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Diet Cheat Days: Yes or No?

Alexandra Williams, MA 

Dear Fun and Fit:
I’m currently losing weight by eating 1250-1350 calories daily, My normal intake is about 1750. I’ve heard that a “cheat day” will boost my metabolism and increase leptin levels. 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 can I gain weight? Thank you, and greetings from Finland

Cheat Days are High Calorie Days

Hello 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.

1 kabillion calories

*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.

* 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.

Count Your Calories: New Math Tool

* 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.”

Metabolic System Explained in 472 Easy Steps!

* 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.”

Photo credits:  Christian Cable, CollectionAgency, lejo72, P.K. Cerda

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About Fun and Fit

Get practical exercise advice, your fitness questions answered, and cutting edge health edu-tainment that is accessible and doable from long time fitness experts, Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA. We have taught on land, sea, and airwaves for 3 decades on 4 continents. From writing to speaking, emceeing to hosting a radio show, reviewing products to teaching classes, we believe that little steps turn into big paths. Move a little more than the day before. FitFluential Ambassadors and award-winners both online and off.

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21 Responses to Diet Cheat Days: Yes or No?

  1. Elle October 8, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    AMEN! I loathe the whole CHEAT day/meal concept! It is just so negative and makes one think they are on a diet that is to be ended/completed instead of living healthy and eating wisely.

    Thanks for this post and I hope your writer takes your great advice to heart, and mouth!
    Elle recently posted..Saturday StuffMy Profile

    • AlexandraFunFit October 8, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

      We hope she does too, Elle, because we want our readers (and everyone, really) to be happy and healthy. Cheat days just sound like you’re miserable 6 days, temporarily happy for 1, then miserable and feeling guilty about the whole process.
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..Cardio is Dead; Long Live CardioMy Profile

  2. Tamara October 8, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    I prefer the terms ‘treat’ and ‘indulgence’. They don’t make me feel back about having some of the less-healthy foods that I enjoy on occasion (like pumpkin pie cheesecake!).

    Great explanation!
    Tamara recently posted..Pumpkin pie cheesecake recipe: a Thanksgiving dinner indulgenceMy Profile

  3. kat October 8, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Great info! Love a donut, but it’s so not worth it sometimes!
    kat recently posted..Motivational Monday: Featured Sneakers!My Profile

  4. Harold October 8, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    I don’t have cheat days, but I do indulge from time to time and eat whatever I want and usually go by 80/20 80% of the time I am good, other 20% I don’t worry about it. It keeps me sane and I have lost over 50 pounds doing it this way over the last year or so. :-) But everybody is different, have to go with what works for them, notice I say works :-)
    Harold recently posted..Mizuno Elixir 7’s are Looking Like Something Special and RunLog 10/8/12My Profile

  5. Jody - Fit at 54 October 8, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    Like others wrote – I don’t do cheat days – even holidays. I plan for what I want to splurge on. Because I like sweets, I eat healthy on holidays & plan for the sweet or sweets of my choice.

    As for regular days, it is a treat, not a cheat. :-) I don’t do the whole day thing. I eat healthy in general & plan for my treat cookie on the weekend days.

    Like you wrote – too easy to eat more than you can burn off & many people can eat more calories than the pounds lost in a week. I actually an writing about this Wednesday. :-)

    Great post!
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted..Gratitude Monday & the Celebration of LifeMy Profile

  6. Melissa @ Live, Love, & Run October 8, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    AMEN. AMEN. AMEN. I wrote a post a while back about this very thing…calling it a cheat day automatically associates “indulging” with “cheating” and “guilt” and that just turns into an inner argument over why you did it and how you’ve failed. It’s not healthy, in my opinion, to associate food, in any form – good or bad, with the word “cheat”. Moderation is BIG. It’s key.

    And YES. Exercise. “Cheat days” and not exercising do not mix! Great post. :)
    Melissa @ Live, Love, & Run recently posted..#weeklychase: Decreasing sugar intake.My Profile

  7. Kristen October 8, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    I’m with Harold on the 80/20 rule. It’s all about balance. You’re more likely to have an all out “splurge” day if you don’t give yourself a reward every now and then. I try to replace the bad stuff with some not so bad stuff, for instance coconut milk ice cream instead of Ben and Jerry’s.

    Now for some reason I’m craving donuts…
    Kristen recently posted..Monday Morning Inspiration: The Glory in Saying “I Finished”My Profile

  8. Miz October 9, 2012 at 2:16 am #

    for me no.
    mindful eating has freed and CHANGED MY LIFE.
    every day is…not a cheat or treat …but what my BODY asks for.

    Miz recently posted..Im the SIXTEEN percent.My Profile

  9. Laura Gross October 9, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Overall, I don’t believe in cheat days. There will always be occasions where you will be tempted to indulge so it’s like life. Weigh your choices and indulge when you 1) have no choice (picnics, birthdays, friends houses) but make smart choices with the options that you have, and 2) when you feel like it (That perfect cheesecake is just looking at you at it’s your perfect craving). Don’t look forward to a cheat day. Look forward to the days that you eat healthy so that you can afford the next indulgence when it presents itself and if you’re going to indulge,. have some water and veggies to help break it down. Live Love, Love Life, at least until the zombies show up. ~.-

  10. Mark Vet October 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    I liked the idea: “Food isn’t moral; it’s fuel.”. It is true that our attitude to food is as important as the food itself.

  11. Jackie October 10, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    I feel its about moderation and eating healthy. I have a sweet tooth, so I discovered high protein coconut chocolate bars for when I need a bit of sweet in between my high protein and veggie plan. The math is important too, I stick to my 1000 to 1200 a day and no sugar or white starch. Everyone is different and our bodies are always changing, once you find the right plan where you feel your optimum self, there will be no reason to cheat.

    And for those of us who want to cut back on sugar, I have been finding the saffron supplement is helping quite a bit!
    Great post!

  12. Mira October 15, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    Thank you!
    I just read it. I’m going to use these tips. I have had some problems with my blood sugar. (It sometimes drops too low) So I’m going to eat every 2 hours. But like you said eating small meals. I also try to not keep any cheat days, like your said it’s not good to insulin and leptin.
    I want to thank you one more time to answer to my question.
    Mira :)

  13. Rakib Raihan October 24, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

    Agree with all and,Like others wrote – I don’t do cheat days – even holidays. I plan for what I want to splurge on. Because I like sweets, I eat healthy on holidays & plan for the sweet or sweets of my choice.
    Rakib Raihan recently long to breastfeed a baby: how long should you breastfeed your baby?My Profile

  14. Jeff Masterson October 29, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

    I personally believe in cheat days, yes. It gives you not only a psychological break, but also gives your body a break from “dieting.” If you havn’t read anything about leptin I’d suggest looking into this hormone and how it can be naturally manipulated to get you better fat loss and muscle building results.


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