. It’s all about deprivation. Your mental energy is focused on what you can’t have, as opposed to the new life you’re trying to create. No wonder the little child in us feels the need to cheat. We want what we want, and we want it now!

Let’s play out what too often comes from cheating.

You’re sailing along, pumped about your weight loss, feeling leaner and energetic. It’s time to celebrate! Enter the “cheat day.” What do you want? A juicy cheeseburger with a large side of fries? A slice of rich and creamy cheesecake? As much meat-lovers pizza as you can possibly eat? It’s cheat day! You can have them all. And you do, because you can.

Then the next day rolls around, and it’s time to get back on track. The tantalizing flavors of yesterday are still with you, lingering on your taste buds. You meet the day with every intention of being “good.” But there’s no harm in just a little more, right? And the downward spiral continues, turning a cheat day into a cheat week, which leads to frustration and giving up.

So let’s get to the bottom of what’s going on.

The first issue is your relationship with food. You’re categorizing foods as either “good” or “bad.” If you’re eating a bad food, you’re being bad, right? You’re bad for eating that piece of cake. You tell yourself, “I really must suck. I can’t do this. It’s stupid to think I could. Oh, screw it! I’ll start again tomorrow.”

Then there’s your childhood. For most of us, food was a reward—or a punishment. You did your chores? You get a cupcake! You did your homework? Chicken fingers and French fries it is! You didn’t eat your green beans? No ice cream for you! How is the cheat day any different? The punishment is the “diet.”

Why then, did I tell my client that cheat days can be a good weight loss tactic?

Because done mindfully, they can support your weight loss journey. I tried a program a few years ago that involved a cheat day, and I made the best of that one day each and every week.

But here’s the catch: Successfully incorporating cheat days into your weight loss plan demands you have a healthy relationship with food in the first place. You must recognize that it’s fuel for your body. Not that you can’t love it—you can, but you have to be in control of that piece of cheesecake, not the other way around.

The second critical component of a successful cheat day is when you’re “on”—i.e., when you’re being “good”—you have to be 100% on. I was putting lemon juice on my salad for dressing. I was being vigilant about portion sizes. I wasn’t eating one little nibble of any high-calorie, off-plan food the other six days of the week. You get the idea.

So is a cheat day right for you?

Yes—but only, and I mean only, if you can do the following things:

  • keep guilt and negativity out of the picture
  • limit your cheat day to a day (not another bite of “bad” food on other days)
  • pick yourself right back up after a cheat day and never look back

Can you do that? If not, don’t cheat—or sabotage—yourself. Find another strategy that works for you.

Michael W. Smith, M.D., is the Chief Medical Director at WebMD, as well as a certified health coach and personal trainer.

Are Cheat Meals Bad for You? Cheat Days Explained

What goes on in your body on a cheat day depends on what you’re eating, how much, and how often. Let’s break down the science.

For a few decades, researchers have known that restricting calories (as most people do when dieting) can cause leptin to dwindle. Pratley RE, et al. (1997). Plasma leptin responses to fasting in Pima Indians. DOI: 10.1152/ajpendo.1997.273.3.E644

Leptin is important because it balances your energy and signals to your brain when it’s time to stop eating (no fourth slice of pie, thanks). Jéquier E. (2002). Leptin signaling, adiposity, and energy balance. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2002.tb04293.x

Those in the pro-cheating camp say a cheat day can resupply your body with some much-needed leptin and boost your metabolism. But research on the subject is still mixed.

A study back in 1986 suggested that overfeeding (the scientific phrase for eating too much, which matches some people’s idea of “cheating”) isn’t actually worth it, because it only boosts metabolism between 3 and 10 percent for no more than 24 hours. Katzeff HL, et al. (1986). Metabolic studies in human obesity during overnutrition and undernutrition: Thermogenic and hormonal responses to norepinephrine. DOI: 10.1016/0026-0495(86)90119-8

But a decade later, research showed that temporarily upping calorie intake could re-up leptin production by nearly 30 percent — three times as much as previously thought — for up to 24 hours. Dirlewanger M, et al. (2000). Effects of short-term carbohydrate or fat overfeeding on energy expenditure and plasma leptin concentrations in healthy female subjects. DOI: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0801395

While the jury is still out on the leptin debate, there is some new research to suggest that cheat days are not all that bad physically — and may actually be good for your diet plan.

A 2018 study divided obese men into two groups. The first group stuck to a strict meal plan, while the other took intermittent breaks from the diet. After 4 months, the intermittent dieters had dropped more weight — and they gained back fewer pounds post-trial. Byrne NM, et al. (2018). Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: The MATADOR study. DOI: 10.1038/ijo.2017.206

Sounds good to us, but you may still want to limit your cheat meals. A 2017 study on rats found that 3 cheat days a week had the same effect on gut bacteria as a steady diet of junk food. Kaakoush NO, et al. (2017). Alternating or continuous exposure to cafeteria diet leads to similar shifts in gut microbiota compared to chow diet. DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.201500815

It’s also vital for anyone with a health condition (like diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure) to plan cheat days carefully since even small deviations from your diet can have larger health effects.

There’s a special caveat for keto dieters. A 2019 study found that even one dose of simple carbs on a cheat day was enough to damage blood vessels. Arrivederci, pasta. Durrer C, et al. (2019). Short-term low-carbohydrate high-fat diet in healthy young males renders the endothelium susceptible to hyperglycemia-induced damage, an exploratory analysis. DOI: 10.3390/nu11030489

Overall, consider the balance of macronutrients in any food. Sweets may be fine, but look for those that are also high in essential nutrients like protein and fiber, explains nutrition researcher and sports nutrition expert Douglas Kalman, PhD.

Don’t Eat Out as Often (188/365)

The average American eats an average of 4.2 commercially prepared meals per week. In other words, as a nation, we eat out between four and five times a week, on average. This number equates to 18.2 meals in an average month eaten outside the home.

When I first heard that statistic, my initial reaction is that the number was high. I eat out perhaps once a week at this point in my life. However, when I reflected back on earlier stages in my life, that number seemed completely reasonable.

Take a young professional who eats out for lunch three times a week and follows that with a couple of dates on the weekend. Take an elderly couple who finds it much easier to order food that’s delivered than to work in the kitchen to make it themselves. Even many families like ours will order some pizza after a long day of outdoor activity.

What kind of money are we talking about here? The average American spends $232 per month eating meals prepared outside the home. Given that there’s 18.2 meals eaten outside the home in an average month by the average American, the average meal outside the home costs a person $12.75.

