If you have been exercising and eating healthy for a long enough period of time you know the deal with “cheat days”. Usually, you eat good and clean during the week than on Saturday or Sunday you go into binge eating madness. Pizza, wings, burgers, beer, pancakes, and ice cream! All the rules go out the window on cheat day! Then, at the end of the day you look at yourself in the mirror with self-loathing and disgust. You destroyed all the progress you made during the week in a few hours.
I know…I know… I know… Believe me I have been there. A weekly trip to the buffet was not uncommon in my early 20s. I put the theory of the all-you-can-eat buffet to the test. If I did not go to the buffet, you could be damn sure I ate pizza…and by pizza I mean the whole pizza. I live in NJ which in my honest opinion has the best pizza in the world. You never have to drive far to find good pizza in this state.
Isn’t this a health and fitness website? What is with the food porn? Anyway, back to the point of this article.
Do I have to eat clean all the time to make progress? Luckily the answer to that is “No”. There is a time and a place for everything. You see “cheating” on your diet or what normal people call eating what they want can be a useful strategy in the long run. If you are reading this I hope you aim to have a healthy, fit, and happy life for the long haul.
WHY CHEATING CAN BE HELPFUL
Cheating can actually keep you on track for your dieting goals. Why? Because it can keep you sane. Grilled chicken and broccoli can get kind of boring if you eat it all the time. Eating a slice of pizza once in a while isn’t going to send you from six-pack abs to a keg. Brining your lunch to work is normal. But, bringing your food in tupperware to a restaurant or family barbecue is sort of frowned upon.
If you normally go the low-carb route having some pasta in your favorite Italian restaurant might not be a bad idea once in a blue moon. Why? Because, when you eat low-carb all the time your muscles tend to get flat. Bodybuilders are known for dieting down hardcore for 12 to 16 week prior to a competition. Then, the night before the competition they eat pizza or peanut butter and jelly or something totally different from their cutting diet. They do this to get the muscle fullness back just in time for the competition.
WHY CHEATING CAN BE HARMFUL
In my opinion scheduled cheat days are like giving a sober alcoholic just one drink. All it takes is to give them just a taste and the next thing you know they are dancing naked on the bar. A few hours later they are passed out on the floor.
If you follow the mantra of I will eat good all week, but I am going to eat crazy on the weekend you could very well end up fatter than you were in the first place. It is one thing to go a month or two of eating clean and then have a “cheat day”. Except, that is rarely the case.
THE LEANER THEY ARE THE MORE THEY CAN DO WHAT THEY WANT
You have to evaluate yourself and your goals before devouring 2,000 dirty calories. If you are a male with over 20% body fat you shouldn’t even be thinking about a cheat day. If you are a female with over 30% body fat you have no business slamming down ding-dongs and ho-hos. Unless of course you want to stay fat. Understand this one simple rule: The leaner you are the more you can get away with. You know that really shredded guy at the gym with abs coming through his shirt? He can eat a cheeseburger and fries on the weekend and not have to worry about getting fatter. Why? Because he has been busting his ass for years killing it in the gym and eating clean. The person who just started a diet for the 15th time in their life shouldn’t resort back to bad habits.
HOW AND WHEN TO CHEAT WITHOUT SABOTAGING YOUR PROGRESS
I manage to eat ice cream, pizza, and cheeseburgers at least once a week. Every December and January I consume more homemade chocolate chip cookies than the Cookie Monster.
My wife will catch me in the corner like a squirrel hiding with a nut. She has to make more batches, because I don’t share lol.
The point is you have to learn when and how it is okay to cheat on your diet. I have drifted away from the pre-diabetic coma of a “cheat day” and I only eat my guilty pleasure foods when the opportunity presents itself. Think cheat meal and not cheat day. If it is Tuesday and we are getting pizza…guess what I am eating pizza. But……..I am going to make up for those excess calories and carbs the next day. I am not necessarily going to do more exercise, but I will eat more veggies and cut the carbs. You see the amount of calories you consume in one day is not going to make or break you. You can always adjust throughout the week. However, you can’t keep cheating on your diet or you might just get caught. No, not like a cheating husband or wife, but someone who gets caught up in their food addiction and resorts back to old habits.
A FEW CLOSING THOUGHTS ON CHEATING
- Don’t make it a habit.
- Jedi Mind Trick: Tell yourself you are going to eat (insert your favorite food here) and don’t actually do it. Put it off as long as you can. I have told myself for weeks I was going to eat ice cream and I held out. Then, when I finally did eat ice cream it was glorious! You know why? Because, I used it as a reward instead of a habit. There was a time when I ate ice cream daily, but I was also super active and much younger with a higher metabolism. Now, moderation is more important.
- Don’t cheat at lunch during the work week. If you go out to lunch every day you will end up poorer and fatter. I can guarantee that. Save your guilty pleasures for after work hours. There might be a good chance you don’t give in to the cravings.
- If you know you are going out to dinner tonight or a social event with food, cut your calories during the day time. This will give you more wiggle room later on.
- Try to limit yourself. One slice of pizza might be all you need. Not eight!
- Plan B: Walk it off. Walking is simply the easiest and least stressful form of exercise. If you had a bad day or week go for a few extra walking sessions. You will burn calories, have time to think, and be able to fight off cravings.
- Plan C: Lower your calorie count for a few days after your cheat meal. This is where a good and easy calorie counting app can come into play. Prior to a few days ago I hadn’t counted calories in over 10 years. The only reason I started was because I was losing weight too fast and I wanted to make sure I eat enough!