Does A Cheat Day Undo A Week at the Gym?

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on September 17, 2018, for accuracy and comprehensiveness. It was originally published on February 17, 2016.

It’s the classic dilemma.

To maximize weight loss, you are tracking every calorie, substituting junk food with healthier alternatives, and cooking all of your meals at home. All of your hard work is paying off. As long as you stick to your plan and don’t cheat the weight is just going to keeping coming off. You have already lost ten pounds and feel unstoppable!

That’s when life gets in the way.

Maybe it’s your birthday celebration. What would everyone think if you didn’t take a slice of your own birthday cake? Or your best friend is back in town and just wants to indulge for the entire day! Unfortunately, quinoa isn’t what your friend was craving for.

You’ve already made so much progress, so you think, “I can eat my cheat meals this weekend and splurge for a couple days and it won’t affect me that much right…”.

When Monday comes, you weigh yourself for your weekly weigh-in and you can’t believe it: you’ve gained 5 pounds.

Two months to lose 10 pounds and then one weekend to gain 5 pounds The daily morning workouts. Eating nothing but steam vegetables and skinless chicken breasts. And counting every calorie. Wasted. Facepalm*

First the bad news: no your scale isn’t lying to you, you gained 5 five pounds. But the good news is it’s definitely not 5 pounds of fat. Most likely it is nothing more than water weight.

But how do you know for sure?

Gaining Fat is “Hard Work”

Let’s get one thing straight: you can’t gain a pound of fat in a day, or even 5 pounds in one weekend. Biologically, it would be astounding if you did. You are very much aware of how difficult it is to lose fat quickly, but don’t laugh when I tell you, in theory, it is just as “difficult” to gain fat.

Fat gain or loss has a lot to do with your energy/caloric balance–how many calories you take in vs. how many calories you use during the day. If you are using more energy than you take in, your body gets some energy it needs from your fat stores. If you’re taking in more energy– eating beyond your body’s needs–then the opposite happens: you build fat stores.

A common theory in the health and fitness world is that there are around 3,500 calories stored in a pound of fat. The theory goes that if you reduce your daily caloric intake by 500 every day of the week, in 7 days you’ll lose a pound of fat. Conversely, if you overeat by 500 calories a day, you can gain a pound of fat in a week.

500 Calories x 7 Days = 3,500 calories/week or 1 lb/ week

The point is it TAKES TIME to gain or lose fat.

(Of course, it is much easier than you think to overeat 500 calories a day. A large blended coffee-flavored drink once a day will do it.)

In order to gain a pound of fat, you would need to add about 500 calories a day on top of your normal diet, every day, for about 7 days. This makes gaining any significant amount of fat from even the craziest all-out cheat days extremely unlikely. To gain 5 pounds of fat in a day, you’d have to eat about 17,500 calories on top of your daily caloric limit. Not even Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson can consume that many calories!

Water Weight

So if that 5 pounds of weight isn’t fat, then what is it? And how long is it going to stick around? The answer involves your body’s favorite energy source: a molecule called glycogen.

Glycogen is an energy source that is produced primarily from carbohydrates. Your body loves glycogen because it’s an easily accessible energy source that provides a lot of energy.

Glycogen also has an interesting attribute: it bonds really well with water. In fact, for every gram of carbohydrate in your body, there are about 3 to 4 molecules of water bonded to it. This can cause some large increases in weight, but weight due to water, not fat. Depending on what kind of diet you were on, loading up on carbs on a cheat day can increase your weight noticeably.

If you were trying to lose fat, you likely were trying to cut carbohydrates out of your diet. It’s a very popular technique, and diets structured around low carbohydrate and low caloric intake are about as basic a diet as they come. The Mayo Clinic notes that a diet targeting low carbohydrate intake constitutes about 60-130 grams of carbs a day. Some popular diets – such as the Atkins Diet – target extremely low levels of carbohydrates, as low as 18 grams a day.

If you’re consuming 60 grams of carbs a day, you’re holding onto approximately 210 grams of water. That’s about half a pound of water.

But if on a cheat day, you decide to eat and drink whatever you want and load up to 300 grams of carbohydrates (the average number of carbs eaten by men, according to the US Department of Agriculture), you would be retaining around 1kg of water or 2.2 pounds. If you were on a 60 carbs/day diet, you could be a pound and a half heavier already. If you went up to 400 grams of carbs, you could add on 2 ½ pounds of water.

However, glycogen is far from the only substance or factor that can cause your body to retain extra water. Excess sodium (salt), something commonly found in your favorite cheat meals, can also cause your body to hold onto the water on top of the water held onto by your glycogen. Once you factor in the effects of other things you ate and drank, your hormones, and your unique body composition, you can see why your weight can fluctuate so much.

Once you return back to eating a low carb, low sodium diet your body will naturally shed the extra water weight you gained.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

A cheat day every once in a while will not erase weeks and months of hard workouts and careful calorie counting. You can’t put on pounds of fat over one weekend

Changing your body composition and losing weight is a long-term process, but if you do it right, you’ll have long-term results. Quick fixes and crash diets that focus on cutting out nearly all carbohydrates for a short period don’t actually achieve lasting results, and now that you understand a little about glycogen, you also understand why.

However, this doesn’t mean you can get carried away on cheat days.

It’s so easy for your cheat day to become a cheat weekend, and your cheat weekend to suddenly become a cheat week. Before you know it, you are back to your old eating habits.

Try a cheat meal instead and make sure you plan a workout before to rev your metabolism. Your body will thank you the next day.

Bottom line: it’s OK to indulge once in a while! Eating your favorite meal can help keep you motivated. (But contrary to popular belief, cheat days don’t boost your metabolism). Any sudden weight gain is not fat. Just make sure after you’ve had your fun, you get back on your fitness journey and keep working towards your goals.