Again, that’s reasonable. You might eat an inexpensive lunch or two that’s below that number, then spend much more than that on a nicer dinner eaten outside the home.

However, while you might be racking up some good rewards on your credit card with restaurant bonuses, when you start comparing that to the cost of preparing foods at home, it becomes pretty clear that there’s a lot of money involved here.

A couple summers ago, I did a food series where I prepared a wide variety of meals for my family at under $10 per meal. Those meals fed four (at the time) of us quite well and often left food for the following day’s lunch for some of us. Thus, the cost for these meals was well under $2 per person per meal.

Let’s say, though, that not all meals at home are going to be that inexpensive and assume you’re averaging $4 per meal per person prepared in the home.

If you were to simply prepare all meals at home, you’d move 4.2 meals from restaurants to your home. At an average cost of $12.75 per meal, you’d save yourself $8.75 for each of those meals. In other words, the average American would save $36.75 per person per week by moving all of their meals from restaurants to home-prepared meals.

Let’s look at a more realistic picture. Take a family of two adults and two teenagers, for example, and let’s say that they simply chose to eat one less meal out per week. On average, that family would save $35 from just that one meal change.

For me, I like it better when eating out is a pleasure and not a routine. Because I eat out much less often than I once did, it’s something of a treat to eat at a restaurant, whereas it was once completely the norm.

Try cutting back a bit on eating out. Brown bag it to work an extra time or two a week, or prepare a nice meal at home with your family instead of heading out on the town. Your wallet will thank you.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

Eating out: How often and why?

Release date: January 10, 2019 Eating out: How often and why?

Most Canadians eat out or purchase takeout food

Percentage of meals eaten out, by frequency

Frequency Percentage
Eat out once a week or more 54%
Eat out less than once a week 39%
Did not eat out in the past month 8%
Totals may not add up to 100% due to rounding

The main reasons for eating out are convenience and socializing

Percentage of meals eaten out, by reason

Reason for eating out Percentage
Eat out for convenience, no time to cook, do not like or know how to cook 40%
Eat out as a treat, for a special occasion or celebration, to socialize with friends or family 52%

Meals eaten out most often are lunch and dinner

Percentage of meals eaten out, by type

Meal type Percentage
Breakfast 10%
Lunch 33%
Dinner 49%

When available, Canadians use nutrition information to make informed choices

57% always, often or sometimes changed their order based on nutrition information on menus or menu boards

Calories per slice of pizza, by type

Pizza type Calories per slice
Margherita 170
Pepperoni 310
Vegetarian 200

Source: General Social Survey (Canadians at Work and Home), 2016.

Cheat Days & Cheat Meals: Are They Good for Weight Loss?

Cheat days are popular among fitness enthusiasts. You stick to a strict diet for the whole week except for one day when you let yourself eat whatever your heart desires. Burgers, pizza, ice cream, chocolate, soft drinks, alcohol…you’re allowed to eat anything on this one day. But are cheat days (or refeed days) really a good thing if you want to lose weight?

What is the difference between cheat meals and cheat days?

You have to decide how much you want to splurge:

  • Cheat days: Pizza for breakfast, ice cream for lunch, and burger and fries for dinner? On a cheat day, you are allowed to eat whatever you want. What this day looks like depends entirely on you: some devour everything they can get their hands on. It’s possible that you might consume twice as many calories as on a normal day. Others choose a less extreme version and increase their daily calorie intake with healthy, high-calorie foods.
  • Cheat meals: Another option is to use cheat meals. The idea here is that you eat healthy the whole day except for one meal when you eat things that are not part of your prescribed diet (usually things like junk food).

Physical effects of cheat days

The theory is that since cheat days increase the production of leptin, they boost your metabolism. This, in turn, should then cause your body to burn more calories after overeating. Leptin is a peptide hormone (consisting of amino acid chains) that is secreted by the body’s fat cells and controls hunger and feelings of satiety. However, the extent to which leptin controls body weight is still a subject of debate among scientists. Whether leptin production actually increases after a cheat day or a refeeding day is still being studied. Overeating is thought to boost your body’s metabolism by no more than 3-10% (over a maximum of 24 hours).

If you have been following a strict diet for a long time, it might be that the glycogen stores in your muscles are rather limited. This can lead you to fatigue more quickly and hurt your workout performance. A cheat meal or a cheat day can help replenish your glycogen stores by increasing the number of calories and carbohydrates you are consuming. This can provide you with the energy you need for a strenuous workout; but going overboard on your cheat day can, of course, also set you back a bit with your weight loss goals.

Psychological effects of cheat days

Cheat days or refeed days can have both positive and negative effects on the human mind. It depends on the kind of person you are: many people feel that regular cheat days help them stick to a strict diet. It makes it easier for them to stop food cravings on the other days.

However, for other people, overeating can cause more harm than good. They eat so much on their cheat days that they feel guilty afterwards. Or the only thing they can think about is their next cheat day instead of focusing on healthy eating in general. This is definitely unhealthy behavior and can ultimately lead to an eating disorder.

So, should you cheat regularly?

It’s okay if you loosen up once in a while and treat yourself to something you’ve been dying for. There should be room in your diet for the occasional indulgence even when you are trying to lose weight. We are not big fans of restrictive diets anyway, and we definitely do not recommend scheduling regular days on which you eat everything you can get your hands on. What happens at the end of the day? You have consumed several thousand calories, are riddled with guilt, feel bloated, and maybe even a little sick to your stomach. Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Cheat meals are probably better and healthier.

It should be mentioned that people with diabetes, high cholesterol, or blood pressure need to be extra careful. Even small treats can have big, negative impacts on their health.

Our tip: Keep a food diary

Are you craving ice cream? Then treat yourself! Every healthy nutrition plan should leave some room for your favorite foods. With food tracking, you can simply plan your small indulgences: enter tonight’s ice cream in your food diary first thing in the morning. That way you know how many calories you have to spare during the day without exceeding your goal. The secret is everything in moderation.

***

How to Rock a Cheat Day (Without Feeling Bad or Getting Fat)

There I was: sitting at the table, staring at my empty plate. Like the plate, I was inanimate, unable to move. It makes a lot of sense, though. I just downed a full pepperoni pizza with extra cheese, a half dozen sour cream-glazed donuts, and a piece of unsatisfying, store-bought cheesecake.

