Losing Weight with “Cheat Days”: Do They Work?

I’ve often heard people say that, when dieting, it’s good to have a “cheat day” or “binge day” where you can eat whatever you want. This helps to shock your metabolism.

I’m just wondering, do you have a cheat day? And if so, what types of things do you allow yourself to eat on those days? I don’t want to eat something that will ruin my progress entirely (I’ve lost 47lbs as of Monday when I last checked my weight!), but the idea of having a cheat day sounds great to me.

Thanks,
Brad

Brad, first off – congratulations on releasing 47 lbs of weight. I hope you’re enjoying the journey and delighting in the benefits of a healthier you!

For people unfamiliar with cheat days, the general concept is eating healthy 6 days of the week. On the 7th day, less-healthy choices are allowed. It’s not about eating everything in sight, but it is about maybe eating a piece of grandma’s famous fried chicken, or getting an order of fries with your sandwich.

To answer your question: I don’t have a cheat “day”, though I do something a bit similar. I follow the 80/20 rule. In a nutshell, the 80/20 rule is about eating healthy 80% of the time. During the 80%, I eat lean meats, berries, unsalted nuts, fruits, etc., etc. But every fifth meal falls into the 20% category. This is when I allow myself to “cheat”, though I prefer to call it balance. I don’t appreciate the guilt associated with the term “cheat” – it implies that you’re doing something wrong. At any rate, I’m not religious about practicing the 80/20 rule, but I do try to keep a mental note of the healthiness of recent meals.

I have read numerous articles and pieces of research that conclude cheat days do help boost metabolism, thus staving off weight-loss plateaus. And for a lot of people, cheat days give relief in an otherwise restrictive diet. So there can be some real benefits.

But I also think there’s a psychological downside to cheat days, and I don’t think they’re for everyone. I think cheat days can create a mentality of 6 days of suffering through dieting and 1 day of satisfaction. In actuality, eating healthy and satisfaction need not be mutually exclusive. Rather than focusing on what you can eat, I think it’s much wiser to focus on all the healthy, delicious and enjoyable options available. Moreover, by bringing attention to the way your body reacts to your food choices (healthy foods make the body feel good!), loading up on cheese fries starts to lose its appeal.

I hope that helps!

But what about you? Do you have a cheat day? Do you follow the 80/20 rule? Or do you eat healthy foods 24/7?

About Davey Wavey

Davey Wavey is a certified personal trainer and YouTube sensation with more than 250 million video views. For Davey's fitness tips and secrets, sign up for his free monthly newsletter - or download any of his affordable and effective workout programs.

Comments

  1. I don’t have cheat days instead I pick 2 meals and 2 snacks a week to have whatever I want. I find that this helps if I ever have a craving for something!

  2. What if I do it the other way? 1 day of eating healthy and 6 cheating days? Will it work the same way? Please say “yes”.

  3. My time for self-indulgence is Saturday night. That does not mean that I go out of my way to eat unhealthy food every Saturday but rather that when I feel cravings for greasy or sweet foods I tell myself that I will wait until Saturday. I often end up forgetting about it, so I indulge myself 1-2 Saturdays every month.

    Since I became vegetarian (ovo-vegetarian to be precise) I don’t get the same cravings as I used to. But then again I’m not restricting my calorie intake (I eat like a hippo) so that might be another reason I don’t get cravings that often.

    BTW I can recommend this vegetarian thing. You don’t need to do it religiously, I still enjoy a nice rare steak once in a while. But you do have to learn how to get the right nutrients from vegetarian sources.

  4. I’ve been on a diet with “binge days” for a couple of weeks now and have dropped 7 pounds. On my first binge day, I ate anything and everything (mostly Twix, M&Ms, Reeses, honey buns, and other equally nasty junk food). By halfway through the day, I was sick of the stuff. I gained a few pounds back, but then dropped them off again pretty quickly when I got back on the diet. My next binge day, I didn’t really want to eat the bad stuff, but I did, thinking that otherwise, I might have big cravings in a day or two. I ate a LOT less of the bad stuff than the previous week. The same is true of my third binge day…I ate less candy and pastries. These “cheat” days help me stay on the diet because if I see something in the store and get a craving for it, I tell myself that I can wait until Saturday and have as much as I want. I’m now considering that I won’t stick to the “6 days on and 1 day off.” I’ll diet until I get the urge and have a cheat day then (as long as I’ve dieted for at least 6 days). At any rate, it works for me, and as all things in life, individual results are what count.