What To Do After A Cheat Meal

Hi Lovelies, I am Courtney Bentley creator of Fit and Fabulous where I help women get fit while slaying their business. I am so excited to share with you my tips for what to do after a cheat meal. We’ve all been there so this will help get you back on track after a cheat meal out with friends or while on vacation!

You cheated… you cheated on your meal plan, you fell off the bandwagon and all that hard work, time and dedication just went right out the window last night because you and your girlfriends went out to your favorite Italian restaurant and wine happened then a pizza, some pasta and OMG dessert!

Listen, it happens! We are human, we have desires, we want to enjoy our lives and after following guidelines for 4 weeks, we get sick of eating the same things so when the good stuff comes out it really makes us want to go all out!

But listen, one night of indulgences won’t completely derail you, you might feel bloated the next day but guilt should not be an emotion you experience because it was only ONE night! If you enjoyed yourself, the company that surrounded you and the delicious food, then let it go! Let me explain.

How To Prepare For A Cheat Meal:

  1. Cut the Fat: Instead of starving yourself all day for that night out, enjoy your meals as normal but cut down on the fats. When we eat out the food we eat tends to have a lot of fats from the oils and excess butters etc. I will keep my healthy fats down, my veggies high and my protein high the day of my cheat meal and do the same for the next day. If your cheat meal isn’t planned stick to protein, an array of fresh veggies and lots of water to flush out the sodium and help your body digest.
  2. Stick to One Meal: Instead of having that cheat meal and completely throwing in the towel, enjoy it and move on. One meal will NOT derail your goals at all and will probably end up keeping you on track! My rule of thumb for my hardcore girls is to enjoy one meal a week, if they are planning for a big life event I say cheat on your diet every 10-14 days or whenever said weekly goal is met.
  3. Make it the LAST meal of the Day: I find it easier to cheat on my meal plan at night instead of during the day. I have had my frozen yogurt, which is often my cheat meal, in the early part of my day and the rest of my day I crave sugar which is overwhelming! I have pushed this treat until later in the afternoon and it’s perfect because I have a healthy dinner and go to bed happy!

What To Do After A Cheat Meal:

  1. Get Your Sweat On: Workout the day of your cheat meal and the day after! Yes, wake up the next day have your breakfast and WORK OUT! Sweat out the excess sodium, use that pizza to build your booty and push hard. Not only will these help de bloat you, you will get over last nights indulgences and hop right back on the clean eating wagon! Enjoy quick, effective workouts, check out a free HIIT workout here.
  2. Drink Water with Lemon: The day of and the day after, drink 3-4 liters of water with lemon if you can. I find drinking tons of water helps my body digest the processed foods I will eat or ate the day before. Adding lemon helps your liver and kidneys which will need some aid after a heavy meal. I also feel extra hydrated and drinking that much water helps you stick to your commitment of a healthy life long term.
  3. Follow these tips for de-bloating: this post will give you even more tips and tricks to help you cut down on that bloated feeling.

Why You Should Have a Cheat Meal:

Not only does enjoying a cheat meal every so often help you lose fat, it will mentally help you stick to your plan. A proper cheat meal can refill glycogen stores to support hard training, recharge your metabolism which might have plateaued and starve off your bodies ability to eat away at your muscle. When we go on a diet to make changes, our bodies can go into starvation mode. Having a refeed can jumpstart your metabolism right up and mentally keep you on track.

So I wanna know.. what is your go to cheat meal? Do you use any of these tips to get back on track after a decadent meal out? Or maybe a week of traveling? I personally LOVE frozen yogurt for my cheat dessert! xo Courtney

Cheat Day Is Over: 3 Steps To Reset And Recommit To Your Diet

Vacations are meant for drinking, debauchery and enough food to make you feel like a beached whale.

If you go on vacation and don’t come back wondering what the hell you’ve done to your body, did you even really enjoy it?

Okay, maybe it doesn’t have to be full of drinking and outlandish eating, but for most of us, that’s simply the case.

For the health conscious, that can present a bit of a problem. Do you go all out, try to practice moderation or stay strict?

Everyone has a friend or family member who went on vacation, didn’t miss a workout and barely indulged in anything.

More power to these people; that’s some serious dedication.

As a fitness professional, I truly admire the people who approach vacations this way.

That’s just how I — or my clients — do it. I use a vacation as time to completely unwind. I enjoy delicious food in massive quantities, drink like a fish all night and wake up in the morning needing a coffee IV drip.

But, what about the post-vacation aftermath? How do you get back on track? And how do you deal with feeling like you’ve undone all your hard work?

A couple of things about vacations, weight gain and dieting:

– You’ll probably weigh more after a vacation. A very small amount of that weight gain is actually fat. Most is waterweight, thanks to the higher number of carbohydrates you’ve probably eaten, along with more sodium.

– If you’ve been working out hard and taking care of your diet, a vacation from working out and eating obsessively can be the greatest thing in the world. It can do wonders for your mental health, and can help your body recover from all the hard work you’ve been putting in.

The post-vacation solution: The diet reset.

A diet reset is perfect following a vacation, a long holiday weekend or any other time you’ve eaten and drank more than normal.

It’s a one-day solution to help you get back on track, reduce the calories you’re eating to reverse some damage and reduce the post-vacation bloat.

The diet reset has three main components:

Fast for a portion of the day.

We’re not talking about a 48-hour fast here, nothing extreme. Instead, the diet reset involves using intermittent fasting, or just an extended period of not eating.

Instead of having a normal breakfast, skip it and don’t eat until lunchtime.

