The Ultimate Guide to the 4 Hour Body Cheat Day

The ultimate guide to the 4 hour body cheat day

We all need them, or at least we all want them. We don’t realize how badly we want them until we can’t have one when we want it. Then when we get it, we usually feel terrible afterwards.

I’m talking about cheat days, and I’ve had several questions come up about them.

Why even have a cheat day?

Face it: one of the things that attracts you to the 4 Hour Body version of the slow-carb diet is the recommended cheat day. You can admit it; it’s one of the things that attracted me.

There seem to be two reasons people tend to give when talking about a need for cheat day.

  • You’ll go crazy if you don’t have one, and having one helps keep you focused the rest of the week.
  • Your body needs one, otherwise it’ll go into starvation mode. Cheat days keep it from doing that and actually help you lose fat.

There’s some truth to both of these. We all understand the psychological benefit to having a cheat day, and I’d say that it’s fairly true.

The biggest problem with a cheat day, though, is that it reinforces hold habits and even uses them as a reward for good habits. That’s like, if you’re trying to quit smoking, saying “I haven’t smoked all week, so I get to smoke on Sunday!”

How to have a cheat day

There is a right way and a wrong way to having a cheat day. Most of us need a few wrong ways before we can appreciate the right way, so do your thing for a while. Live it up! When you’ve had enough of that, try these things.

Have a good breakfast

Tim Ferriss will tell you a good cheat day is founded on a solid breakfast. Make sure you have the recommended 30g of protein in a slow-carb breakfast before you begin your cheat day. You can treat yourself for this breakfast, though. Instead of your standard scramble, try something new like a slow-carb breakfast burrito!

Here are a few other great breakfast recipes:

Practice damage control

During your cheat day, there are a few things you can do to keep things under control. When I do these things (and I don’t always, let’s be honest) I notice a difference in how I feel and how I recover from the cheat day.

Grapefriut juice
Tim recommends using grapefruit juice as a tool to blunt the insulin spike you’ll no doubt need after shocking your body with all that extra carbohydrate. I don’t know exactly why it works, but I do know two things: it’s tasty, and it seems to work.

Yerba mate
I drink yerba mate because I like its flavor and it reminds me of Paraguay, but you should drink it because it helps you digest food too. Many Paraguayans drink it more bitter specifically before eating large meals. I learned that trick there, and it totally helps to get rid of your “stuff” quicker.

It’s also an energizer and seems to raise metabolic levels a bit. That means you burn stuff quicker. I’m not sure how much that works, but even if it just helps with elimination, you’re still getting a huge benefit.

Exercises
When you’re having your cheat day, to boil it all down you’re consuming more sugar than your body needs. So in order to get your body to need more than it normally does, you’ve got to make room.

Important note: you’re not trying to burn off what you’ve eaten. You’re simply trying to get your body to allocate the sugar into the muscle as much as possible instead of store it as fat.

To help accomplish this, there are a few resistance-based exercises you can do just about anywhere to get the job done.

Ideally you’ll do these exercises for about 30 seconds each just before and then 90 minutes later after your meals. You’ll actually feel pretty good about it too the next day. Even though you’ll feel the wrath of the cheat day, you’ll feel the good soreness of working out, and it just seems to make it better.

Best cheat day practices

A lot of the questions we get seem to revolve around what I’ll call “best practices” for cheat days.

When to start
Most people have their cheat day on Saturday, so someone who starts their new diet on Wednesday will wonder if they have to wait. There’s no reason to avoid going longer than a week, so my recommendation is to decide which day will be your cheat day and have it when that day falls after the 5th day of your start date.

So if you pick Saturday and you start on a Monday, have it that next saturday. But if you start on Tuesday or later, wait until the Saturday after that week. All that does is give you extra fat loss before your first cheat day.

How many days between cheats
Your body doesn’t really know what a week is. It doesn’t know when you’re on a Saturday or a Sunday. So my answer to this question is “around a week”.

If you normally do it on Saturday, but you know Sunday will be more convenient, there’s nothing wrong in switching it up that week. If the difference between two of your cheat days will be much smaller than that, I’d recommend just skipping it.

The bottom line is you’ll have a far easier time losing fat if your cheat days are farther apart.

Cheat meals or cheat day?
Having cheat meals instead of a cheat day is a preference item, however you probably shouldn’t have more than one a day and no more than two a week.

This is how giving a license to cheat can cause more problems than it solves. Your success is going to depend on how faithful you are. The more “good” you are, even with cheat days, the easier a time you’ll have of shedding fat.

