This is a re-post from my old blog. Original Post was created October 2014.
The other day at work I overheard a conversation about dieting and cheat days as a tool for weight loss and weight maintenance. I have never had a “cheat day” as such, there will be days that I eat more or eat worse than I normally would, but I have never allotted a day just for eating badly.
This conversation got me thinking about cheat days and why I never felt the need to use them. They are a great tool for many people and have helped many people lose weight, but I cannot get behind the idea. And here is why.
- A cheat day implies that you are on a “diet”
The problem with implying that you are on a “diet” is that “diets” are often seen as a temporary endeavors, and cheat days reinforce that. One day a week you can go back to eating the way you used to and you never fully get on board with the lifestyle change.
- The need for a cheat day implies unsustainable restriction
This flows from the first one, “diets” generally include restriction and this restriction is often unsustainable in the long term. This is why so many people yoyo with their weight. They cut back severely while on a diet and then loosen up when they lose the weight. Their old habits come back and so do the pounds. If you need to reward yourself with a cheat day, you are probably over restricting yourself.
- Cheat days can result in binging
It is so easy to go overboard on a cheat day, especially if you are severely restricting yourself during the rest of the week. For many people bad food is an addiction and once they start they can’t stop, essentially undoing all the work they did during the week.
- Cheat days can be tough to handle mentally
Going overboard or binging can wreak havoc on a person’s mental state when they are trying to lose weight and can sometimes derail them completely. When you are trying to lose weight and you go over your calorie goal it is seen as a failure, and even if going over is planned. This can lead to self-doubt and giving up completely.
- Cheat days labels some food as bad
While there are certainly foods that are not good for you, labeling foods as bad and leaving them for cheat days reinforces the idea that you shouldn’t be eating them and may result in over eating on your cheat days.
So if not cheat days, then what. For me it is all about balance. As I said over restricting can lead to binging, so it is important to incorporate your favorite foods into your diet. Cutting out all the foods you love will be hard to sustain, so eat the foods you love, but just don’t eat too much. And if cheat days’ work for you, then great, but be aware of the potential pitfalls.