Let me start out this post by telling you a little story. A couple of years ago I did a diet that was very popular at the time. This particular diet was very big on calorie restriction and it lasted about two months from start to finish. While I was on this diet I was very faithful and I never cheated. Well, I never actually cheated. But I thought about cheating all the time. Literally all the time. I was constantly thinking about what I wanted to be eating at the moment and what was the first thing I wanted to eat when the diet was over. I even made a list in the back of my school notebook of all the food I wanted to eat and during class, instead of taking notes, I would sit and think about what foods I wished I could be eating.
When the diet ended, I felt like it was a success because I lost all the weight I wanted to lose plus a little more. I was determined to keep it off. I told myself I would use self control as I began eating normally. Unfortunately, like so many dieters, my self control wasn’t as awesome as I had imagined it to be and I ended up putting back on most of the weight that I had lost.
What is the moral of this story? Cheating a little when it comes to eating isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s actually a really good thing. It may sound surprising and maybe even a little too good to be true but, I promise you, it isn’t. Let me explain the reasoning behind the idea of a cheat day.
The original concept behind a cheat day is to eat a strict diet six days out of the week and then take one day off of the strict diet and eat whatever you want.
First of all, having one day in the week that you can eat whatever you want helps psychologically. For example, when I was on my previously mentioned diet, I wouldn’t have spent all of my time thinking about food because I would have told myself, if I want a cookie I just need to wait until my cheat day and then I can eat to my heart’s content. Then chances are, by the time my cheat day came around I may not even have wanted a cookie anymore. By keeping the junk food down to only once a week it helps keep you from overindulging.
Now for more of the scientific reasoning behind a cheat day. In order to get the best results from a weight loss program it is important to keep you leptin levels high. Leptin is a hormone that is found in your fat cells. It is important in weight loss because when you are full, leptin is released to communicate that to your brain. As soon as you start dieting your leptin levels decrease quickly and the lower your leptin levels are the hungrier you feel. A lower amount of leptin levels may also decrease your metabolism.
When you are restricting your calories your leptin levels are decreasing but when you spend a day overfeeding your body, your leptin levels go back to just about normal which allows you to keep your hunger levels down and your metabolism up. After your cheat day, your leptin levels remain up for four or five days then they begin to decrease again right in time for your next cheat day.
So go ahead, try implementing a cheat day in to your weight loss plan. You just might be surprised at how much it helps you not only physically but psychologically as well.
If you are not a part of our 12 week shape up challenge, this is the nutrition article for week three of the challenge. Click here to join.