Start your day slow-carb
Eat your breakfast pretty soon after waking. It doesn’t have to be a big one, but it can be if you want to cheat less. Start your cheat day for lunch if you can. Keep the “refeed” between lunch and dinner to minimize the craziness.

Even if you’re only cheating for 2 meals (and the space between), you’ll still accomplish the refeed you’re going for, but you won’t do so much damage you freak out about it the next day.

Make a list of your cravings
This tip works especially well for folks just coming into this. When you have a craving, write it down. Tell yourself you’re not depriving yourself, just delaying gratification. These days I think we could all use a bit more delayed gratification. It builds character.

Then if you head into cheat day with a grocery bag full of goodies, you’ll be so excited it’ll be like Christmas! But then this brings me to my next tip:

Eat everything you buy
Even with this whole refeed business, I think most of us need to change our eating habits for good anyway. Eating everything you buy will accomplish two goals:

  • You’ll probably get sick and you’ll start associating that food with the way it makes you feel and – hopefully – stop craving it (lifehacker)
  • You won’t have anything to fight against later in the week if you’re like me and can’t bring yourself to throw away stuff you paid for

Oh, and if you can’t possibly eat everything you buy, throw the rest away at the end of the day.

Gluten-free cheat days
Tim doesn’t get into much detail about this in the book, but problems with the protein gluten are some of the main reasons diets like this work so well. It’s also the one of the main reasons you feel terrible after eating a bunch of it again on your cheat day.

If you want to go for something new, try a gluten-free cheat day and see if it makes you feel less bad. Enjoy the heck out of cheeses and ice cream. Eat as much fruit as you want. And if you must have something that seems like bread, try gluten-free flour. You may find that you even have a mild gluten reaction you didn’t know you’d been having (for me it’s severe bloating, upset stomach, and reflux problems).

Bonus track – getting rid of the cheat-dat weight quickly
This final tip came on the scene thanks to Tim’s Christmas Countdown Experiment for kindle. After your cheat day, try having a full fast day. Literally don’t eat anything. Before bed, have a small snack of some almond butter and celery or something so it’s easier to sleep.

Our bodies actually enjoy the occasional fast, and what better time to do it than right after you’ve stuffed your face for a day!

What are your thoughts on cheat day? Do you do them? Have any other questions? Let us know in the comments!

photo: FotoosVanRobin

Jason spends most of his time writing about his adventures with fitness on the slow-carb and paleo diets at his blog, FindingMyFitness.com. Want even more recipes? Check out his newsletter and get 10 more free slow-carb recipes.

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About Jason

Working on my own fitness, I love sharing with you what I find. You might recognize me from Finding My Fitness.

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13 Responses to The Ultimate Guide to the 4 Hour Body Cheat Day

  1. Najeed July 17, 2012 at 12:15 am #

    Hey,

    Usually when I have my cheat day, I eat everything I want, whenever I want, and don’t even exercise at all. Now I usually do your recommended exercises before and after exercising. But is it than still okay to eat whatever you want that day? Or should I start from a certain moment and stop from a certain moment that day? And can I still eat whatever I want that day, If I do your recommended exercises before and after the snack/meal?

  2. aa July 20, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    Should I not do the cheat day when/if I do not have yerba mate or grapefruit juice? Are these essential to the cheat day “mechanism”?

    • Jason July 20, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

      Hi! Yerba mate and grapefruit juice are not essential to the cheat day working properly, however it will work much better if you have some grapefruit juice. :) If you’re concerned about it, you could do a light cheat. But they’re really not required, but definitely recommended.

      -j

  3. Paul Rosenberg July 27, 2012 at 5:29 am #

    I’ve experienced enormous success on the SCD, even after making many “learning mistakes” along the way. SInce starting the “diet” after Christmas, 2010, I’ve dropped from 229 pounds to 188, over 40 pounds lost and I’m in absolutely fantastic shape.

    And I have tweaked the basics slightly. The big difference has been counting calories. I hit a major plateau and started using myfitnesspal to track my calories and macronutrients, partly because I wanted to get more understanding of what I was actually eating and partly to make sure I was still getting about 200 grams of protein every day, since a core component of my fitness program is weight training.

    The other piece was the addition of a full fasting day after my overfeeding day and THAT was an absolute revelation. What I noticed on the first day was A) I had a huge increase of energy, B) I did not get hungry at all until mid-afternoon, C) I never got hungry enough to feel like I HAD to eat, and D) It simply FELT right, like what my body really needed.

