The terms ‘cheat day’ and ‘binge eating’ are probably ones you’re familiar with and you may have heard people use them as though they’re the same thing.
A cheat day is a temporary break from your diet during which you don’t have restrictions on what you eat or drink.
Binge eating, on the other hand, is a kind of eating disorder which involves over consuming food in a way that feels out of control.
Episodes of binge eating are done frequently and they’re typically associated with negative feelings such as depression and guilt.
Cheat days and binge eating share some characteristics given that they’re both associated with consuming more than you typically would.
But, there are key differences between the two. Put plainly, cheat days and binge eating aren’t the same thing.
Here, I’ve explained what is meant by cheat days and binge eating, before comparing the two so that we can see what the differences are between the two.
What Is A Cheat Day?
There isn’t a strict definition for what a cheat day is and the term might mean different things to different people.
Broadly though, a cheat day is a day where you don’t follow your usual planned diet. Essentially, you give yourself a temporary 12-24 hour break.
This approach would be taken regardless of what your diet is. So it doesn’t matter if you’re counting macros, following keto, or just consuming a calorie deficit, the idea of a cheat day is the same in that you take a temporary break.
In reality though, the people most likely to take a cheat day are those going through a cutting phase and have been on a calorie restricted diet.
The logic behind a cheat day is that following a diet is hard.
Continually monitoring what you’re eating, changes in your weight or muscle growth is difficult. So a cheat day is a way of rewarding yourself for sticking with your diet the rest of the time.
^^ There are much more specific physical and psychological reasons for taking a cheat day or cheat meal like replenishing muscle glycogen stores or having a mental break to improve diet adherence for a longer period of time to prevent burnout.
The idea is that by having a cheat day it will help you stick to your diet the rest of the time.
Generally, you wouldn’t have any restrictions on a cheat day.
You can eat and drink whatever you want, including foods that are high in calories and low in nutritional quality such as pizza, fries, and ice cream, to give just a few examples.
Keep in mind though that most cheat days will lead to people gaining weight again. This is a serious worry for those not being directed by a nutritionist or personal trainer but in reality, the weight gain is usually just short term water weight.
The frequency of cheat days will vary from person to person depending on what diet they’re following, the results they want to see, and how quickly they want to see those results, amongst other factors.
Typically though, people will have cheat days weekly or monthly and they will be a planned part of their diet.
Before having a cheat day, we’d also recommend checking out our guide on how many extra calories you can have on a cheat day. You don’t want to end up binge eating…
What Is Binge Eating?
Binge eating involves consuming a large amount of food within a short period, such as a couple of hours.
In this way it’s similar, though, not the same as a cheat day where someone would eat more than usual over a short period of time.
However, whilst they may seem similar, binge eating isn’t the same as a cheat day.
Binge eating is often part of an eating disorder.
It usually involves someone feeling compelled to eat a lot on a regular basis and people may even feel as if they’re not in control as they’re not able to stop eating.
Some of the symptoms of binge eating include eating a lot of food in a short period of time, as I mentioned, but also eating when they’re not hungry, eating rapidly, and eating alone or in secret.
Binge eating is also often associated with feeling badly, such as feeling upset or depressed.
As I’ll go on to explain, this makes binge eating different to a cheat day.
What’s The Difference Between Cheat Days and Binge Eating?
Whilst cheat days and binge eating can sound similar, as they both involve consuming more for a short period of time, there are important differences between the two.
Here, I’ve explained three of the main differences between the two in a cheat day vs binge eating comparison:
Firstly, cheat days are a planned break from your diet for a short period of time. For example, every Sunday or every other Saturday might be your cheat day and this is something that you’ll stick to as part of your diet.
This is contrasted with binge eating which is characterized by feelings of not being in control. As a result, binge eating episodes occur often and aren’t necessarily planned for.
Secondly, you don’t over-consume food on a cheat day. So, whilst you might have an extra bowl of ice cream or extra fries on a cheat day, you wouldn’t push yourself past the point of feeling full.
Cheat days are designed to be without restrictions so you can eat foods you may usually avoid, but it doesn’t mean that you would eat excessively as someone who was binge eating would.
Cheat days are also done over the course of a day. They’re not designed for you to rapidly consume a lot of calories as someone would when binge eating.
Thirdly, the feelings associated with cheat days and binge eating are different.
As cheat days are planned into your diet, there *shouldn’t* be any worry or feelings of guilt associated with them (though often, there are). In fact, they’re supposed to feel rewarding.
In contrast, as I mentioned, binge eating is often associated with feeling depressed or guilty. So the emotions associated with cheat days and binge eating are different.
Do Cheat Days Encourage Binge Eating?
Although cheat days and binge eating are different, concerns have been raised around cheat days encouraging binge eating.
This is because cheat days involve treating food as a reward. Certain foods, like pizza and fries, are often labeled negatively when dieting and then they become a reward during a cheat day.
However, treating food, or treating certain kinds of foods, as a reward may create an unhealthy relationship with how someone sees food which may contribute towards issues around food including binge eating disorder.
Also, whilst cheat days aren’t designed for people to eat excessively or consume a lot in a short time period, sometimes people do. As a result, cheat days can become like binge eating episodes.
Also, whilst cheat days aren’t meant to leave you feeling badly they can become associated with negative feelings particularly if people feel like they’ve over-eaten.
See also – How to recover from a cheat day (physically and mentally)
In this way, cheat days could encourage binge eating behaviour.
Also, check out this video which gives a great overview of the differences between cheat days and binge eating:
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