Cheat Day vs. Cheat Meals

Sticking to a diet stinks. Determination and discipline can be exhausting, especially in the nascent days of a new diet. But what if I told you could eat whatever you want and still lose weight?

Many fitness aficionados believe having a highly anticipated “cheat” day or meal makes it easier to stick to strict diet. It’s a fact that willpower is a finite resource, [1] and a cheat meal allows you to conserve some of that willpower for the dieting days that follow. Of course not cheating your diet is the best practice, but many have suggested that cheating has little impact on your overall weight loss.

A cheat day, normally after consistent period of clean, disciplined eating, is a 24-hour food carnage, where anything goes (down the hatch, that is). Others believe that an entire day of gluttony does have adverse effects on the body. Rather than an entire day, many argue that having one “cheat meal” is easier on the body.

So which is better for you? This article makes a case for both, then suggests which is more effective for reaching your weight loss goals.

The Cheat Day

Possibly the most exciting day for any dieter. The day when all diet restrictions are off and your body and mind are rewarded for the dieting discipline with 24 hours of relentless indulgence. Seems destructive doesn’t it?

As it turns out, many believe the big gorge on cheat days will keep your metabolism regulated when restricting calories the rest of the week, [5] or in other words the cheat day counter-intuitively helps you burn more fat. Hard evidence of this is insufficient, yet many believe it to be a huge benefit to weight loss.

Psychologically, a cheat day is a great form of reward to keep you motivated and sticking to your diet throughout the week. A cheat day gives you something to look forward to, and you can train yourself to anticipate the reward upon achieving another week of clean eating.

In Tim Ferris’s NYT best seller The 4 Hour Body, he highly recommends a once-a-week cheat day for ultimate weight loss. He argues that a cheat day causes a one-day spike in insulin levels that actually prepares your body for the week, suggesting that pigging out can regulate your metabolism and even cause you to resent junk food for the following week. [7] [2]

The Cheat Meal

A cheat meal is essentially the same as a cheat day, just condensed into one meal. Reasoning for a cheat meal is similar to a cheat day: it psychologically prepares you for the week of restraint, rewards your previous dieting efforts, and preps your metabolism. Rather than littering your body with junk for an entire day, a cheat meal allows you to refrain from a strict diet while not setting your gains back as much as an entire day.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson celebrated 4 months of clean eating with an epic cheat meal consisting of: 12 pancakes, 4 double dough pizzas and 21 brownies. [3]

Which is better?

For those beginning their weight loss journey, we suggest implementing a moderate cheat day into your diet routine. The psychological benefits are ultimately what leads us this conclusion. Once you truly clean up your eating habits and have built up the “cheat day” reward association, try reducing your cheat day to a single meal. Your willpower should be strong from prior diet restraining, and will make the transition easier. [6]

One practice we found most effective is a “Binge List.” Throughout the week, write down every food craving you get. On your selected cheat day, you can eat everything on the list. This list is a great way to keep you motivated throughout the week, and gives you something to look forward to.

It’s insanely important to understand that every body is different, and thus responds to different practices uniquely. A diet that melts body fat from one person can be useless to another. Genetic differences are generally what inhibit one subject from achieving identical results to another. Due to this, we highly suggest testing out both methods over a one-month period. Find what works for your body, and then stick to it. Reaching your weight loss goals will take discipline regardless of method, so be smart. [4]

SmartPlate can help you reach your fitness goals faster and easier than ever. Know exactly what you’re eating on a cheat day and every day with SmartPlate.

[1] [3] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]