    All I consume on my fasting days are water, coffee, tea, and one big glass of water with a heaping teaspoon of psyllium husk powder (soluble fiber). On my overfeeding days, I easily consume between 5000 and 9000 calories in a single day.

    Also, I found that fasting days are excellent days to get a full workout (lifting and cardio) and I feel no weakness or lack of strength. I do use a carb-free pre-workout supplement (Jack3d) but even without it, I was shocked to discover that the stored food energy from the Big Feed the day before, was ample for the fasting day challenge of working out. In some ways, I love the fasting day as much as the overfeeding day.

    • Jason July 28, 2012 at 2:37 am #

      Hey Paul, congrats on your success! Great comments about your hacks. I tracked too, for the same reason: I wanted to see what I was really eating. What’s interesting to me about your comment is that you didn’t say you counted to make sure you were under 1800 or whatever folks might say. You were counting to make sure you didn’t eat too little! That’s important to distinguish.

      I’ve tried a fast day after cheat day as well, and I noticed similar results. Folks have been talking about that more lately, and I think I’m going to go back to it. I personally enjoyed doing a nice morning workout on the day I would fast. Thanks for reigniting that inspiration!

      Cheers!
      -jason

      • Paul Rosenberg July 28, 2012 at 3:05 am #

        Yes, I’m pretty damn ecstatic about actually achieving my goals! Now, I get to recalibrate and set new goals! I want to mention that the calorie/macronutrient tracking was for a variety of reasons and served several purposes:

        1) Information. Understanding what I was really eating and how certain choices impacted every day’s progress, as well as how much I really eat on my free days.

        2) Focus. Like the speed indicators that tell you what your speed is, getting to know where I’m at on the journey as I go helps me to calibrate through the day.

        3) Parameter Setting. I am counting calories to aim for a daily target number for continued weight reduction (currently 1650 net calories, 5 days a week) and also to hit the protein target of at least 200 grams a day for my body and my transformation goals.

        4) Understanding the Big Picture. Because I add my major physical activities to my diary, I understand better what X minutes of weightlifting requires in calories, as well as X minutes of elliptical training, stair climbing, stationary biking and backpacking require. I also am motivated to do those things because it buys me more daily calories. I understand that if I want a bigger dinner any particular day, I have to put in the gym time in the morning.

        5) Balancing. When I total up the week, with five days of slow-carb, one day of overfeeding and one day of fasting, I can see how little caloric damage the free days actually does. Seeing the bigger impact helps me understand that my continued transformation isn’t some kind of trick or magic or gimmick, but a sensible, science-based strategy for achieving my goals.

  4. Matthew July 30, 2012 at 5:44 am #

    Paul, congrats on your success! I’m just about to start. Word of advice though: ditch Jack3d as your pre workout supp. It contains 1, 3 Dimethylamine, aka Geranium extract, which is now a banned substance, and is absolutely horrible for you. I was a former Jack3d user, and I hated getting dropped off a cliff when I cycled off.

    Try SAN Fierce Domination. It contains a full dose of several great components, and most importantly, has creatine nitrate. That’ll get you amped up, with an unreal pump feeling. You’ll love it.

  5. 2014 This Is My Year January 15, 2014 at 8:32 pm #

    I was slightly disappointed after cheat day that the weight stayed on, but then 3 days after cheat day I have lost another 1.1kg so 3.7kg in 10 days, which i’m pretty impressed with, if it carries on like this I’ll be losing the expected 9kg and more!

    I didn’t even eat too much on Cheat day and felt I cheated myself, I started with a Protein shake, which I think I will do again, but then I ate pretty healthy for the rest of the day, apart from the chocolate bars I consumed! I think this week i’ll be a bit more adventurous and eat what i’ve been missing, like pringles and have a few beers.

  6. Courtney March 30, 2014 at 3:20 am #

    I can’t have grapefruit juice because of medication conflicts. (Makes me vomit and releases the medication too fast) can I still be okay with cheat days?

    • Jason March 30, 2014 at 8:41 am #

      Hi Courtney – grapefruit juice isn’t a requirement for cheat day, it just helps blunt insulin response. Lemon juice can give you a similar response if you want to shoot some of that. Or if not, just forget about it. It won’t affect much. It’s just one of those hacks that seems to work pretty well.

      -j

  7. Zach May 18, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    I am thankful that I have never been a big fan of sweets. My cheat day usually consists of going to get a good pizza or going out to eat for some wings. My issue has always been alcohol. I’m not a drunk or alcoholic but I always crave some good beer.

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