Before eating this meal, I thought of it as epic. After? Evil. Looking back on this meal (and many more like it), I realize how foolish I was. Back then, cheat days were a way to eat every single thing I knew I couldn’t have while dieting. The foods I ate would bring me back to my childhood. The only difference is that everything I ate in my childhood would be somehow eaten in a single cheat day (sometimes a single meal). As you can probably imagine, I was a fat child. Now, I’m a fat kid in a fit body.

Why Cheat?

When dieting for fat loss, average intake of carbohydrates and calories tend to be low. Over time, your body realizes it is taking in fewer calories than it is burning. In turn, it will try to balance calories-in versus calories-out by becoming more efficient and your metabolism drops. This is not good when fat loss is the goal. Cheat days will trick the body into thinking it is getting enough calories (if not too many) and the body will then ignite its fat burning metabolism.

Mentally, cheating is a great way to incorporate foods you would not normally eat. Nothing is ever off limits; there are just better times to eat certain foods.

My Cheat Day Approach

Over the past few years, my philosophy for cheat days has changed. It has evolved from an all-out binge to a scientific approach to building more muscle, and reducing all the negative effects such as fat storage and feeling like absolute garbage.

On cheat days, I will still fast in the morning. During this time, I will drink lots of water and green tea, and prepare for the day to come (i.e., buy some pastries from the Farmer’s Market). Near the end of the fast, I will work out.

The purpose of the workout is to deplete muscular glycogen and activate the glucose transporters in the muscle (GLUT4 and GLUT12). When activated and in the presence of glucose, GLUT4 and GLUT12 will move glucose from the blood into the muscle.

My Cheat Day Muscle Building Workout

Exercise

Sets

Reps

Rest

1: Front Squat or Deadlift

Work up to heavy set of 5, then back off with 70% of weight used and lift for as many reps as possible

5, AMAP

2-3 min

2A: Weighted Chin-up

45 sec

2B: Dumbbell Reverse Lunges

45 sec

2C: Weighted Push-ups

45 sec

3: Goblet Squat

20+

n/a

Peri-Workout Supplementation

  • Before: 5 g of BCAAs, 200mg Caffeine
  • During: 5-10 g of BCAAs
  • After: 5-15 g of BCAAs, 200mg Caffeine

The purpose of the amino acids is to slightly increase growth hormone and provide the body with ample amino acids in its system to help initiate protein synthesis. On the other hand, the caffeine is used to decrease insulin sensitivity.

Now, this may seem strange, as most experts recommend that you want your body to be as sensitive to insulin as possible. Yet, when the body is sensitive to insulin, this includes the liver, muscle, and fat. If we decrease sensitivity to insulin by ingesting caffeine, and combine this with activating GLUT4 and GLUT12, then the probability of blood glucose being stored as muscle instead of fat is greatly increased. This is a basic principle in John Kiefer’s Carb Backloading (which I highly recommend).

Now that we’ve covered the workout and supplementation, let’s get into the good stuff: eating.

Time to Eat

Since it’s a cheat day, the only foods I recommend to avoid are ones that are processed. In other words, stay away from McDonald’s and any other packaged treats you will find at the grocery store. To be clear, I’m not saying avoid hamburgers, doughnuts, and cookies. All I’m saying is to not have them in their processed forms. This means you will want your cheat foods to be homemade, and should buy them from bakeries, restaurants, and the grandmothers at Farmer’s Markets.

The Secret to Not Feeling Terrible

In order to prevent yourself from feeling terrible from all the cheat foods that you eat, you need to compromise and eat raw, fermented sauerkraut before each meal. This will provide your body with probiotics that will aid in digestion of all the terrible things (and by “terrible,” I mean “delicious”) that are about to hit your stomach. If I ever had a number one tip, this would be it. It’s that good.

Building More Muscle

To make sure the food will continue to go towards building muscle instead of stored fat, it is a good idea to be “pulsing” your body with 5g of BCAAs every 2 hours. This will keep growth hormone higher and give momentum to protein synthesis. If the cheat foods you select do not contain protein, you may want to consider adding in a couple scoops of whey isolate into the mix, but that is your choice.

An Example Cheat Day

  • 8:00am – Wakeup, drink a bunch of water.
  • 10:00am – Go to Farmer’s Market, buy a pie, tarts, and cookies (all homemade).
  • 1:00pm – Workout, follow peri-workout supplementation.
  • 2:00pm – Eat a few forkfuls of sauerkraut. Go to restaurant and order pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato fries.
  • 3:00pm – Eat full pecan pie.
  • 4:00pm – Drink 5g of BCAAs in water.
  • 4:30pm – Eat a few forkfuls of sauerkraut, then 6 peanut butter chocolate cookies crushed up in homemade vanilla ice cream with maple syrup poured over top. Drink 40g of whey isolate in water on side.
  • 6:00pm – Drink 5g of BCAAs in water.
  • 8:00pm – Drink 5g of BCAAs in water. Eat a few forkfuls of sauerkraut then make bacon and egg sandwiches out of a pound of bacon, homemade bread, free-range eggs, and local cheeses. Have a nice dessert consisting of a few tarts, more ice cream, and an apple turnover.
  • 10:00pm – Drink 5g of BCAAs in water. Eat a few forkfuls of sauerkraut then eat another tart.
  • 12:00am – Go to bed satisfied.

As you can see, there are few foods off-limits and you are totally allowed to stuff your face. As long as you fast, workout, and take the supplements I recommend, you will ignite your metabolism, build more muscle, and store minimal (if any) fat on your cheat day. Follow the few rules, try out my recommendations.

Just don’t make me too hungry, got it? Good.

Dieting is a fickle beast. Some days, eating just enough chicken, rice, and vegetables to function is fine. Other days, the overwhelming need to eat an entire pizza pie is almost too much to handle. Thankfully, any diet can handle motivation-saving cheat meals. A free meal that allows you to indulge in whatever your heart (and taste buds) desire may seem too good to be true, but cheat meals are actually essential for a healthy diet. Having said that, there’s a right way to do a cheat meal that will aid in weight loss and there’s a wrong way that could end up hindering your overall weight loss goal.

The 90/10 Rule

First thing’s first: It’s a cheat meal, not a cheat day. Cheat meals should be a part of your diet, but cheat days will ruin your diet. Nutrition experts agree that any diet should adhere to the 90/10 rule, meaning 90 percent of the diet should be focused solely on healthy food, while the remaining 10 percent can be devoted to cheat meals. For example, if you’re looking to follow a dieting plan that allows five smaller meals throughout the day, then you will be consuming 35 meals a week. By following the 90/10 rule, three to four meals a week can be devoted to indulging your sweet tooth.