Fasting has a scary connotation to it. In reality, it offers a ton of health benefits, from positive hormonal effects, a possible increase in life span and an increase in metabolism.

Fasting means no eating. Getting over the mental hurdle is the hardest part for a lot of people. You should be drinking plenty of water during your fast.

Coffee and tea are okay, too. If you’re someone who uses a lot of cream and sugar though, try and cut back on those.

Combine an increased metabolism, no food in the morning and plenty of water. What do you get? Feeling much less like a beached whale, and more like yourself again.

Eating a TON of leafy greens.

Dark, leafy green vegetables are some of the best foods on earth. They contain a ton of micronutrients that support health, are packed with fiber, super filling and barely contain any calories.

All of these are reason to incorporate them into your daily diet.

And, they’re even more important to eat during a diet reset. I like to make sure my first meal to break my fast is a gigantic salad full of leafy greens. It keeps the calories low but is filling, thanks to the bulk.

For the rest of my meals that day, I also like to keep at least 50 percent of my plate covered in leafy greens.

This ensures that my overall calorie intake stays low, the meal is filling and that I get plenty of vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Avoid refined carbs.

I may be a fitness coach and my life may revolve around helping people get healthier, but you’d be crazy to assume I don’t figure out ways to enjoy delicious foods. Those foods have no place during a diet reset, though.

I use this day to make sure I keep those foods at a bare minimum. No breads, pastas, rice or donuts. It’s not that I hate these foods or think they’re bad for me — I actually love carbs.

I just know eating fewer of them will help me drop some waterweight, get rid of the bloated feeling and my calorie intake lower.

Remember, this isn’t a weeklong thing, either. It’s a one-day process.

If 50 percent of your plate is filled with leafy greens and you’re not eating your first meal until lunchtime, you’ll find it’s hard to fit in rice or bread anyway.

What the diet reset isn’t:

It’s not a healthy idea to try and continually do a diet reset every week if you go out a ton on the weekends.

That’s not a healthy lifestyle. That’s swinging wildly from one end of the spectrum to another, and not anywhere close to practicing moderation.

The diet reset isn’t something you should depend on or practice often. You shouldn’t use it to “make up” for all the bad things you ate or drank.

A diet reset won’t undo all the damage you did on a vacation. That’s perfectly okay. Don’t even look at it as damage. It was a vacation, and you should enjoy yourself.

The diet reset is there to help you feel better and get back on track. Sometimes the most important thing is to get the ball rolling again.

Feeling like you’ve had a little bit of success with the diet reset can do wonders.

Why Exercise Isn’t The Cure For Overeating

Like many of you, I absolutely love to eat.

I am truly a gluttun at heart, and thoroughly appreciate the boundless pleasure that food can offer.

I mean, this is making me hungry right now just thinking about it.

But I digress…

So, this article is specifically intended for all the fellow gluttons out there.

Can you eat an entire large pizza if given the chance? I’m talking to you.

Do you have a real love/hate relationships with buffets? Then listen up, buddy.

If, on the other hand, you are more of a moderate person by nature – and lack that deep-seated proclivity for binge eating – then his article is NOT for you. Read one of my other awesome articles instead.

Ok, so now that we’re on the same page, I want to recount something that happened just the other week.

Basically, while I am a life-long foodie, I also care about my body and my fitness goals.

Sometimes the two things can coexist quite well – like when you’re dutifully following your diet and working out appropriately.

The High Protein Cheat Sheet

If you want to build muscle and strength, getting enough protein is key. The High Protein Cheat Sheet is a handy reference guide that shows you which foods are highest in protein, so you can easily add more protein to your diet!

Othertimes, not so much…

You see, I have been ‘cutting’ for the last few months – which in fitness parlance means losing fat while trying to retain as much muscle as possible.

This necessitates being on a diet that has you at a caloric deficit, since it is impossible to cheat the law of thermodynamics.

That is, if you take in more calories then you’re burning, you will gain weight. Yes, there are more nuances to it than that – but that is basically the inescapable truth.

And this is all well and good when you follow your diet, eating an appropriate quantity of food and calories.

But what about when you fall off the wagon and have a massive, glutinous binge?

Well, what might seem like a good idea is to simply increase the amount of exercise you do to burn it off.

And in theory this makes sense, but it doesn’t really play out like that.

Let me tell you why.

The Day I Ate 6000 Calories On My Cutting Diet

Who could resist a buffet on July 4th?

Like I mentioned before, I have been on a cutting diet – which means I’ve been eating about 2300 calories per day.

I use calorie cycling techniques to have more of these calories on the weekend than weekdays, which leaves me with a shade under 2000 calories per day during the week.

This strategy works for me most of the time, but it sure as hell didn’t last friday.

Last friday was, of course, the 4th of July.

And a 2000 calorie limit didn’t really play well with one of America’s most cherished eating days.

So did I follow my diet that day and eat carefully?

No way.

I ate practically everything in sight.

Burgers, hotdogs, pie, chicken wings, ice cream, more pie, more burgers.

Then I rested for a bit and got back in the ring for another round.

And while it was all highly enjoyable at the time, when I was going to sleep later that night the inevitable post-binging remorse set in.

You know, that feeling that only hits you when you can no longer taste the delicious food and are only left with that feeling of being uncomfortably full?

Well, when I was lying in bed that night, my stomach trying its best to deal with the onslaught of food, it dawned on me that I probably consumed about 6000 calories.

Yes, 6000 calories.

That is 3 times what my diet allowed me to have!

So I started running through options in my head…

My first thought was simply to eat proportionally less over the next few days, so that the average number of calories would fall into an acceptable range.

But I really, really didn’t want to do that.

So my mind wandered on and eventually came across a crazier alternative.

Why didn’t I just burn all of those calories off?

