Will a “cheat day” help me get lean? A cheat day, for the uninitiated, is one day a week where you get to binge, in exchange for being extra careful with your diet the rest of the time. Unfortunately as a general rule, I’m going to have to say ‘NO’! A cheat meal will not help you get lean and in fact might just do the opposite.
MEET THE ROCK
If you’re a news connoisseur like me, devouring only ‘Michelin Star’ quality twitter feeds, then you’re sure to have been following Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his eating strategy, building up to the filming of G.I. Joe Retaliation
“The Rock” has some legendary cheat days, with one mammoth effort being ‘12 pancakes, 4 pizzas and 21 peanut butter brownies in a sitting. You may be thinking: “He is lean and jacked, I too want to be lean and jacked, so I deserve a cheat day, right?” I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you're not 'The Rock' and his cheat day will not help you get a six-pack.
The ‘cheat day idea’ comes from diet plans that build in gluttonous reward days for dietary adherence. Financially successful diet plans like The 4 Hour Body, which include cheat days, are very popular. Restrict your diet during the week, they say, and be rewarded by eating everything you desire one or two days a week.
I hate to put a cork in your champagne brunch, but here are a few of the claims made about cheat days, followed by my response to those claims:
Claim - Because calories are limited during the week a cheat meal is needed to boost the metabolism
My response – There seems to be a lot of misconception when it comes to metabolism and starvation mode. Cutting out junk food, eating just under you caloric needs, not snacking between meals, or skipping meals here and there will not put your body in starvation mode or slow down your metabolism.
Claim – Restricting your diet to only healthy food is bad for you. Everything in moderation. You need to eat junk food or you’re missing out on life.
My response – Nothing good can come from eating junk food. If you enjoy eating junk food eat it, and don’t feel guilty, but don’t fool yourself about why you’re eating it and what it’s doing to you. If you’ve found a healthy diet where you don’t crave junk food, you feel good and you can eat socially without hitting the junk food, then there is no need to cheat.
Claim – You deserve to eat whatever you like at the weekend as a reward for eating boring food during the week.
My response – If you hate healthy food so much you need to binge on junk food over the weekend just to survive, you will never succeed. At some point you’re going to have to accept the fact that only healthy eating will make you healthy.
Claim – My friend followed the 4 Hour Body and had great success, so it will work for me.
My response – Prior to starting the 4 Hour Body your friend was probably eating like a human garbage disposal, and then a little self-control during the week led to some weight loss. It was not the cheat meal that facilitated the weight loss. For the overweight, metabolically broken, or emotional eaters this weight loss strategy is a recipe for disaster.
AARON’S ‘EAT ALL YOU WANT’ DIET
Are you looking for the magical diet – a diet where you can eat all the junk food you like and still lose weight? Well, I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is there is no such diet. The good news is, I have a solution that means you don’t have to say no to eating. Here it is:
Eat lots of vegetables. If you perform a lot of high intensity activity and your goals are performance-orientated, eat lots of starchy vegetables as well. If you’re trying to get leaner, you might need to be a little more restrictive on the starchy vegetables, but no one is saying you have to eat low carb!
Eat fruit. Use the same principle as the starchy vegetables: if you’re a hard-charging athlete looking to improve performance, fill up on fruit. If you’re a little metabolically broken trying to lose some fat maybe keep fruit as a treat.
Eat nuts. They are healthy, but if you eat a bag of them every day for a snack, chances are you will gain weight. Use them more like a condiment or a treat especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
The above outline is simple, and it works.
Unfortunately it also relies on you to choose healthy food and have some self-control. Maybe that’s why it’s not likely to make me rich any time soon!
A FINAL WORD ON ‘CHEAT DAYS’
Even though a cheat day might not be the best strategy, it can’t really hurt me, right? I’m afraid that’s another myth I’m going to have to pour cold water on. Here’s why:
- A lot of people don't come back from a binge meal, let alone a binge day or weekend. For many, once you start binging, it's impossible to stop.
- If you're eating for emotional reasons, you'll generally have problems getting or maintaining the body composition you desire. Cheat days are just going to set up bad habits that will make it even harder for you to get the results you really want.
- Robb Wolf in one of his podcasts said "you don't cheat on food, you cheat on spouses" Cheating is when you have rules or parameters and you make a deal, that's not eating"
Remember, there are always exceptions to the rules: hard training athletes, lean gainers who are super-tuned into the rules of eating, and irritating people who never seem to gain fat, no matter what they do. But they are the exception and we are the rule.
Happy eating and see you in the gym -