“Cheat days serve a couple of purposes. First, it is important to clarify that a cheat day is most successful when a single meal that day is regarded as the cheat. If you allow all of your hard work to unravel for an entire day, you can quickly void the progress you have been making all week, especially if weight loss is a goal.” Jillian Guinta, professor in the Health and Physical Education Department at Seton Hall University, told Medical Daily.

Why Should You Eat A Cheat Meal?

That coveted cheat meal you’ve been powering through cups of vegetables and chicken breasts for is more than loading up on junk food. Psychologically, it’s about making your diet seem more feasible. Even the most chiseled gym rat would lose their mind sticking to a strict diet over the course of 12 weeks. Let’s say Monday through Saturday are healthy eating days and Sunday is the day for your cheat meal. Sticking to your diet six days out of the week seems a lot more attainable with some scoops of Ben & Jerry’s waiting at the end.

“There is a psychological component to the cheat day. Without rewards, it can become mundane to keep a healthy lifestyle day in and day out. Oftentimes, it may take several weeks to see the scale budge, so knowing that a cheat day is coming can help keep up motivation,” Guinta explained.

There’s also a scientific approach to why we need an occasional cheat meal. It all starts with leptin, a protein produced by fat tissue that helps regulate body weight and fat mass by impacting appetite and the body’s energy balance. Constant dieting will eventually lead to caloric deficits which causes our energy levels to plummet. A calorie bomb provided by your cheat meal will help the body maintain energy levels needed to continue dieting and exercising.

When Should You Eat A Cheat Meal?

While your goal should be to fully satisfy your junk food desires, cheat meals still require some form moderation and compromise. Remember, your body still needs the three essential macronutrients, protein, carbohydrates, and fat, for energy and to build muscle. Think of your cheat meal as a time for you to enjoy “bad” protein, carbs, and fat. For some people that means switching from grilled to fried chicken for one meal out of the week or complex carbs to simple carbs. Also consider saving your cheat meal for post-workout when the body is ready to make use of every macro, “good” or “bad.”

“Here is one more way that your cheat meal can be used: There are significant weight loss benefits in changing your calories intake for a couple days in a row,” Guinta added. “For example, keeping a 1,400 per day calorie diet for four consecutive days and adding on 200-300 calories for the remaining three days can aid in success. By occasionally boosting your caloric intake, you encourage your body to burn calories more rapidly instead of allowing it to adjust completely to the lower calorie lifestyle.”

Cheat Days Help Boost Metabolism

Cheat days have become the newest fad. This is because if used right, they actually work to bust you through any weight loss plateaus that you are stuck on.

I have used this method for years with great success. Your body is amazing at one thing…. adaptation. Your body can adapt to virtually any situation.

So what happens when you adapt? Well, to put it simply, you get stuck in a rut. Especially in weight loss. That is why it’s a great idea to “shake things up a bit” hence, the cheat day.

The idea at first was to give you a mental break from your strict diet. Some programs are very strict and mentally individuals would become tired and start to stray from the program. Ultimately they “fell off the wagon” so to speak because mentally it is too challenging for them to continue.

So many use the cheat day as a way to give you a break or a reprieve mentally. It allows you to eat some of those foods you have been avoiding while on your weight loss program.

What some have discovered with research is that something physically takes place when you incorporate a cheat day.

When you diet or restrict calories and nutrients your body will start to deplete a hormone called leptin. Leptin is a powerful hormone that can influence your weight loss or even cause you to gain weight if it manipulated in the wrong way.

When you diet and start depleting your leptin levels you brain gets sent a signal from leptin that you are starving yourself because leptin is dropping. This is what some call the ‘starvation mode’ and when this happens it triggers a series of other actions. Your brain will now send signals to other hormones to slow down your metabolism, shed energy costly muscle and cause your body to start storing more calories you eat as stored fat.

A cheat day is important in this situation because by allowing you to eat more calories, more sugar, more fat, etc allows the hormone leptin to increase and calm down. By raising your leptin level back to normal it starts to think “We are not starving” and tells the brain to stop conserving and trying to protect the body.

This allows you to continue to burn calories and prevent extra storage of calories. Generally it takes a few days for the body to recognize the calorie restriction and the leptin level to start to fall, which is why a cheat day is usually inserted somewhere between the 3rd and 5th day of a restricted calorie weight loss program.

One thing to be careful with this method though is that 1 cheat day doesn’t turn into 2 cheat days and then 3 cheat days, etc, etc. There are some individuals that have a hard time getting back on the program the next day so if you use this type of program be careful to not fall into this trap.

Most will look forward to this method and don’t mind getting back to the program the next day knowing that the next cheat day is coming in 3-5 days. In the Fat Loss Factor course on how to lose weight fast, there is one cheat day every week. The program also gives you the option to stay flexible and add a cheat day every 3-5 days. Fat Loss Factor does a great job giving you baby steps to overcome your weight loss issues.

Remember, to keep your sanity and keep your metabolism boosted, add in a cheat day every 4 days or so for maximum results.

— — Taking cheat days, or breaks, while dieting may actually help aid weight loss, according to a new study from Australian researchers.

The small study looked at two groups of obese men who participated in a four-month diet requiring them to restrict calorie intake by one-third.

One group of dieters maintained the diet for two weeks, then broke from the strict diet for two weeks, and continued to go on and off the diet in two-week cycles. During the two-week cycle off the strict diet, these dieters ate calories consistent to the number of calories they were burning, creating an “energy balance.”

Meanwhile, the second group continuously maintained the diet during the entire four-month period.

The group who alternated between adhering to the strict diet and having cheat weeks lost more weight during the study, researchers said in their findings, which were published Tuesday in the International Journal of Obesity. The group who took breaks from their diet also gained back less weight after the study finished.

“While further investigations are needed around this intermittent dieting approach, findings from this study provide preliminary support for the model as a superior alternative to continuous dieting for weight loss,” Nuala Byrne, the head of the University of Tasmania’s School of Health Sciences, and leader of the study said in a statement announcing the findings.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’ senior medical contributor, said that cheat days allow one’s body and mind get a rest from dieting. She says that although she is skeptical that taking cheat days can boost one’s metabolism, as some claim, she does see the psychological benefits of taking cheat days while dieting.

