YOU COULD BE SABOTAGING YOUR FAT LOSS WITH THIS ONE MISTAKE
‘Cheat meals’ or ‘cheat days’ is the dieting concept that typically for 1 meal per week, or even day per week, you’re free to eat whatever you like. You heard me right, literally anything! For some people that can just mean more of the good healthy stuff, for others it’s a bit of a weekly ‘release’ from their strict diet, and opting for less healthier foods such as high sugar processed foods. No judging from me, it’s your body you do what you like!
Cheat days, cheat meals whatever you want to call them, or however you might do them could be damaging your long-term success towards achieving a lean and defined physique. I say ‘could’ because the fact is for some people targeted cheat days may actually SPEED UP fat loss, while for others hinder it. It all comes down to your own psychology when it comes to dieting, and your relationship with food. I’ll share why this is further down and if cheat days could be helping or hindering your progress. First though, let me explain a little behind why so many experts recommend planned cheating, and why I think it’s more of a grey area.
LITTLE HORMONE CALLED LEPTIN
It all relates back to a little hormone called Leptin. When trying to reduce body fat and get leaner, calorie intake should generally be slightly lower that expenditure. You burn more calories than you eat, meaning body stores of fat are used for energy, hence fat loss occurs. As calories reduce your Leptin levels gradually drop, slowly reducing your metabolism. This all stems back to a series of responses that occur when your body is entering starvation mode, as a protective measure. Both fortunately and unfortunately the body is very clever in this way, since it’s very rarely these days our bodies need to panic through fear of not being able to get food. For early cavemen folk this was obviously a different story.
Anyway, imagine your calories are low, the longer you go on this calorie deficit the lower your Leptin levels and metabolism will be. Interestingly some studies show pretty convincingly that a short term injection of calories in to your diet will significantly increase your Leptin levels. It’s a bit like throwing a load of burning wood on to a dying down fire; you get a short term increase in fire and heat until eventually it dies down again; the wood is your food, the Leptin is fire, your metabolism is the heat it emits.
Now it’s interesting that there’s not much research on the effects of targeted cheating on long-term diet success and body composition. But I’m pretty confident in saying that by injecting a few extra calories here and there when trying to get lean could help to speed things up a bit…. But here’s the catch; there are typically 2 types of people when it comes to dieting:
Sticks to a strict food plan throughout the week, with the aim to have a planned cheat day at the end of the week. Cheat day happens, and good times are had. Person 1 is back on the food plan the next day. Happy days!
Does the same strict diet throughout the week, with a cheat day also planned. Cheat day happens and good times are also had. Person 2 wakes up the next day and doesn’t see a problem (or gives in to temptation) and does a bit of a ‘half’ cheat day. Maybe Person 2 also has a little something the next day too.
Do you see the difference!? While Person 1 can enable themselves to have a planned cheat day, and strictly stick to that day only; Person 2 doesn’t seem to have that off switch. By the end of it Person 2 is probably only sticking to a strict food plan for 65-75% of the week.
Which person do you think will achieve their lean body goals sooner, and have the greater success? Pretty obvious I would have thought!
SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
Unfortunately for most people with the mentality of Person 2, you can’t simply say “well, just stop eating crap after your cheat day then!”. They’re just not going to do it. For Person 2 a planned cheat will therefore just be ruining their chances of diet success. Solution? Go cold turkey, don’t plan cheat days, and when they happen they happen. Learning how to “cheat clean” might also work, but I’ll be explaining a lot more about this concept in the future.
For Person 1 a planned cheat day could be a good idea, and probably WILL help. But here are the rules for targeted cheat days:
- Begin with one cheat meal per week, ideally on the same day. Adjust things from there depending on how you feel and how your body responds.
- Eat anything you like but still pay attention to getting your fruits and veggies in there, as well as plenty of lean protein.
- Cheating by just eating more of what you’re currently eating is obviously better than eating rubbish, but that’s up to you. Sometimes you just need a mental release from all the good stuff with a big tub of ice cream (I know I sometimes do!).
- Try to have your cheat meals on a day where you’re planning a workout, that way more of the additional nutrients will be put to good use.
- Big one here: A CHEAT DAY MUST BE STARTED AND FINISHED WITHIN ONE SLEEP CYCLE! Once your head touches the pillow that’s the end of your cheat day. If you can do this then great, if not then cheat days aren’t for you my good friend! Sorry!