Cheat Days During Weight Loss Program
The concept of ‘cheat’ meals is as old as the idea of the diet itself. Restrict someone from certain food and they automatically develop insatiable cravings for it. And restrictive diets are bound to trigger the same cravings and lead to cheat meals.
There isn’t sufficient data to show that cheat meals work, but it has been used to break through weight-loss plateaus and re-ignite weight loss. From a psychological perspective, cheat meals are believed to improve adherence to the diet.
In one study a 38-year-old sedentary subject at a height of 5’ 2” and weighing 300 pounds plateaued after losing an average of 2.38 pounds per week (117.9 pounds in 74 weeks). At this point, a cheat meal strategy was employed and she began to re-initiate progress.
What is a cheat meal?
At its most basic, a cheat meal consists of an increase in macronutrients (primarily carbs) above a recommended calorie intake. An increase in calories will naturally lead to an increase in body weight, but this increase may be transient.
The idea of cheat meals is not just to break through plateaus but also to keep the dietier motivated and committed to the program.On the other hand, there are is also a study—though this involves mice—that shows that the effect of cheating is equal to that of having a standard diet, and has a negative impact on inflammation.
During the 14 week study, the mice were fed a standard americal diet (SAD) anti-inflammatory diet (AID), or a control diet. Some of the mice on AID and control group were fed SAD diets on Saturdays and Sundays. This was in line with weekend cheats incorporated in several diets. The mice that followed the consistent SAD diet were found to take twice as long to recover mechanical sensitivity. Mice who ate the AID diet daily recovered faster than the mice on the regular (SAD) diet.
Unexpectedly, mice on the AID diet that were fed SAD food twice a week, took just as long to recover as mice that were consistently on the SAD diet. There was one positive though, the mice on the AID diet had a better gut microbiome with denser anti-inflammatory bacteria than mice on the SAD diet.
The same was also true for the mice that ate SAD diets on the weekend. So, while there may not have been any positive drop in weight, there was a definite improvement to the gut.
Does Cheating Really Work?
Mathematically speaking, weight loss is simply a matter of consuming fewer calories than you burn. However in the medium to long term, the most restrictive a diet, the harder it becomes for a participant to follow. In these instances, one might either plateau quickly or break their diet.
Having a cheat meal plan is an effective way to counter both problems. It gives the dietier a ‘safety valve’ so to speak and, as seen in the earlier study, can trigger a response that breaks the plateau.
Some experts believe that cheat meals can help by fooling your hormones into producing higher leptin levels for short periods, effectively damping the tendency to overeat.
Weight management is a complex process because everyone has a different body composition, and everyone responds to the same strategies differently. But there are a few common factors to keep in mind when picking a diet plan, for instance:
- Staying away from very restricztive diets.
- Avoiding diets high in fat.
- Ensuring you get sufficinet micronutrients in your diet as well, to counter the oxidation that occurs during various metabolic processes
- Drinking sufficient water—barring structured dry fast periods.