However, Ashton stressed the importance of consistency in building habits. Additionally, she said that doing major damage to one’s diet during cheat days may be negating some of the good work put in.

Finally, Ashton shared her quick tips for those trying to lose weight:
1. Don’t drink your calories.
2. Keep your food to as much lean protein, fruits and vegetables as possible.
3. Eat from the farm, not the factory.
4. Watch your sugar intake.

Last Update: August 25, 2019

In 2013, a picture of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson set the internet ablaze. The image showed the 6’4″, 260 lb behemoth posing next to a number of delectable foods.

In one, he’s sat behind a towering pile of pancakes, staring threateningly into the camera pulling his signature ‘People’s Eyebrow’; a knife and fork tightly grasped in each hand to signal the oncoming blowout. In another, he gleefully bites into a double-dough pizza. Only one of four he intends to eat that day (that wasn’t a typo). And in the third, he smiles that oh-so-charming Rock smile with a plate of brownies stacked atop one another like a miniature chocolate pyramid.

The caption under the photo reading: “After 150 days of eating clean The Rock allowed himself a ‘legendary’ cheat day. 12 pancakes, 4 double dough pizzas, and 21 brownies.”

Of course, cheat days are nothing new. Just three years earlier, Tim Ferris wrote an entire book on diet and training (among other things like how to achieve a 15-minute orgasm, which, honestly, was the only reason I bought the book)–The Four Hour Body–where he extolled the virtues of a strict, clean diet followed by one day of unbridled hedonism where you could eat whatever, and however, much you want.

And cheat days have been a staple in bodybuilding diets for decades.

Aaaaand, in case it wasn’t clear from the title of this article, cheat days are unequivocal, A-grade, organically-farmed bullshit (sorry, Rock, I still love you though).

Note that I didn’t say ‘I think they are’ because this isn’t an opinion. Cheat days are up there with a bunch of the other bullshit running wild in the industry like a toddler on Adderall with a pack of crayons.

In this article, I’m going to explain why they’re stupid and why you should stop doing them, immediately. So go ahead and throw that carefully curated shopping list of ‘cheat’ foods you intend to buy this weekend in the bin.

But before we get to why I so vehemently despise them, let’s understand what cheat days are.

What’s a cheat day?

A cheat day is one day during the week where you ‘stop’ dieting and eat and drink anything and everything with reckless abandon. Kinda like this:

Ok, why do people do it?

The logic behind this periodic hedonism goes something like this: when you diet, your metabolism slows down. This slowdown reduces fat burning so by eating more calories for a day, you ‘boost’ your metabolism which consequently increases fat burning.

On the surface this makes sense. Yes, there’s definitely some slowing down of metabolic rate the longer you diet and get leaner (no, this isn’t metabolic damage–it’s metabolic adaptation).

And yes, eating more food does increase metabolic rate.

BUT, before you run off to your local grocery store to stock up on your favourite cheat foods–when we look at the studies on overfeeding and metabolic rate and crunch the numbers, it’s not something to get excited about.

Looking at short-term overfeeding studies, the average increase in metabolic rate is somewhere between 3-10%, but this effect only lasts for 24 hours. 1 2 3

So if you consumed 4000 calories on your cheat day, you’ll have ‘boosted’ your metabolism by a WHOPPING ~120-400 calories.

A large portion of this increase is due to an increased thermic effect of food (your body burns more calories trying to digest the thousands of extra calories you consumed) and an increase in activity expenditure (with an increase in calories, people tend to move more, and you may burn a few more calories during training due to increased energy levels).

A side note: people differ in their response to overfeeding.
Those of you who are ‘high-responders’–you move more when calories are increased–will see a larger increase in metabolic rate with increased calories. And those of you who are ‘low-responders–you don’t move much even when calories are increased–will see a lower increase in metabolic rate with overfeeding.
This is why some people can overeat and not gain body fat while others can overeat and gain fat.
I’d posit the people who are the most vocal about the benefits of cheat days are the people who respond well to overfeeding. And because it ‘worked for them’, they assume it’ll work for everyone. Which, in case you didn’t know, is pretty fucking stupid.

The other argument for cheat days is they increase leptin levels

Leptin is a hormone produced in the fat cells and controls metabolic rate, appetite, libido, and a bunch of other things that I can’t be bothered to list because I only slept 3 hours last night and holy shit, no amount of coffee is helping.

So, anyway, where was I…OH, right! Leptin. As you consume fewer calories and start to get leaner, leptin levels decrease which increases hunger and slows down your metabolic rate. Conversely, as you start to consume more calories and gain body fat, leptin levels increase which suppresses appetite and increases metabolism.

Following that train of logic, having one day where you eat more than normal will increase leptin which will normalise hunger and ‘boost’ your metabolism. But the truth is, just like the increase in metabolic rate, the increase in leptin is short-lived.

As you get leaner, leptin levels will decrease regardless. Even if you ‘boost’ (goddamn I’m using that word a lot today) leptin levels for a day, once you resume eating in a calorie deficit the following day, leptin levels will return to baseline.

It’s also worth mentioning that it takes at least 1-2 weeks of eating at maintenance to reverse the downregulation of hormones that occurs with extended dieting. And while there are benefits to eating more calories for a day or two (more on this in a moment), these benefits are more psychological than physiological.

Basically, you can’t hack your biology despite what some Silicon Valley ‘bio-hacker’ claims. Also, please stop taking health and nutrition advice from said Silicon Valley tech bros. We can also throw celebrities into that list.

But let’s ignore all the physiological reasons for cheat days being stupid (like the fact one day of extreme overeating can very easily wipe out the entire deficit you created the week before, leaving you spinning your wheels and not making any progress).

My biggest qualm with cheat days is the use of the word ‘cheat’

No, I’m not being pedantic–words matter.

Firstly, when has the word ‘cheat’ ever been associated with something positive–that’s rhetorical, the answer is never.

Secondly, what exactly are you cheating on…the healthy eating habits you’re trying to cultivate so you can maintain your body composition in the long-term?

Thirdly, by classifying certain foods as ‘cheat’ foods–you inadvertently demonise them which only increases the anxiety and ‘fear’ around eating those foods. Which, for long-term adherence, is no bueno.

Lastly, and most importantly, cheat days put the focus on the wrong thing.

If Saturday is your ‘cheat day’ and it’s also the day you spend with friends and family, you become more focused on the food than enjoying the moment with people you love. You’re more concerned about eating as much as you can because you know that once tomorrow rolls around, the dietary cuffs will be slapped back on and you won’t be ‘allowed’ to eat these foods for another week, which stops you from being present.

