Diet Cheat Days: Yes or No?
Dear Fun and Fit, K and A: I’ve heard that a “cheat day” will boost my metabolism and increase leptin hormone levels. I’m currently losing weight by eating 1250-1350 calories daily. My normal intake is about 1750. Today I ate about 3600 calories for my “cheat day.” Is that too much or is it okay? I’ll go back on my diet tomorrow. Will this all boost my metabolism or cause me to gain weight? Thank you, and greetings from Helsinki, Finland Mira
We love your name; it means “wonderful” and “peace.” We’re going to tell you right up front that we are NOT fans of “cheat days” for a whole bunch of reasons. We shall now do our best to talk you out of eating this way.
* Just the name implies you’re a cheater. Who wants to feel that kind of shame and have that label? It’s all negative. We hate the whole concept of looking at food as good or bad. Food isn’t moral; it’s fuel.Food is not moral; it's fuel. Shift away from bad & good thinking in order to lose weight, gain health. Click To Tweet
*Also, what do most people (and probably you) eat on those 3600 calorie days? Salad? Roasted veggies? Fruit with yogurt? Suuuuuuuure. More like ice cream, candy, chips and all kinds of high fat foods. Sadly, that fat makes its way to your brain, telling it to ignore the “I’m full” signals that those lovely hormone regulators – leptin and insulin – are trying to send. Think of them as your parents, yelling “Put the spoon down,” and the fat as earbuds that you stuck in your ears so you wouldn’t have to listen. It’s not good to become resistant to leptin and insulin because they are your BFFs, and want to help you.
One Cheat Day Can Affect You Half a Week
* This “fat high” can last for up to three days, which means you will spend half of the next week wondering why you’re extra hungry, especially for those high-fat foods. Basically, it’s a short-lived addiction, and willpower cannot overcome addictions.
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* Math has an uncomfortable way of butting in to your weight loss business. If you reduce your caloric intake by 500 calories a day, you’ll lose about a pound in a week – 500 X 7 = 3500. Everyone is different, but these numbers are a great place to start. You say you normally eat about 1750 calories per day – 1750 – 500 = 1250 (the low number on your diet plan). It will take more than a week to lose a pound of weight if you are at the higher, 1350 amount. But on that 3600 calorie “cheat day,” kowabunga – you just got yourself an extra 1850 calories (3600 – 1750 = 1850). So in 6 days you reduced your intake by 3000 calories, but on that seventh day you took in an extra 1850 (3000 -1850 = 1150). So for the entire week, you had a total reduction of 1150 calories, which means you’re losing less than half a pound a week.
* If you jogged in place during the above math lesson, you might have burned some extra calories! If you hate math, that section just above said, “Cheat Day = Bad Idea.”
Reduce Calories and You Risk Reducing Your Metabolic Rate
* You also asked about metabolism, so let’s go over some weird “opposite day” type of stuff – When you eat less, you expend calories at a slower rates – meaning your metabolism slows down. It has a fancy name – diet induced adaptive thermogenesis. If you want to speed up your metabolism, you should ditch the cheat day AND the diet and just go for 4 or 5 small meals/ snacks a day. Mostly choose healthy food, yet leave space for a few of the treats that you were saving for cheat day. Moderation beats the Restriction – Overindulgence cycle you’re in.
* And we wouldn’t be exercise experts if we didn’t ask, “Mina, are you also exercising?” You had better say, “ kyllä.” That’s fancy talk for “heck yeah.”
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Alexandra Williams, MA