That would allow me to have (or, rather, have had) my cake and eat it too.

So, pleased with this insane conclusion, I drifted off to sleep – resolute that I would wake up the next morning and burn the entire binge off.

The Marathon That Never Was

The morning came too soon…

After waking up and having some coffee, I doggedly laced up my shoes. I was doing this.

As I walked to the gym, conflicting thoughts kept trying to worm their way into my mind.

Chris, what the hell are you doing? You aren’t actually going to try and burn off 4000 calories this morning, are you?

Shut up brain; I’m operating on pure will now. Don’t pester me with your common sense.

I arrived at the gym, and selected my weapon of choice: The elliptical machine.

This is one of my favorite peices of cardio equipment anyway – I find that it allows you to burn a good number of calories while being lower impact on your joints than running on a treadmill.

I turned on the machine, and started the beginning of my morning marathon.

Yes, it would almost be an actual marathon if I were successful – and I am not a marathon runner!

During the first couple minutes I calculated that in order to burn off those 4000 additional calories, it would require at least 4 hours on this thing.

And probably quite a bit more.

Ummm, OK…

Chris, this really is pretty dumb. There is no way you’re gonna do this, especially with a stomach that is working on overdrive to make sense of yesterday’s madness.

Damn it brain, I told you to shut up. I’m doing this; leave your uncomfortable logic at the door.

And so it began – and for awhile, it was all going fairly well.

30 minutes in, and I felt like I could go all day.

I’ve got this.

But after about an hour of ellipticaling away, most of that blind, misguided optimism had given way to a more realistic sense of dread.

I was only an hour in, had burned less than 1000 calories, and was already feeling like I wanted to get off the unpleasant ride and go back to bed.

It only took me one more everlasting hour after that to concede defeat.

I had burned less than 2000 calories, felt terrible, my legs hurt, and my stomach was wondering why I would choose to abuse it after giving it so much love the day before.

Lessons Learned

As I limped home, the truth of an old gym adage started to resonate with me in a new way…

“You can’t out-exercise a bad diet”

Of course, I knew this to be true – and had espoused this to clients of mine in the past – but the foolishness of the morning had provided an extreme example of this.

You see, it is far, far easier to consume calories than it is to burn them.

When you overeat, you can pack down 1000s of calories without breaking a sweat.

Unfortunately, the same is not true of burning them off…

It’ll take both sweat AND time to do that – and there is a limit to how much your body will allow you to do before suffering negative consequences.

And suffer them I did: I felt terrible all day on Saturday and my workouts suffered for much of the week that followed.

Does this mean that cardiovascular exercise can’t contribute to a sensible caloric deficit, and help you lose weight?

Of course not; it is a great way to burn off additional calories, and has numerous health benefits.

But it is not a viable way to erase a binge – let alone a bad diet.

It is a losing battle every time: tedious, exhausting, time-consuming – and will undoubtedly make you feel like shit and cause your regular workouts to suffer.

What Should I Have Done?

Now for some actionable advice.

So let’s say that you are on a diet, trying to lose weight – but then one day you go off the wagon and binge, what now?

Well, first of all, you shouldn’t do what I did.

Exercise is not a solution for your blunder. Assuming you overate by a large amount, no reasonable level of exercise is going to make a significant enough dent in your net calories.

Sure, if you just overate by a little, you can do some moderate cardio later and burn off a decent amount of the damage.

But we’re not talking about a few hundred calories over; we’re talking about 1000+ calories over what your diet allows.

What then?

Well, you really only have 2 viable options here:

1) Adjust the amount you eat for the next few days

If you’ve overeaten by a decent amount, but not by such a degree that it would make Chris Christie blush, then this is probably the best thing to do.

Let’s say that you are normally eating 2200 calories a day as part of your diet – and then one day, you plow through an entire Ben and Jerry’s container for 1200 calories.

No problem.

Simply eat 2000 calories each day for the next 6 days, instead of 2200 calories, and you will have made up the difference.

That is only 200 calories each day less than what you normally eat, which is certainly manageable without inviting negative side-effects.

You see, by thinking of your total caloric intake in weekly terms, it allows you to absorb such incidents and average them out over several days.

In my experience, this is the best way to make up for moderate binges without them setting back your progress.

2) Just roll with it

The other option is to let the past be the past, and just move forward.

And, really, when you’re faced with the kind of situation that I found myself in on Saturday morning, this is the smartest thing to do.

You aren’t going to make up 4000 calories using the averaging strategy mentioned above.

For 6 straight days, I would be eating close to 700 calories less than usual.

I would feel terrible, deprived – and it likely wouldn’t be sustainable.

Why not average over a longer period of time?

Well, that really isn’t sustainable either. You can’t feasibly be paying back calorie debts from last month.

So, at this point, the best thing is to just say “screw it, I overate, I binged. It was fun. It is also over, and I am just going to have a good eating week going forward”.

And then be good and stick to your diet, like you promised yourself you would be.

Yes, you might have gained a little weight that week, or lost a little bit less fat, but so what?

So you’ll be slightly behind your weight loss goals – not the end of the world!

The most important thing here is consistency.

If you are keeping to your diet the majority of time, the rare glutinous binge won’t hurt you.

So next time you go way over, give yourself a break (as I should have), and don’t try to use exercise to restore your caloric balance.

It’s just not worth it.

Have you ever tried to use exercise as an antidote for overeating? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!

The best way to undo overeating is to get back on track with a workout that makes you S-W-E-A-T. (You’ll feel way better afterward, trust.) The morning after eating a massive meal, don’t beat yourself up. Just perform this circuit, designed by Kailee Combs, certified fitness instructor from Refine Method, a high-intensity training studio in New York City. You’ll raise your heart rate while giving your metabolism a much-needed boost.

