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Do Cheat Days Work for a Diet?

author image Bethany Lalonde
Bethany Lalonde has been a professional writer since 1997. She has published for CBS Health Watch, WebMD, the "Ann Arbor Daily News" and "Entertainment Weekly." She holds two masters degrees from the University of Michigan, in dietetics and nutrition as well as journalism.
Do Cheat Days Work for a Diet?
A man is about to eat a waffle. Photo Credit Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

Cheat days on a diet can be a welcome break that, despite what it might sound like at first, provides you with added incentive to stay on your diet plan. On a restricted calorie or food diet, cheat days refer to when you can deviate from your prescribed eating routine. Many dietary professionals, from dietitians to fitness instructors to personal trainers, will recommend a day when you are allowed to eat an otherwise restricted item. Doing so can help increase your overall energy levels, give you an added sense of indulgence and give you a psychological break from dieting.

More Fat Loss

In “The Cheat to Lose Diet,” Joel Marion states that cheat days can actually help you lose more fat. Cheat days, when you often have higher levels of caloric consumption, help keep your body from thinking it has entered starvation mode. When you occasionally consume a higher calorie meal during a diet, your body’s leptin levels increase. As a hormone that keeps your body from thinking it is starving, higher leptin levels lead your body to thinking it is better fed and nourished, encouraging your body to release more fat and body weight as it since longer needs to hold onto those calorie stores.

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Keeps Your Diet on Track

The mental break provided by a cheat day can give you the necessary space to stay on your diet plan. Cheat days not only give you a break from a strict, new dietary regime, but they can also help you re-evaluate your relationship to food and eating. Cheat days can help you relearn appropriate portion sizes and healthy eating habits as you mentally and physically learn to treat certain food items as healthier than others. Cheat days can also prevent your from overeating, as having a one-day indulgence can give you greater incentive and self-control to stay on track as you now have something to look forward to.

Deciding When to Cheat

The type of cheat day you have can affect the success rate of your diet plan. In general, you still must stick with certain calorie goals to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable manner. To lose 1 pound, you need to reduce your total caloric intake by 3,500. This can be done through a combination of nutrition or exercise, but health professionals recommend that you not lose more than 2 pounds per week. Having full cheat days -- entire days when you can eat whatever you like -- may not be very effective in achieving weight-loss goals. But having a single food indulgence, such as chocolate or chicken wings, budgeted into your diet plan can help you stay well within your dietary goals. In cases requiring that you take a full cheat day -- such as special events -- plan in advance so that you can budget extra time for exercise or adjust your diet plan to accommodate the extra calories you will consume.

Individualized Plan

Each person has her own favorite indulgence, and giving yourself an occasional treat can be part of a well-balanced diet plan. Having a single day when you are allowed a food that is normally banned will not create any serious setbacks to your weight-loss goals, and it can make your diet more readily achievable. Similarly, each person has different nutrition requirements that are dependent on their lifestyle. To ensure that your weigh-loss diet, including cheat days and foods, is healthy and nutritious, consult with a professional dietitian or nutritionist to help create a diet plan and weight-loss goal suited for your personal lifestyle needs.

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