Are Cheat Days Healthy?

Are Cheat Days Healthy?

The term “cheat day” refers to a day where you can binge on foods you typically wouldn’t eat— then go right back to your healthy lifestyle. Oftentimes folks designate one day a week (typically on the weekend) as their cheat day. Although some diet plans advocate such a day, as a registered dietitian I don’t and here’s why.

The Definition
The definition of the word cheat is to violate the rules deliberately, to mislead, and to deprive by trickery. All these terms are negative—food, weight loss, and healthy eating should never be equated to trickery or deprivation.

The Reality
Cheat days in theory may sound like a good idea, but in reality they can have severe consequences. I’m not talking about cheat days which are defined by an extra decadent dessert or a glass of wine—both of which can be part of a healthy lifestyle and don’t even need a designated cheat day to be consumed. It’s the “cheat day gone wild” that can get you into trouble.

Think about it—you eat 1,400 calories a day 6 days a week. That’s enough to help you lose 1 pound per week, a healthy rate to lose weight. On your cheat day, you consume 4,100 calories which isn’t very tough to do if you went out to eat a lavish meal with cocktails, appetizers, and desserts (and ate breakfast and lunch too).

In order to lose your planned 1 pound per week, you need to eat 583 fewer calories 6 days of the week (meaning you usually eat around 2,000 and now you lowered your calories to 1,400 per day). On your cheat day you went over you calorie limit by 2,700 calories—by doing so, you just sabotaged almost 5 days of healthy eating which you worked very hard to achieve. This will lead you to feel guilty, frustrated, and you probably won’t lose weight.

The Control
If you think cheat days are about having a few extra treats or calories, again it’s the wrong type of mindset. You are saying that you have the power to control yourself to indulge “a little” once a week. What if you have a little extra on the wrong day? Does that mean you fell off the wagon and should feel guilty? This can lead to a second, third, and fourth day “off the wagon” and ultimately sidestep your healthy eating plan altogether.

The Bottom Line:
Whichever way you look at it, a cheat day is not a good idea. Healthy eating and weight loss is about finding ways to make healthy lifelong habits. Part of creating healthy eating habits is learning how to moderate alcohol, dessert and other high calorie indulgences on a daily basis. It takes hard work, motivation, and a positive mindset to make it happen.

LET’S DISCUSS: How do you feel about a cheat day?

22 Comments
  • Bonnie Pfiester
    Posted at 15:51h, 03 April Reply

    soooooooo agree!!!! Preach it sista!!!

  • MilesMusclesMom
    Posted at 16:06h, 03 April Reply

    moderation is key. Not a cheat DAY but occasionally you should be able to have a special meal that does not normally fit into your clean eating lifestyle-again, it is moderation and learning what works for you.

    I like to live by the 90% rule 🙂

  • Joyce Cherrier
    Posted at 17:31h, 03 April Reply

    So many different opinions on this issue! But I tend to agree. I think the problem is using food as a reward. Especially children — – if you eat your veggies you can have cake idea. Amazing how much bad food is used to reward good deeds!

  • Olga @ Choose Healthy Food
    Posted at 06:23h, 29 April Reply

    Hi Toby,
    I found you through SesameButter.com and have enjoyed going through your blog.

    I agree with you about cheat days. But I want to know why the diets that include cheat days still work for many individuals. Joel Marion, a fitness expert who supports the cheat day diets and sells them, claims that cheat day tricks your body in thinking that it doesn’t have to go into starvation mode that your diet otherwise pushing it into. He recommends that if you time it properly with exercise, it is actually very beneficial.

    I don’t have enough knowledge to argue this point, but I would like to know whether this point of view has a leg to stand on ( and if it doesn’t, why people are losing weight)

    Cheers
    Olga

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  • Heather Cunningham
    Posted at 22:33h, 30 January Reply

    After being so focused on eating healthy & removing foods from your diet that don’t make you feel good, going off track is really a momentary lapse that in the end isn’t worth it. Since people have such a difficult time with the term “moderation” (it’s so subjective), once you “eliminate” them, I don’t encourage going back! In agreement Toby!

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  • FoodsGoodForSkin
    Posted at 15:28h, 02 July Reply

    Cheat days is what works for me. Actually I consider them essential.

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