Mason Leverington / Lauren Ahn

Do as many reps of each exercise as you can in 60 seconds, rest for up to 15 seconds, then start the next move. Repeat the entire circuit up to three times for a full-body workout in less than 20 minutes.

1. Side Step-Up With Knee Raise

Mason Leverington

How to do it: Stand with a sturdy chair to your right. Step up with your right foot and extend the leg to come up to standing as you drive your left knee up to hip-height. Complete for up to 30 seconds, then switch sides. Hold hand weights (or heavy books — whatever you’ve got in your house) to increase the intensity.

What it does: This move makes your butt and thighs burn.

2. Lunge Touchdowns With Jump

Mason Leverington

How to do them: Stand with both feet together and take a large step forward with the left foot, bending the right knee into a forward lunge. Tap the floor with your right fingertips, then press into your left heel to hop straight up off the ground, driving the right knee up. Land on the left foot and lower back down to starting position. Continue for 30 seconds, then switch leading legs.

What it does: Activates the largest muscles in your body — the butt and thighs — to help you burn calories efficiently.

3. Lateral Hops With Knee Raise

Mason Leverington

How to do it: Stand with your feet together and knees bent. Raise your right knee to hip-height and take a large hop to your right, landing on the right foot with the left knee raised to hip-height. Continue to alternate sides.

What it does: Jumping amps up the intensity to increase your calorie burn.

4. Plank Jack Jump Backs

Mason Leverington

How to do it: Stand with your feet about hips-width apart and bend your knees to place both palms on the ground, framing the feet. Jump both feet back into a plank position with your feet together. Without piking your hips, jump your feet apart, then back together. Next, jump them forward to frame the feet and stand up. That’s one rep.

What it does: Planks challenge your core, while jumps work your legs. Transitioning to and from an upright position raises your heart rate.

5. Push-Up to Side Plank

Mason Leverington

How to do it: Get into plank position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your body in a straight line between the top of your head and your heels. Lower down into a push-up. (Drop to your knees if you need to, or skip the push-up altogether if you’d prefer.) Shift your weight into your left hand and point your toes to the right as you roll onto the sides of your feet, raise your right arm, and extend the arm straight up toward the ceiling into a side plank. Without dropping your hips, return to starting position, complete another push-up, and roll to the opposite side to complete another side plank. Continue to alternate sides.

What it does: Strengthens your chest, triceps, and core for a leaner silhouette.

Still too stuffed to move? Try these yoga moves to boost digestion after overeating.

Follow Elizabeth on Twitter and Instagram.

Elizabeth Narins Senior fitness and health editor Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn, NY-based writer and a former senior editor at Cosmopolitan.com, where she wrote about fitness, health, and more.

Now and then I do it: eating for pleasure and not out of necessity. In order to maintain my healthy lifestyle I schedule certain days where I’m allowed to eat whatever my heart, and belly, desires. It’s called a typically cheat day (or two!), but what happens after? How to bounce back after a binge?

So let me tell you why I prefer to add cheat meals into my diet. First of all it gives me a psychological break from the stressful feeling associated with following a strict food schedule. Secondly, a cheat meal results in a kind of “guilty feeling” that gives me a boost of motivation to stick to my eating plan afterwards.

Doesn’t sound so bad right? No, but I still feel a little “bad” after a well deserved cheat meal. I always tell myself that if I can’t lose 1kg weight in one day, I can’t gain 1kg weight in one cheat day. Though it’s the truth, I still feel knocked down! Therefore I wanted to find out how you can get back into your normal plan and regain control after cheating. The following tips will help you to deal with the day after a cheat day: easy and effective!

1. Hello protein and veggies!
The day after your cheat day you should choose a high protein and veggie day. Cheat meals count tons of (bad) calories, so combine it with a low-calorie day after and it will help you to balance your calorie intake. Click here to get inspired for delicious low-calorie recipes.

2. Bumping up a calorie burn – but don’t over-do-it!
This one has to be understood properly. It’s ok to bump up a calorie burn with a workout the day after a cheat day. However, most people get the urge to do an intense long cardio session to feel like you’ve balanced out the bad eating. Wrong! Endurance cardio sessions in combination with an improper diet will stress your body maximum. Stress overload causes cortisol and cortisol is a stress hormone that has a relation to fat storage. Bad news! So don’t go crazy and just do an extra 20 min of cardio or add a couple of extra sets to your weight-training routine.

3. Drink water – lots of water!
Cheat meals consist of bad foods and bad foods have lots of salt or sugar – or both! The best way to bounce back after a cheat meal is to flush the salt, sugar and other toxins out of your system by drinking water. Try to drink at at least 2L the day after your cheat day.

4. Move on! Hold on!
This one might sound logical, however in practice it can be hard to put a cheat day behind you. Personally, I’m still (secretly!) thinking about it 2 days after.. It’s a sin, because there’s nothing you can do about it except moving forward and turning your cheat into motivation. A cheat meal won’t hurt us as long as we have a plan to regain control. Include my 4 tips into your plan and you’re always back on track the day after a cheat meal!

How do you feel after a cheat meal? Can anybody relate to my story? I would love to hear from you girls and tips and tricks are always welcome 🙂 Thank you!

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Are Cheat Meals Okay?

God damn…I’m never going to cheat again! Have you been in this situation? You binge and then you gain a ton of weight and then you condemn yourself and the world. Read this article about how to cheat day without getting fat.

Of course, you want to be eating healthy and stay lean no matter what time of the year it is. But what you do consistently matters more and as long as you’re staying on point 95% of the time you’ll be fine.