  5. I go on particular food binges. Meaning, some weeks, I want yogurt desserts, like yogurt and strawberry crepes, or yogurt and rice krispies cereal. I don’t eat too much bad stuff, but I guess I don’t eat too much good stuff either. I’m stuck in the middle. I don’t buy vegetables because they will go bad before I finish them, like leaf lettuce or celery. Some greens do last long but I don’t like to eat them too much cos then I get sick of them.

  6. As someone who has had past food addictions, I can honestly say I have no cheat days. The reason being if I let myself “cheat” one day, it may turn into two days, then three, and before I know it I am back eating horrible foods everyday. I don’t even look for the healthy “mock” junk foods, natural organic chips, ice cream, and other various products you may see at a grocery store or health food store. I still have all my Christmas chocolates sitting on my book case in my bedroom, it’s my reminder that I am strong enough to resist eating it all. I too am eating a lot of vegetarian type foods, I have cut out all red meats, and buy the veggie alternatives found at the grocery store. Since December 12, I have lost 25 lbs. And I feel great, and no cravings whatsoever for junk food, or greasy deep fried foods. I also eat tons of salad, everyday twice sometimes three times.

  7. DAvey, I encourage all my clients to do one or the other, either one day of having foods that you would not normally eat, say a cheese burger, or a slice of pizza, but whatever their choice, to keep that choice in the log and not to go over their caloric limitation by an out of control number-binging and eating all day on said cheat day, the things we know are bad for us is not encouraged, make it one item that is a really loved item, say a slice of cheesecake and leave it at the one item. This has helped most of my clients to feel like christmas comes once a week and drives them through the rest of the week, just knowing that it is coming makes it possible for them. Others choose to work with balancing it out in the 80/20 option, but I always start them out on one day a week for the first two to four weeks. Sadly I am myself in the category of living with a neurological condition that helpy maintain a caloric need of 5000cals per day, no lie, and so my diet is not normal, nor is my metabolism and thusly I consume whatever I feel hungry for, but make good solid choices in whole meats, fruits and vegetables, and just watch my cholestoral tightly! thanks for this, I am working with three people who are just about ready to work on not such restrictive diets anymore and I think it will help them to choose for themselves, so thanks again!!!

  8. Christohper says:

    85/15 90/10 100/5 usually for me =D I have a binge day zero-two times a month, but on those days I don’t eat more than 2.500 calories and run at least 15 miles as apposed to my daily 8. 17 years old and have been following a little over a year now. Lost 14 pounds (at one point 20 but decided to gain some becaus several of my spines become predominant) and have never felt better =) Oranges are like candy to me =d

  9. i think for people who have an issue with food, cheat days can be dangerous.

    for most the cheat days may seem like a reason to go hog wild, which is very dangerous–BUT if you are committed to your diet then over a couple of weeks your cheat days will go from a whole pizza to really just something like a piece of cake–because you slowly break into your new way of eating.

    the weight watchers program is based around this similar idea with their daily allotment of points you may eat PLUS a weekly allotment that you may use for a special dinner…or a piece of cake once or twice a week. it trains you to moderate–so i DO think there is something to this concert, but no matter how you cut it–it all comes back to what davey talks about with his 80/20 concept.

  10. When advising clients as a certified Lifestyle & Weight Management consultant I always tell them it is okay to cheat within reason occasionally. If I say to someone who loves pizza you that it shall never pass your lips again, they aren’t going to stick with it. Within reason and occasional are the key words.

    One thing, once you get used to a healthier diet you really do lose your cravings for junk like Twinkies. You may not think so but if you are mindful of how you feel afterwards, it begins to lose its power over you.

  11. I am an advocate for the “cheat day” although I agree with you in not calling it a cheat day. I also don’t say I’m dieting. I’m just eating healthful foods that make me feel good in the long run. During the week I count calories (although since I’ve started this in October 2010 I’ve pretty much got a handle on what the caloric impact is of the foods I tend to eat), and then one day a week— It’s not a set day, it’s normally a night out with friends, or a birthday etc. I eat without paying attention to the caloric cost. I don’t binge—although back in October I did for the first couple of weeks but like another commenter, I learned that it doesn’t make me feel good.

