What’s your favourite day? A lot of people will instinctively go for their birthday, while noting the fact that the most important day to not forget is their wedding anniversary, otherwise their spouse will let them have it! In the context of health and fitness, you might be looking forward to your “cheat day” – the day when it’s no holds barred, no disqualification and anything goes!
Let’s explore the idea behind the cheat day. Logic dictates that as humans, we have certain desires and cravings – resulting from both years of evolution and our modern day palate courtesy of our environment. Enter a diet or new eating plan. Bam! All of a sudden, foods that we like are intentionally being restricted in the name of weight loss. Since we are all human, its not surprising that following it strictly 100% of the time is pure torture.
So rather than allowing the repression explode in a binge, or a decision that it is too hard to continue at all, enter the “cheat day” – a periodic day when the dieter can eat whatever they want. Think of it as a well-deserved break that can help manage the issue. Fair enough, isn’t it? We all need a break sometime, don’t we? This applies to dieting as well.
Did you know that the concept of the cheat day is not universal? For example, the 5:2 diet is one where the follower consumes a very low number of calories two days a week, but stick to their usual diet for the remaining five. Hardly believable, is it? The more common one is the diet where the follower is disciplined during the weekdays and eats whatever they want during the weekends.
It is not surprising that this concept has drawn its share of criticism, especially by people who wonder whether allowing a cheat day, or a cheat meal, will undo all the positive effects of dieting and exercise. And some researchers have also mentioned that alternating between healthy and junk food can be bad for the gut bacteria. Well, it turns out that there is evidence that a well-timed and occasional cheat day or cheat meal does not have any negative long-term impact on weight loss, neither does it influence gut bacteria as much as the researchers thought it would.
Associate Professor Amanda Salis, who is an expert on the topic based at University of Sydney’s Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders, says that when one restricts kilojoules for a period of time, your body goes into a ‘famine reaction’ where it sees potential starvation and lowers your energy expenditure to help protect them. Therefore, one or two cheat days a week can help to assure the body that it is not the case, and curb that mechanism.
So then, what should be the pattern and frequency of cheat days? Experts agree that there is no standard answer to this. Professor Salis recommends that each person should go through trial and error to find a pattern that is effective but also realistic, because lifestyle does play a role in this. The bad news, however, is that this might take a few months to figure out.
So, do you feel that this discussion has simply gone full-circle? Well, such is the reality of this concept. However, I hope this has at least provided you with a little bit of insight as to how to structure your diet plans and cheat days. You can find more detailed information about good nutrition in the Strategic Nutrition Guide.
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