So, in this video, I’m going to explain to you how to not get fat from cheat meals. How to protect yourself from that post-binge bloat and not lose all your progress. I’ll be covering what to do before the meal, what to eat before the meal, what to do during the meal and what to do afterward as well.

Your Mindset Going In

First of all, you have to have the right mindset when going into this. Like I said, cheat meals are okay if you keep them moderate and as long as you’re controlling them.

There’s a huge difference between overeating unconsciously like getting triggered by binging or something like that VS doing it deliberately and in a controlled manner. You want to be aware and able to self-reflect on what you’re doing at real time during the entire process.

It has to be a conscious decision that I’m going to have this small cheat meal because I choose to and I’m able to maintain my self-control. As soon as you feel like you’re about to lose it, you have to stop, take a step back, regain your present state of awareness and then act what’s best in that situation.

That’s why I recommend you to have a cheat meal, not a cheat day because it’s much more effective in the long term to have something that satiates you rather than fall off the rails completely and eat Cheetos all day. I mean, you’ll actually start to feel sick and tired of that junk if you have it more than once.

So, cheat meals are far more superior for body composition, health, and mindset than cheat days.

What to Do Before Cheat Meals

Before having a cheat meal, it’s important to create the appropriate environment within your body prior to the cheat meal so that the food you do eat would be used as effectively as possible.

If you do it strategically, then eating more calories can actually boost your metabolism, promote fat burning and muscle growth.

How to Cheat Days Without Gaining Fat

However, you need the right metabolic context for it. Because, if you’re eating a lot of carbs or desserts when your body isn’t capable of handling them, then you’re practically self-inducing insulin resistance. Just…it would be better to take cyanide and be done with it…you know what I mean?

If you’re planning on having a cheat meal, then be willing to put in the extra effort before that to reduce the damage and to actually earn it. Here’s what you should do to negate the negative side-effects of cheat meals.

#1 Deplete Your Glycogen Stores

Glycogen is your body’s stored glucose, which gets deposited only to a certain amount.

  • The liver can store only 100-150 grams of glycogen
  • Your muscle cells can store about 300-500 grams, depending on how much muscle mass you have

In a state of glycogen depletion, your body becomes incredibly sensitive to carbohydrates. When your muscle cells are empty, then insulin will be able to shuttle that glucose into the cells more easily. If your glycogen stores are already full, then the carbs you eat are more likely to be stored as fat.

Ergo, before having a cheat meal, you want to deplete your glycogen stores and make yourself more insulin sensitive.

Liver Glycogen Depletion

To deplete your liver glycogen, you need to fast for only as little as 16-24 hours. Walking on an empty stomach or doing fasted cardio will speed up this process and increases your daily caloric demands as well.

So, what I recommend you do is have your cheat meal at dinner but spend the majority of the day doing intermittent fasting. You skip breakfast, walk around, only eat very little food during the day that is low carb and with some protein and you’ll have a lot more free calories to play around with in the evening.

Getting fat because of eating at night only happens if you eat several times during the day already. Don’t snack or have high-calorie foods either because it’s mostly a way of unconscious eating.

Muscle Glycogen Depletion

To deplete your muscle glycogen, you need to be doing some glycolytic exercise. Low-intensity activities, like cardio or walking, burn mostly fat for fuel. At higher intensities, where you’re recruiting more fast twitch muscle fibers, you need glycogen.

Therefore, you want to be doing either resistance training or high-intensity interval training, preferably both.

The most efficient way of depleting muscle glycogen is to have a full-body workout because muscle glycogen is spread across your entire body. And doing compound movements that involve multiple joints and muscle groups will burn more calories and make more of your cells insulin sensitive.

To emphasize the release of glycogen, you want to be doing slightly higher rep ranges that focus more on sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Somewhere around 3-5 sets of 15-25 reps are perfect for squeezing out the glycogen and activating the GLUT4 receptors that will help to shuttle glucose into the cell more efficiently.

Squeeze That GLUT4 on Cheat Days

It’s also a good idea to do some high-intensity cardio instead of steady state cardio. Not only will it help to deplete your glycogen, but it will also boost fat burning after the fact. Stuff like HIIT or Tabata have a much greater excess post-exercise oxygen consumption rate (EPOC or the afterburn effect).

#2 Underhydration

The second thing you want to pay attention to is your hydration and sodium consumption.

Have you ever heard people saying that they gained a ton of weight after eating some junk and they’ll never cheat again? Well, what really happened was that their body held onto some extra water which made them bloat up like a balloon.

Insulin plays a huge role in sodium metabolism. Your kidneys are the ones that regulate your body’s sodium excretion. When you reduce your insulin levels whether by doing intermittent fasting or eating low carb, you’re losing a lot of water weight and sodium. Once you reintroduce insulin, you’ll be causing an antidiuretic effect, making you hold onto those fluids more easily.

So, to prevent that excess bloat, you want to be consuming less water and sodium with your cheat meals. This is going to allow the glucose to be used as glycogen instead of getting that excess puffiness.

It’s also important to not lie to yourself the day afterward i.e. Oh, it’s just water weight. No…you just overate and now you’re fat, but what you can do to minimize it is to avoid consuming a ton of processed foods that have added sodium in it like pastries, chips, tomato sauces, burgers and fries.

#3 Cold Thermogenesis and Heat

Another thing you can do to increase your daily calorie burn and stimulate fat burning is to do some cold thermogenesis.

When you’re shivering or when you’re sweating, then your body is forced to burn calories to maintain a stable core temperature.

Taking a cold shower burns almost no calories, but an ice bath or walking outside with the cold will most definitely ramp up your brown fat production. Cold exposure burns a ton of calories and even just a few minutes will also raise dopamine and elevate your mood. I mean, you’re shivering and scared but at the same time you feel your body coming to alive and you’re completely aware in the present moment – just crystal clear.

