Cheat Day… YAY OR NAY??

One of the first questions people ask me when they begin changing their nutrition habits is “When do I get to eat my favorite food again, when do I get a cheat day?” It’s as if they’re planning on how to fit junk food into their nutrition plan before they even get started. To satisfy this urge, some weight loss programs call for a free-for-all meal or day each week. But if your goal is long-term health, is this appropriate? Is it necessary? Or can it actually sabotage your plans?

The term “cheat day” refers to a day where you can binge on foods you typically wouldn’t eat— then go right back to your healthy lifestyle. Oftentimes folks designate one day a week (typically on the weekend) as their cheat day. Although some diet plans advocate such a day, as a Registered Dietitian I don’t and here’s why.

Cheat days in theory may sound like a good idea, but in reality they can have severe consequences. I’m not talking about cheat days which are defined by an extra decadent dessert or a glass of wine—both of which can be part of a healthy lifestyle and don’t even need a designated cheat day to be consumed. It’s the “cheat day gone wild” that can get you into trouble.

Think about it—you eat 1,400 calories a day 6 days a week. That’s enough to help you lose 1 pound per week, a healthy rate to lose weight. On your cheat day, you consume 4,100 calories which isn’t very tough to do if you went out to eat a lavish meal with cocktails, appetizers, and desserts (and ate breakfast and lunch too).

In order to lose your planned 1 pound per week, you need to eat 583 fewer calories 6 days of the week (meaning you usually eat around 2,000 and now you lowered your calories to 1,400 per day). On your cheat day you went over your calorie limit by 2,700 calories—by doing so, you just sabotaged almost 5 days of healthy eating which you worked very hard to achieve. This will lead you to feel guilty, frustrated, and you probably won’t lose weight.

Here are eight concerns I have with cheat days:

1 – Cheat days imply that there is something to cheat on.

2 – Cheat days imply that weight loss is a negative experience and one we need to be released from.

3 – Cheat days take away from developing new habits.

4 – Cheat days make you feel as though some foods are off-limits.

5 – Cheat days can set you up for failure if high sugar/high fat foods are your weakness.

6 – Cheat days can seem like a reward for being “good” on your diet.

7 – Cheat days are an unnecessary distraction.

8 – Cheat days can undo good work from the prior week.

As a Registered Dietitian and Fitness expert I have real concerns about cheat days because I’ve seen lots of people struggle with them. I’ve known people who look forward to cheat days and sometimes end up adding in an extra cheat day during the week and over time the cheat days become more numerous until they have fallen off the wagon completely.

The Bottom Line:
Whichever way you look at it, a cheat day is not a good idea. Healthy eating and weight loss is about finding ways to make healthy lifelong habits. Part of creating healthy eating habits is learning how to moderate alcohol, dessert and other high calorie indulgences. It takes hard work, motivation, and a positive mindset to make it happen.

How do you feel about a cheat day?

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