As I explained to a client recently:

When you’re going out with friends and family be relationship-centric versus food-centric. Instead of the focus being the food, it should be the people you’re with.

Meaning: food and drink should be a part of the experience, not the experience.

For example, every Friday night my girlfriend and I go out to eat. We don’t do this because it’s our ‘cheat meal’ or ‘cheat day’, but because it’s something we’ve done since we began dating and it adds to our relationship.

We can sit down and enjoy a meal while discussing our week. The conversations and enjoying each others company is the experience. The good food is just a part of that experience. If the food was removed from the equation, we’d still have a good time.

When we take all of these things together, I think we can all agree that cheat days are not only damaging to your progress but can also mess up your relationship with food.

With that said, this doesn’t mean you can’t have days where you eat a bit more than normal–you can.

What you should do instead

In an ideal world, we’d all be able to eat in a calorie deficit for a few months, get lean, and then live happily ever after like every Disney movie. But, we live in the real world where things are seldom ideal and one day a badass purple giant with a magic gauntlet shows up and snaps 50% of the population to dust (wait, wut?).

This is the dilemma most people face: you want to lose fat and you understand you need to eat fewer calories for that to happen. On the other hand, you also want to be able to enjoy all the things that normal people enjoy as part of a healthy, balanced, life–namely, going out with friends and family and having a good time.

And this is where higher calorie/refeed days can be an effective tool

As I’ve already explained, the whole ‘boosting’ metabolism and leptin stuff is pretty much pointless in the short-term. So the entire purpose of the refeed day is to allow you 1-2 days during the week where you eat a bit more than normal so you can go out and enjoy yourself and not ruin progress.

How to approach the refeed

This is how I recommend you approach it and how I program refeeds for clients (where applicable):

• Increase calories to maintenance for one or two days of the week. To work out a rough maintenance intake, multiply your BW (in pounds) by 14 (females) or 15 (males). So, if you’re a female who weighs 160 lbs, your refeed calories will be ~2200 calories; conversely, if you’re a male who weighs 160 lbs, your refeed calories will be ~2400 calories. I’ll explain picking a refeed frequency in a bit.

• Keep protein intake as is.

• As for carbs and fats…This is where it gets a bit tricky.

Ideally, you want the majority of the increase in calories to come from carbs because a) it’s a lot harder for carbs to be directly stored as fat whereas dietary fat is directly stored as fat 4, and b) carbs seem to have more of an effect on the cortisol-related water retention that so often comes along with dieting. So by increasing calories (and carbs), you may find a drop in water retention that often ‘masks’ fat loss. This is why you often find yourself leaner (and lighter on the scale) the day after eating more calories.

For my clients, I’ll slightly increase fat intake (~10-15g) and have the rest of the increase come from carbs. This simply allows them to eat a wider variety of foods for their refeed that they may not be able to fit into their macros when dieting.

For example, a female client consuming 30-40g of fat per day would aim for 45-55g of fat during her refeed. This gives her room to fit in some of the higher fat foods she can’t during the week.

The other option is to simply focus on hitting your protein for the day and then stay within your total calories (not worrying too much about carbs and fats). Even if some of the fat is stored as body fat, this isn’t that big a deal because you’re eating at maintenance and once you go back to eating in a deficit, those few grams of fat will be burned off (remember: fat balance).

What option you decide to go for is up to you.

Refeed frequency

How often should you refeed, once per week or twice per week or something else entirely? Like with most things, there isn’t a clear-cut answer and we have to consider a few things:

• For most people, once per week is enough. For leaner clients <12% body fat men; <21% body fat women–two refeeds per week can be beneficial.

• How much fat do you have to lose? If you have a lot of fat to lose, then refeeds will only slow down your progress so it’s better to avoid them in the early stages.

• Adherence. Some people do better knowing they can eat more on the weekend and this tends to increase compliance during the week. In this case, increasing calories to maintenance on Saturday and Sunday can help increase progress and adherence to the plan.

• Do you actually care for a refeed? Some people like having a refeed day. Others prefer to just diet for as long as they can and then take a ‘diet break’ for a week or two before resuming the cut. 5 If you’re not too fussed about refeeds then you don’t have to take them. It’ll definitely speed up your progress.

And that’s about it

Cheat days are not only pointless but can also damage your progress and relationship with food. If you do want to eat more food during a diet, a better strategy is implementing weekly refeeds where you increase calories to maintenance for a day or two.

Ultimately, refeeds are just a tool you can use as you see fit. They’re definitely not necessary and won’t make or break your progress. But if you think you’ll benefit from them, then use the information in this article and implement them intelligently.

One last point before I bounce: I’m not here to bullshit you. If you abuse the refeed day and eat whatever you want and as much as you want–you’ll end up in a surplus and you’ll very likely gain some body fat (especially if you’re drinking alcohol and eating high-fat foods). While this isn’t the end of the world, it will slow down your progress.

So, uh, don’t fuck around?

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Should You Have Cheat Meals or Cheat Days?

Whether or not implementing a cheat meal diet strategy is the right choice depends on the individual. Remember that the best, most effective diet plan is one that you can stick to over time.

Incorporating cheat meals into your diet may be an effective method to support your health goals, but it shouldn’t stand alone. There are other strategies you may want to consider in conjunction with cheat meals to better support your unique personal needs long-term.

Being Mindful

One thing that can determine the success of your cheat dieting strategy is being mindful of what you’re eating — even when you’re having a cheat day.

Mindful, or intuitive, eating is paying attention to your body’s hunger cues and eating when you’re hungry but stopping when you’re full or satisfied. It also involves slowing down while eating so that you can enjoy and savor your dining experience.

Early research indicates that mindful and intuitive eating approaches may help to reduce tendencies of emotional and binge eating. They may also reduce weight gain, but further research is needed (9).

Combining these types of eating approaches with your diet may support your ability to stick to your diet plan more easily and successfully. Furthermore, it may help prevent you from going overboard during more indulgent cheat meals.

Focus on One Cheat Treat

Another strategy that may benefit your diet efforts is to focus on just one or two cheat foods, instead of trying to fit them all in at once.

For example, if you’re planning a cheat meal, instead of eating the cheeseburger, sugary cocktail and dessert, pick only one or two of these indulgent options.

By focusing your attention on just one treat, you’ll be less likely to tip the scales in an unhealthy direction by overconsuming during your cheat period.

