The food you have been craving has never tasted as good as it does after you have been sticking to a healthy diet for the past month. But those few bites quickly lead to the full meal devoured, and that one meal turns into a full day of eating poorly. Before you can even register what has happened, your whole weekend was filled with all of the foods you have been depriving yourself of. Research shows just three cheat days a week is as bad for your gut health as a consistently unhealthy diet.
Gaining a small amount of weight, like a pound or two, is not a big deal. But one or two pounds can lead to five or 10 pounds, putting both your motivation and health at risk, and everybody knows it is certainly easier to gain weight than to lose.
Even with the strongest willpower, chances are you are going to let loose once in a while. So exactly how many cheat meals a week are ok? And how exactly do you not let one cheat meal turn into a cheat week?
The theory is that since cheat days increase the production of leptin, they boost your metabolism. This, in turn, should then cause your body to burn more calories after overeating. Leptin is a peptide hormone (consisting of amino acid chains) that is secreted by the body's fat cells and controls hunger and feelings of satiety. However, the extent to which leptin controls body weight is still a subject of debate among scientists. Whether leptin production actually increases after a cheat day or feeding day is still being studied. Overeating is thought to boost your body's metabolism by no more than 3-10% (over a maximum of 24 hours).
If you have been following a strict diet for a long time, it might be that the glycogen stores in your muscles are rather limited. This can lead you to fatigue more quickly and hurt your workout performance. A cheat meal or a cheat day can help replenish your glycogen stores by increasing the number of calories and carbohydrates you are consuming. This can provide you with the energy you need for a strenuous workout; but going overboard on your cheat day can, of course, also set you back a bit with your weight loss goals.
Cheat days or refeed days can have both positive and negative effects on the human mind. It depends on the kind of person you are: many people feel that regular cheat days help them stick to a strict diet. It makes it easier for them to stop food cravings on the other days.
However, for other people, overeating can cause more harm than good. They eat so much on their cheat days that they feel guilty afterward. Or the only thing they can think about is their next cheat day instead of focusing on healthy eating in general. This is definitely an unhealthy behavior and can ultimately lead to an eating disorder.
It’s okay if you loosen up once in a while and treat yourself to something you’ve been dying for. There should be room in your diet for the occasional indulgence even when you are trying to lose weight. However, we do not recommend scheduling regular days on which you eat everything you can get your hands on. What happens at the end of the day? You have consumed several thousand calories, are riddled with guilt, feel bloated, and maybe even a little sick to your stomach. Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Cheat meals are probably a better and healthier option.