You can also do is combine cold thermogenesis with heat exposure. Hot temperatures will also increase mitochondrial density and burn some fat through sweating. Just sitting in a sauna at 100 degrees Celsius itself is a cardio workout because your heart will be racing.

What I recommend you do is 10-15 minutes of sitting in the sauna, followed by 5 minutes of an ice bath or going outside or having a cold shower. It’s going to stimulate the lymph system and improve your overall health.

What to Eat First

When it’s time to eat, you don’t want to immediately start gorging yourself with the cheat meal. Having high amounts of carbohydrates right away can also have a negative effect.

Apple cider vinegar is great for stabilizing blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity, which is why I recommend you to drink it before all of your meals. Adding some lemons or other citrus will also stimulate some digestive enzymes in the gut.

Your first bites should be something easily digestible and well absorbed that are going to keep you in a fat burning state.

What NOT TO EAT

THE MOST CRITICAL THING to remember when having cheat meals is to not combine fats and carbs together. It’s because when glucose and fat get attached to each other, then they’re both going to circulate the bloodstream for longer, which is going to keep insulin elevated as well and it’s going to promote more oxidative stress on your body.

Eating fat with elevated levels of insulin will also make it easier for your body to store that fat as fat. Insulin is a storage hormone that tells your body has an abundance of energy. Fat is a storage molecule and if your body perceives that there’s already enough energy around, then that fat will be directly stored as fat.

So, don’t eat processed foods that have high amounts of carbs, high amounts of fat and high amounts of sodium because they’re going to bloat you up like hell. Or if you do want to eat them, then don’t eat them as your first meal.

Another thing to limit is alcohol. You can have a little bit but be aware Alcohol stops fat oxidation as well. It means – any food you eat with alcohol is going to promote that food being stored as fat. Strong spirits have fewer calories but drinking beer is the equivalent of eating doughnuts. Just putting it out there.

What About Fruit

If you’re planning on eating fruit, then this is the best time to do it. Fruit consists of fructose, which can only be metabolized by the liver.

Excess fructose can actually cause liver toxicity and fatty liver disease because after your liver glycogen stores get full, all of the fructose you can’t store right away will be converted into fat.

So, the only time you’d ever want to eat fruit is in a fasted state, on an empty stomach, when your liver glycogen is empty. Having fruit for dessert is a bad idea because it’s more likely to be stored as fat.

What to Do During Cheat Meals to Not Get Fat

The food you eat should still be relatively easy to digest to minimize inflammation and bloating the next day. Eating something high glycemic that has carbs and is low fat will release insulin but it’s going to be used to replenish muscle glycogen and it won’t make you insulin resistant.

Having a banana, some potatoes or rice cakes are great as your first meal because they’ll create a more stable insulin response than Snicker’s bars.

Other things you can use

  • Cinnamon stabilizes blood sugar and has prebiotic properties. It’s great for protecting against inflammation and bloating as well.
  • Caffeine before eating boosts fat oxidation and caffeine after food also speeds up the metabolism. So, having coffee or green tea around those times is a great way to burn some more fat. And both of them have blood sugar regulating effects as well.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar we talked about already. Having it after your food or before bed will also lower insulin and blood sugar.
  • Grapefruit juice has been found to have incredible benefits on blood sugar and weight loss. So, it’s a good idea to drink some grapefruit with your first carb meals.
  • Walking and moving around during your cheat meals will lower your blood sugar and keep you mentally in check. You shouldn’t go throughout your entire cheat meal in one sitting. Instead, have frequent breaks for movement and to detach yourself from eating mentally as well. Walking for 10-15 minutes after eating will also help to lower your blood sugar and get you into the fat burning zone as soon as possible.
  • Isometric holds or very light yoga can also activate GLUT4 translocators, which improve glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Even as little as 60-90 seconds is enough to trigger a mild response. So, holding some planks or static positions before you eat is a great way to make your muscles ready to absorb carbohydrates.

What to Do After the Cheat Meal

After you’ve finished your cheat meal, you want to go for an easy walk. Not only to burn some fat but to simply re-establish normal blood sugar levels. I recommend you to walk for at least 5-15 minutes after any food you eat because your insulin and blood sugar levels are one of the most important things for overall health and longevity.

The next day you want to be doing some intermittent fasting again because your body is topped off with extra energy – you don’t need to be eating food and you’ll be most likely causing some extra weight gain.

Instead, fast for at least 16-20 hours the next day, do some light intensity cardio on a fasted state again and maybe have a heavier resistance training workout. It’s a good idea to have your most intense lifting days the day after your cheat meal because you’ll have more energy to push yourself. And if you burn off those calories, then you’ll get back to baseline faster.

Cheat Meals on Keto

I myself am doing a ketogenic diet and in my case, I would want to deplete my liver glycogen stores again to get into ketosis as soon as possible.

If you have a carb refeed, then I don’t recommend you to fast any longer than 24 hours after having a cheat meal because you’re out of ketosis and fasting any longer than that causes more muscle loss than if you were to be on strict keto.

Instead, you want to exercise in a fasted state but you eat only one meal a day. This will deplete your liver glycogen but it’s not going to cause gluconeogenesis because you’ll be still getting some energy from the ketogenic foods you eat.

Then the day afterward you’ll be more ketogenic then you were after the cheat meal and this makes you more resilient against longer periods of fasting as well.

Get Back On Track

It’s critical to get back on the right track again and to not ruminate over your mistakes. Instead, start following the best practices and focus on your goals because cheat meals are just that…occasional splurges or rewards that can help your progress but they’re never the norm.