    The big point of it for me is that everyday I feel good, the food I eat doesn’t punch me back in the stomach, I don’t feel bloated, I’m never “too full” and I rarely miss-out on eating what I want. But when presented with a craving for caramel syrup or buttery bread, I just tell myself “I’ll have that on Saturday.” And when Saturday comes around, I’ll have a slice of homemade bread with butter and apple jelly. I make sure the indulgence is worth it. I don’t eat factory bread and jelly, but artisan-quality products. The same with chocolate I’ll get a bar of Theo Chocolate rather than Hershey. It makes the indulgence that much better. I also am conscious about not over-doing it on the one-day a week because ultimately it doesn’t feel good. I’m not talking about guilt but physically. I’d much rather have a 1/2 piece of blueberry pie and not feel full than eat the whole piece—the last bite is never as good as the first anyway 🙂

    I’ve melted off 37pounds of yellow giggly pant-streaching fat since I started my new lifestyle and I’m feeling great. I’m not concerned with getting to a lower number anymore but mostly about feeling good and staying active. I really appreciated yesterday’s post about the benefits of working out. I sent it along to my family and friends encouraging them to stick around as long as possible.

    Thanks for your blog! It’s very inspirational.

  12. Catherine says:

    Most days I keep it around 1300 calories. (I’m a petite girl.) But usually at some point on the weekend I allow myself an “exception” as I call it. It’s usually a cheeseburger or a really big soda, and I eat pretty smart the rest of the day (I only count calories precisely on the weekdays.)

    I agree they’re not for everyone. I only started it once I’d lost enough weight to be a healthy BMI (I developed a thyroid issue that destroyed my metabolism for a while.) I also know my own guilt limit. I know I live a healthy life so a cheeseburger every now and then doesn’t make me feel bad- but if I had the fries and a giant soda with them I know I’d regret it. (Not to mention feel sick lol.) I guess that’s where the word comes from it’s an “exception” in the day, and not the rule!

  13. I give myself five ‘free’ meals a week. This works better for me if I end up visiting a relative (they always want to feed me) and it’s not on a preprescribed ‘cheat day’. I started out using the ‘free’ things up in a week or two, but now I occasionally find myself with some left over.

    The temptation is still there (I live across the street from a 7-11… nachos, sodas, chips, ice cream… everything that will ruin a diet), but I’m working on overcoming it.

  14. bullwinklemoos says:

    Hey Davey- I think you’re spot on with the diet cheating discussion. Also, as a side note, I read that one of the secrets to a long life that centenarians (people who live 100+ years) tend to follow is just that- they enjoy the stuff that people deem as unhealthy like chocolate, sweets, etc. in moderation. Ergo, pop open that package of chips ahoy, and take three, but save the rest for next week or the weekend.

  15. i don’t have cheat days BUT, if i crave something (like chocolate…) i try to have something that includes my craving, yet isn’t as bad for me. POR EJEMPLO if i’m craving chocolate, i have dark chocolate covered almonds. studies show that dark chocolate has heart benefits (but only when 70% or higher) and almonds are a brain food, so it’s semi-good for me, and it satisfies my chocolate craving! 😀

  16. I became overweight because I am a “food addict” not simply a compulsive overeater who went through a period of discriminate eating and gained weight. As a food addict, I am in pretty much in the same boat as an alcoholic. I cannot touch the foods that trigger my addiction, or I will inevitably return to my insane eating habits.

    Therefore the concept of a cheat day is not something I can safely entertain without sabotaging all my weight loss efforts and health goals.

    I tip my hat to those who can go off their diet occasionally and treat themselves to unhealthy foods like fast food, pizza, ice cream, chocolate, etc. I cannot touch those foods if I wish to maintain my sanity and my progress.

    We are all different. There is no “one-size-fits-all” weight management regime. We all have find what works or doesn’t work for our individual bodies based on metabolism, medical and psychological issues, genetics, lifestyle, and personal health requirements.

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