The concept of “cheat days” has been around from the day dieting was invented. Most dietitians and health coaches see a cheat day as a helpful tool to aid their clients “blow off steam” in an otherwise restrictive diet. The assumption is that the psychological boost of the cheat day is far greater than the damage done by a few extra calories.
However, this logic is flawed for several reasons.
1. Daily Suffering. In order to maintain prolonged weight loss, a dieter’s everyday eating pattern should not be deemed so miserable as to regularly warrant a day off.
2. Calorie Math. Most people are terrible at estimating the caloric content of foods they eat. Taking a day off can easily lead to an excess intake of 3000-4000 calories (see below). To lose a pound of weight, you need to create a deficit of 3500 calories. That’s 500 calories a day, for a one pound weekly weight-loss. Let’s say you were doing great for 6 days and managed to remove 3000 calories from your diet (6 days times 500). Today is your cheat day and all bets are off. You eat without counting and create a surplus of 3000 calories. Boom! Your overall weekly calorie deficit is 0 calories. No weight loss.
How can cheating lead to an excess of 3000 calories in just one day? Consider a single meal eaten at a popular family eatery. An appetizer (4 buffalo wings = 400 calories), main dish with 2 sides (lasagna + garlic bread + salad = 1200 calories), dessert (fudge cake = 600 calories), and a drink or two (300 calories) can easily surpass 2000 calories. Add another few treats throughout the day, and you have just decimated an entire weeks worth of dieting.
What you should do:
1. Don’t restrict your calories to a point where you are suffering. This is not sustainable. It’s better to lose half a pound a week over a longer period of time, than to try to lose too much weight too fast.
2. Instead of cheat days, plan on indulgent meals or snacks, every once in a while. When planning, decide what your extra calorie budget will be and if possible, scan online menus to see what dishes you can work with. Don’t come hungry to your indulgent meal, because this will cause you to overeat. Watch the alcohol, because the more you drink, the less discipline and control you will have.
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