This question is posed many times and like many other topics related to the human experience the verdict is out. You can find data to support “cheat days” and you can find data that tells you to avoid them like the plague. In my book, Second Chance at Health-Learn to Love Active Living and Clean Eating, I describe diets that can be tailored to your likes, and needs. If you choose the BEST diet for you, then I venture to say you won’t need a cheat day. But if you do decide to “cheat” read the information below and decide for yourself if it’s worth it.
So to answer that question, I believe the answer is yes and no. How is that for clarification?
In my experience this is not a black and white discussion. The answer depends on many variables. These variables include your personality type, the type of diet you are on, how long you have on the diet, and even what you plan on eating on those “cheat days”. Let’s address each variable individually.
What’s Your Diet Personality?
Personality type, this is my first one to address because this is most important one. If you have the personality type that feels deprived and cannot focus on the plan long term if you are not “allowed a cheat day”, then I would say that a cheat day is allowed for you, but only if this allows you to remain focused on working your plan until your goal is met. In the grand scheme of things, a cheat day calories, or a cheat meal will likely not prevent the goal from being reached, but it may delay the result. If you are agreeable to a delayed result in order to stay the course, then I think a cheat day is alright. The frequency of the “cheat day”, as well as what you are doing on the “cheat day” should be planned out the best that you can. However, if you know that you are an “all or none” person and that one cheat meal or cheat day will derail you as you berate yourself “that I’ve cheated and failed, may as well forget it”, then I would not recommend any cheat days at all for you!
The type of diet that you are going to cheat on needs to be considered before deciding if a cheat day or cheat meal is going to sabotage your plan. Cheat days can have benefits in some type of diets, for instance, on calorie restricted diets, leptin, a hormone secreted by fat cells that inhibits hunger, and longer term lower calorie diets can decrease leptin, so the theory is that a cheat day on a longer term calorie restricted diet can stabilize these levels and decrease the risk of runaway hunger. Additionally, on longer term low calorie diets they thyroid can be affected resulting in a sluggish metabolism, and that is not what you want during a weight loss plan.
However, on some diets, cheat days will negate the work that you have done, specifically, on a ketogenic diet, a cheat meal with significant carbohydrates will result in loss of ketosis. This means that body fat is no longer being utilized for energy and the body is using the carbohydrates.
If you are on a ketogenic diet, a cheat day or meal with significantly higher amounts of carbohydrates will cause you to begin using carbohydrates for energy again and you will no longer by using fat energy for metabolism, and thus no longer be “in ketosis”. Your body stores glucose in the form of glycogen in the muscles and the liver. Excess carbohydrates are stored as triglycerides inside of fat cells.
Ketones are a byproduct of fat metabolism, and in the absence of fat metabolism, ketones are not usually present in the body. This will stall your fat loss, but not necessarily your weight loss if you are still consuming fewer calories than you are expending.
My experience with diets that induce ketosis is that returning to ketosis after a cheat day or meal takes less time than converting to ketosis at the beginning of the diet. When one starts a ketogenic diet after being on a typical SAD diet (Standard American Diet that is rich in red meat, processed foods, and salt) it can take 2 days to a week to induce ketosis as the carbohydrate stores are utilized for energy. The variability occurs due to activity level, life style, and your historical carbohydrate intake. If you have been on a keto diet and have been in ketosis for some time, then a cheat meal will affect you for at minimum 12-16 hours as your body processes the carbohydrates, but it can be up to 1-3 days depending on your activity level and what you ate.
I don’t recommend cheating on ketogenic diets, because the purpose of the diet is to utilize fat for energy and by introducing carbohydrates again then you are defeating the purpose of the diet. Some ketogenic diets utilize alternating timeframes of higher carbohydrate meals or days with lower carbohydrate meals or days, and these are very sustainable plans.
If you have made diet changes to lose weight, the data shows that biologically it might not make a difference in the long run. If you are losing fat, and have a cheat day, the fat loss may stall, and you may gain weight, but it is water weight will be temporary. Weight may increase as water retention occurs with increased carbohydrate intake because carbohydrates attract and hold onto more water than proteins. For every gram of carbohydrate the body stores 3 grams of water.
Is this a New Diet?
How long you have been on the diet is also to be considered. There are studies that show that cheat days for those addressing obesity with slower weight loss, enhance motivation and may help dieters stay the course for the final result! So in this case an occasional cheat day or meal is not likely to derail the plan significantly.
What are You Cheating With?
What you “cheat” with can impact the results on our diet. For example, if you are cheating with a larger portion of steak on a ketogenic diet, and an additional serving of vegetables, the damage is going to be minimal! On a calorie restricted diet, indulging in larger portions will affect your calorie intake that day but may not have an overall impact on your end result. Another example is if you are on a diabetic diet and you cheat with sweets, then your blood sugar will be adversely affected which results in uncontrolled blood sugar levels, perhaps resulting in increased medicine!
So the answer to the original question, “Are cheat days ok on a diet? The eating plan that you choose to be on should be sustainable to the point of you not WANTING to have a cheat meal! I believe the answer is that balance is the key to sustainable and successful eating plans.
My Ebook discusses many eating plans and direction on how to choose one based on your individual goals, personality and needs. My approach to eating plans involves choosing the one that is best suited to you! The BEST diet is the one that you will follow, and if this includes needing to have a cheat day or cheat meal, then certain diets should be avoided.
I have developed decision trees to help you identify what type of eating plan would work best and be most sustainable to you.
You can order your copy of my book to discover your best plan using my decision trees. Click on my book below.
If you enjoyed this article, please share on your favorite social media site and tell others what you liked most about the article!