If you want to learn how to lose those extra pounds easily, how to return to the path, how to become a fat burning beast, then check out my KETO FIT PROGRAM.

It includes a 5-week workout routine, 30-day meal plan, 50+ recipes for both keto days and cheat days, and many more bonuses.

Stay Empowered

Siim

The Infamous Cheat Meal

The Infamous Cheat Meal

So you’ve started a new workout program and diet, everything is going great and you’re feeling fan-freaking-tastic that you’ve been good alllll week long… until your friends ask you to go out to get dinner and drinks with them on a Saturday night… UH OH! What now? I can’t cheat, can I? Can I bring my own prepared food into the restaurant? Can I get plain chicken breast and use my food scale?! Can I still be a fun person at the bar without getting drinks?! (I realized I’m way less fun when attempting to do this)

I know how you feel, I’ve been there many times before. The LAST thing I want to do is “ruin” my diet with a horrible meal out at a restaurant. But, like everything else in this world, its just not that simple. There are right and wrong ways to do a cheat meal, and plenty of points to cover on the topic.

  1. Will a cheat meal ruin my progress?
  2. How often should I enjoy a cheat meal?
  3. How to plan ahead if you know you’ll be going out to eat.
  4. Is drinking once and a while okay?
  5. Should I feel bad about my cheat meal?
  6. What are some benefits of a cheat meal?
  7. The final word.

1. Will a cheat meal ruin my progress?

Lets start out plain and simple, a cheat meal will NOT ruin your progress, assuming all else is right with your diet and workout plan. I would advise against devouring 2 large pizza’s by yourself, but theres no reason why your cheat meal would ruin progress if you do it right. The goal of your cheat meal should not be to ingest as many calories as possible, but to enjoy a delectable food that you can’t eat every day. If you keep the calories within reason, and ensure your cheat meal still has a good combination of carbs protein and fats, then you’ll be a-ok!

2. How often should I enjoy a cheat meal?

A cheat meal is something you should look forward to, a maximum of twice per week but preferably once per week. One thing to make sure of, is that your cheat meal does not turn into a “cheat day,” where the entire day is spent eating whatever you want because you figure you’ve already ruined your day because of the one cheat meal. An entire cheat day can be, and will be, highly detrimental to your progress… especially if your main goal is weight loss or gaining muscle tone. I personally like to save mine sometime for the weekend, Saturday night for example. Throughout the week I rarely, if ever, go out to eat so its much easier to stick to my diet and workout routine. Then when Saturday comes along, and I’ve already gone to the gym 5-6 times and I know that Sunday is my rest day, I do not feel guilty about indulging in some restaurant food and/or a couple drinks.

3. How to plan ahead if you know you’ll be going out to eat.

There have literally been times in the past where I didn’t go out to eat with my friends because I was so gung-ho about my diet that I didn’t want to go over my daily calorie goal. Looking back now, that was foolish of me. If you know you’re going to go out to eat just plan ahead! Know that you’ll have a meal thats roughly 600-1000 calories (depending on what you get of course.) So on the day you’ll be going out, make sure you eat a little less throughout the day, specifically carbs (usually when dining out most meals are much higher on carbs than they are with protein). Also, look for healthy options when dining out if possible. Avoid high carb pasta dishes, dishes soaked in sauces and butters, and instead opt for a nice steak or chicken dish, add in a side of veggies and some rice and you’ve got a very healthy meal!

4. Is drinking once and a while okay?

Plain and simple, drinking alcohol is not the best idea when exercising, unless you’re capable of only having 1 or 2 drinks then stopping. In reality, thats just not the case for most people. As if the calories from the alcoholic beverage wasn’t enough, most times people are drinking they also crave bad late night foods when drunk, and greasy fast food the next day when they are hung-over. So from one night of drinking you can easily be adding over 1500 unwanted calories to your diet, which is very BAD especially if you’re trying to lose fat and tone! You know the saying, “everything in moderation?” ..that applies to alcohol as well. While its not going to be beneficial, it won’t hurt your progress if you can drink in moderation (1-2 drinks), and only drink once or twice per week maximum.

5. Should I feel bad about my cheat meal?

You should look forward to your cheat meal almost as much as your birthday each year. Kidding, but you get the idea. Use the cheat meal to congratulate yourself on a great week of following your diet and exercise routine! Savor it and enjoy it! If you allow yourself to feel guilty you are missing the point of the cheat meal!

6. What are some benefits of a cheat meal?

Believe it or not, the cheat meal has many benefits! If you have been dieting for a while and are eating in a calorie deficit its likely that you’ve started to notice you have less energy than you used to, either in the gym or in everyday life. This is because you have low glycogen stores in your body. The excess calories and primarily excess carbohydrates will not only refill these glycogen stores, but also “supercharge” you for a day or two. Have you ever gone to the gym a day after ingesting very large amounts of carbohydrates and felt absolutely unstoppable and very strong? Well now you know why! Cheat meals can also provide psychological relief, it can help to relieve stress and make you look forward to the next week keeping on track. Last but not least, the option of a cheat meal can ensure that you maintain some semblance of a social life! Who wants to be the guy/girl who never goes out and has fun with their friends just because they’re on a diet? Certainly not me 🙂

7. The final word

What it all comes down to is that a cheat meal can very well be beneficial, for the right person in the right situation. If you’re a bodybuilder who has a show in a week, you’re clearly not going to be having cheat meals. However, for the average person trying to maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine, a cheat meal once per week can help overall and in no way should be looked upon as a bad thing! Again, moderation will always be key when it comes to cheat meals and drinking, so don’t expect it to be a free pass to eat and drink whatever you want for as long as you want!

Until next time, keep it healthy…

Brian Lepine CPT

Workout after binge eating

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