Additionally, you can continue eating healthy and avoiding foods you know you have difficulty controlling yourself around while still bending your diet rules.

This may look like a day of not tracking calories or macronutrients or enjoying a meal out without worrying about what you choose from the menu.

These strategies may be most useful for those who have a hard time with self-control during eating scenarios.

Plan for Success

The key to success with any major lifestyle change is being prepared. If you have a solid plan in place, you’re less likely to give in to temptation because your plan is set up to support you.

With cheat days or meals, it can be difficult for some people to know when to put on the brakes. This lack of self-control could end up making your diet goals less successful in the long run.

Implementing a plan for cheat days — just as you do on regular dieting days — is a good way to stay on track. This means that even though you’re allowing yourself to consume foods you normally wouldn’t, you can still maintain control over the situation.

For example, planning when and where your cheat meals will occur is a good first step. If you know you’ve got a birthday party or other social event coming up at the end of the week, it may be wise to plan your cheat meal or day around this event.

From there, you can also plan to maintain portion control, even with more indulgent foods. For example, plan to have one or two slices of pizza instead of sitting down with the whole pie.

Another option worth exploring is framing the cheat day as a time to continue with a balanced, healthy meal approach without tracking calories and macronutrients. This gives you a mental break from tracking without increasing temptation from certain foods.

Make Your Everyday Diet Enjoyable

A contributing factor to why diets are difficult to maintain is because you don’t like the food you’re eating. Portion control and planned diet regimens can be difficult to follow on their own, and it can add fuel to the fire if you’re filling it with foods you don’t enjoy.

Just because a food is deemed healthy doesn’t mean you’re required to eat it. Not to mention, eating foods you hate isn’t a requirement for reaching your health and weight loss goals.

Incorporating foods that you enjoy even when you’re not having a cheat day can be a great tool for making your diet feel like less of a chore. It can also help you maintain more self-control during both diet and cheat days.

At the end of the day, working toward a healthier diet or lifestyle should be about making sustainable changes that meet your unique needs and tastes — there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

If you’re unable to make this work on your own, consider consulting with a dietitian or other qualified health professional, who can help you build an effective and enjoyable diet plan to reach your health goals.

Summary Incorporating other dieting strategies into cheat meals or days can help support your ability to stick to your goals. Having a plan for cheat days, incorporating mindful eating practices and including foods that you enjoy on diet days are some examples.

Cheat Meals vs. Cheat Days. Which one?

People live for cheat days. We want to give you a heads up on what’s best for your diet. Should you do cheat meals or cheat days? Let’s find out!

Gym PlanFollow Jun 20, 2016 · 3 min read

Counting the days down until ‘pizza and beers’ night, or that bar of chocolate you have been craving all week? Sounds a lot like us. Cheat meals are seen as a saviour when you’ve been dieting extra hard to help your physique match the tiring hours in the gym. Abs are made in the kitchen, right? Cheats could be just the thing to keep your willpower in check and give you something to look forward to each week. Not to mention they can re-spark the metabolism from a slow-down during a diet.

One of our trainers, Kayla Heal, about to indulge on a cheat meal.

How much is too much cheating?

Is it better to do a full day cheat, or just one cheat meal? It’s important to know the difference between a cheat MEAL and a cheat DAY. Cheat DAYS can literally undo your whole week of dieting and training. By breaking it down into a cheat MEAL, you can keep check of how you respond to the increase of calories. You want to avoid the a ‘overspill’ effect, a backup of sugar in the bloodstream, which causes you to store fat.

8 tips for a cheat meal

Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting to for. Drum-roll please! We’ve put together 8 tips on how to use cheat meals without gaining fat or impacting your training in a negative way.

  1. Only do a cheat meal if you’ve been on point your diet that week (including no extra cheats).
  2. Aim for an extra 500–1000 calories on your cheat meals.
  3. Have protein with your cheat meal. Eat the protein first!
  4. Do a cheat meal on a training day.
  5. Stay away from processed food. Make the cheat meals yourself, or go to a market to buy it, where you know someone has made the pie, hamburger or cookies, etc.
  6. Eat at the table! Don’t sit in front of the TV.
  7. After you leave the table, the cheat meal is over. Don’t order more take aways or store leftovers. You don’t want temptation left in the fridge!
  8. Avoid ‘lethargic’ foods that can leave you feeling sluggish, low on energy and overly tired. Especially if you are training post cheat meal!

Obviously the idea is not to binge on foods that will demotivate you from training all together, and fall off the wagon from your training/dieting regimen. Test and see what works best for you. If you are super lean and below 10% body fat (for men) and 17% body fat (for women), then by all means try a cheat day. But the same goes here, test and see how your body responds.

Cheat Meal vs. Cheat Day(s)

No matter how effective, every single idea, concept, or method has a lifespan. Eventually it fades or disappears completely. But if it is effective, it usually ends up coming back around at some point in the future. It just takes time. Cheat meals or “refeed” meals (or Skiploading) have recently come under fire as the lazy man’s way to diet. Apparently, there are those who believe that starving is a better way to get shredded, or at the very least some competitors prefer the feeling of torturing themselves psychologically as if this somehow helps them get into better condition.

RECENT: 5 Things Every Competitor Needs To Be Successful

I have noticed the backlash over the last couple of years when I discuss or post to social media about my Skiploading meals or those of my clients. I have seen pros who use these methods get verbally destroyed as well, by people who aren’t pros and probably shouldn’t have an opinion on all methods involving getting ripped when they, themselves, have not ever achieved a level of conditioning that would warrant such an opinion. However, this is unfortunately how the interwebs work: too many people giving opinions on things they aren’t experienced with.

Refeed meals, cheat meals, and Skiploading all became popular right around the same time, roughly during the early 2000s. This method of dieting was not acceptable at first, but quickly gained traction as more and more people who actually had credentials and experience were getting clients and themselves into insane condition using these methods.

For quite a while, these methods grew to be accepted not only as alternative options to get into great condition, but arguably to get into better condition than using the antiquated method of starvation and absurd amounts of cardio. Of course, as all things have a lifespan, these methods are now being challenged. This begs the question: which is the best method? Cheat meal? Refeed day? Refeed days? No cheat or refeed meals at all? I have done it all. A lot of prep guys who have been around for a long time have as well. Those of us who have been around a while have used just about every method out there and have come to our own conclusions. Because this is my column, I am going to speak to my opinions based on my experience as a competitor and a trainer who has prepped thousands of people for the last 20 years and thousands more who have used my methods that I have not personally consulted with one-on-one.

