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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Wall presses
- Cross-chest resistance band pulls – if you don’t have a resistance band, you can get a similar effect by leaning over and doing butterflies
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!
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