How To Minimise the Impact of Cheat Days
Cheat days just happen sometimes, even when you’ve got the best intentions of sticking to your fat loss plan.
Some people have them as planned and scheduled events. That’s fine. I agree with that approach when it’s used SPARINGLY. Cheat days don’t speed up fat loss. But they can give you a nice mental break from the rigours of tracking your diet.
What is a cheat day technically?
Cheat days mean different things to different people. Some people are pretty strict and they say a cheat day is any day when they didn’t track their macros, even if their food choices were still pretty good.
Other people may call it a cheat day if they eat more carbs than normal, even if it’s just eating a bit of bread with breakfast and a bit of pasta for dinner.
For me, a cheat day is a day where I don’t track anything, and just eat pretty much whatever I want, usually things that aren’t very healthy. I don’t do this very often.
The day doesn’t always start out like this, sometimes a lunch or dinner will throw me off and then I just end up saying “f*** it” and turning it into a cheat day.
It usually happens when there’s a special occasion, like a birthday or father’s day, or a social event like a family BBQ.
One meal turns into something that isn’t really going to fit into my macros for the day, so I end up just not worrying about it for that day and enjoying the food. I usually end up eating way more calories than I would normally, mostly from carbs and fats (and not the nutritious kind!)
What will happen if you have a cheat day?
Cheat days don’t mean disaster for your diet.
You don’t get overweight from overeating on one day. You get overweight by overeating for months and years.
If this happens on your diet, the first thing you need to do is:
All that’s going to happen is this:
You’ll see some immediate scale weight gain.
Even as much as 5 pounds or more. This is not fat. You’ve been dieting. There’s been less food inside you. You probably ate a load more food than usual, and most of that is probably still inside you. It weighs something. Additionally, you’ve been depleting your glycogen stores (carbs stored in muscles and liver as energy) as you’ve probably limited carbs more than usual during your dieting phase. You see this with the loss of a lot of water weight at the start of the diet. Eating carbs allows you to refill these stores and regain that water weight. You probably feel great now you’ve replenished them!
You might look different after your cheat day.
As mentioned, you’ve suddenly regained a load of water. This is why, if you’re lean, you suddenly seem to have bigger muscles after a cheat day. If you’re lean, you may also notice immediate reduced definition of your muscles. this happens when you regain more water than could be stored in your muscles. Some of it gets stored outside the muscles, under the skin. This is called “subcutaneous water” and it can reduce the visibility of your muscles, making them more “blurry”. No big deal, unless you’ve got a photoshoot or bodybuilding contest in the next few days! Another thing that can add to water retention is increased sodium (salt) consumption.
You might look BETTER after your cheat day!
If you’re very lean, you’ve got depleted glycogen stores and you get the carb and salt consumption right, you may find yourself looking unbelievable after your cheat day. Suddenly, muscles that were flat are now full, and the increased salt intake can improve your vascularity.
But most people probably aren’t too concerned with this. You’re more interested in how to minimise the impact of your cheat day.
How to minimise the impact of a cheat day
Firstly, understand that the impact is not that high (in fact, it’s tiny) in terms of noticeable fat gain.
You may have set yourself back a few days, or even as much as a week, of dieting though. If you were in a 700 calories per day deficit, and then had a ridiculous cheat day (spanning several meals) that took you 4-5,000 calories over maintenance, then you have lost a week.
That’s all. One crazy cheat day, AT MOST, will have sent you back to where you were a week ago.
It won’t look like that’s all it’s done – as you’ll be bloated, retaining water and holding a lot of extra scale weight – but that’s all temporary.
Secondly, you can minimise any impact by making room in advance. I like to plan days of indulgence and act accordingly beforehand. If I know I’ve got a potential tricky food situation coming up (some sort of social event, usually) then I’ll deliberately eat a bit less in the days leading up to it, to give myself more of a buffer.
You can also try fasting on the day of the event (don’t eat anything before or after). Just don’t eat. It will make you look forward to it even more, then when you’re at the event you will enjoy it even more.
Thirdly, you can reduce the impact by clawing back calories from the rest of the week. If you went 1,400 calories over maintenance, you can undo that by eating 200 fewer calories for the next 7 days. That’s pretty easy to do.
Important Note: Try not to have cheat DAYS. Try to keep to cheat MEALS. Once you’ve “rewarded” yourself with a large pizza and a side of garlic bread, everything else you eat that day STILL COUNTS. It doesn’t matter less because you ate it all on the same day. You are digging yourself a deeper hole to get out of.
Make sure you don’t get into cycles of binge/restrict
If you find yourself having regular cheat days and then having to fast to make up for it, you need to address an underlying problem. This shouldn’t become a cycle. The more you restrict, the more you’ll want to binge. Then you’ll feel guilty and you’ll restrict even more, which in turn can lead to an even bigger binge.
If this is you, then STOP. After a cheat day, just go back to eating normally.
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