What is a cheat meal?

The premise behind a cheat or refeed meal is that added calories (especially carbs, but fat intake also positively impacts the metabolism) in scheduled increments during a hypocaloric phase is akin to throwing gas on an ember. A cheat meal is not implemented to give someone a break from dieting to aid them psychologically; that’s just a side effect. They are implemented to offset the metabolism and keep the “fire burning,” so to speak. These added calories impact the metabolism to the point that when you return to regular dieting, you will continue to burn more body fat than had you not offset your metabolism with the higher caloric intake.

Is one cheat meal enough?

I remember when a high profile bodybuilder who did contest prep in the 2000s would use a keto style approach to dieting. I remember this quite well, because an awful lot of his clients would contact me to see if I could set up a Skiploading protocol for them because they felt that the one cheat meal they were allowed every now and then was doing nothing to offset their metabolism. They didn’t feel that the cheat meal offered enough in the way of calories to get the desired metabolic result. The large majority of these competitors that I set up Skiploading protocols for all of the sudden started making progress on their diets again, yet couldn’t tell their prep guy what they were doing because he wouldn’t have approved.

The short answer? One cheat meal typically isn’t enough to offset the metabolism for someone who is training their ass off, doing a ton of cardio, and is severely depleted from dieting. Will they still get to the end result and be shredded? They probably will. Is it the best approach? Probably not. However, everyone is different, and while some people will respond well to only one cheat meal, my experience has shown me that more people respond better to a higher caloric intake than one meal can provide.

Is a refeed day overkill?

Most of us have heard it said, “There is a difference between refeeding for one meal and refeeding for an entire day. One will get you ripped and the other will make you fat.” Blanket statements much? Most people cannot refeed for a full day — at least without building into that long of a timeframe without getting fat. This I can agree with. However, I have seen too many times when one, two, or even three refeed meals do almost nothing visually to a physique and to the metabolism. Take those same people and have them refeed or Skipload for an entire day and their progress takes off and they are all of the sudden getting leaner and leaner every week without any other changes to their diet or cardio plans.

The short answer? An all-day refeed absolutely can work and has worked for thousands of people, from regular dieters that don’t compete to high-level amateurs and pros. When we make blanket statements like, “That will make you fat,” we aren’t taking into consideration every individual’s response to nutrition. A lot of things need to be considered, from how depleted that person is, how much muscle he or she carries (because a depleted 120-pound competitor will likely not need more calories and carbs than a 230-pound competitor), and a myriad of other variables that would be too exhaustive to mention. Obviously, if someone needs a lot of calories and carbs to fill out and positively impact their metabolism, they can’t possibly get all of those calories in one meal. Multiple meals spread out over the day can be quite beneficial.

A two or three-day refeed?

Admittedly, a two or three-day refeed is not going to be effective for most people. Even if you are severely depleted, there comes a point where you can simply take in too many calories and start to store them as body fat. This is, of course, exactly the opposite of what you want to accomplish with the refeed or cheat meals/days. Again, the objective of a refeed, cheat, or Skipload meal/day is to kickstart the metabolism and store carbs as glycogen; it is not to store body fat and then have to go back and burn off that stored fuel to get lean again. Understand, though, that I have personally benefitted from two and even three-day refeed days (and I have had clients do the same) and even at one point I had loaded for five days. That’s right — five days of refeeding and didn’t gain body fat. In fact, within four days of finishing this five-day refeed, I was back to the weight and condition I was prior to starting the refeed. No, this is not common, but it does happen. And if I believed blanket statements, I would not have even considered such a protocol.

How do you know whether to refeed for a meal, a day, or even longer?

The main question is this: how depleted are you? This question is vital, because any carbs you ingest while depleted will be stored as glycogen until you fill glycogen stores. This means, in short, that if you have the ability to store carbs as glycogen, it is almost impossible to store those carbs as body fat.

This one question has the potential to provide the exact length of time that you need to refeed. However, there is no black and white answer, at least prior to refeeding. You will certainly know after you refeed. How? If you do not respond or progress well after the refeed then you know that the refeed was either too short or too long. If your weight goes up too high and remains high several days or even a week after the refeed, you refed too long. If you finish a refeed and your weight barely moves, and your progress isn’t any better than prior to the refeed, it was likely too short. So, you figure out how much you need to refeed by tweaking the amount of carbs and meals from refeed to refeed. Basically, it’s trial and error.

To give an example: If you are very depleted and you refeed for three meals over six hours and your weight goes up a few pounds but three days later you are back to the same weight and then start to fall below that weight in the days following, you have benefitted from the refeed. If your weight stays high and doesn’t get back to the weight prior to the refeed, the refeed was too large. If you start small with refeeds by starting at one meal and then build to two and then to three, etc., you will find that sweet spot. If you simply continue to increase your refeed and it goes all day or even into the next day, what someone on the internet says about your dieting methods shouldn’t matter. After all, you are only after results, not anyone’s approval.

MORE: Cheat Day Delusions

I know what you’re thinking: I haven’t answered the question. Bitch is, I can’t. I have been doing what I do for a very long time and I fancy myself better versed on refeeds, cheat meals (and obviously Skiploading) than the large majority of prep guys out there. Everyone? No. More than most? I do, yes. And if for some reason you don’t think I have the credentials then look to other popular and successful prep guys that use similar approaches. You will be hard-pressed to find a top prep guy that doesn’t use some version of a refeed or cheat meal/day to some degree.

The answer really is this: Everyone is different and everyone has specific needs for refeeding and keeping their metabolisms off balance. For some, a cheat meal will do the trick, while for others a complete day or even more is needed. What we need to do as an industry is focus more on our own yard and not worry about how green the neighbor’s yard is. If something works for someone else, it may not work for you. Yes, it might suck that someone can get into great condition eating donuts, pie, and burgers once a week while you only get one meal every two weeks and it is something much less palatable. Get over it.

Of course, there’s always the option of going old school and just torturing yourself by over-dieting and doing a ton of cardio and never refeeding. This works for some, while the large majority of those same people could get the same results by refeeding. Still, if they need to feel they are being tortured because this is more “hardcore,” go for it. I have been around long enough to believe that working smarter is far superior to working harder. Enjoying the process is great, but what really matters, in the end, is standing on stage and enjoying the end result. How you get there matters little. Just Sayin’.

Cheat day or meal

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