Cheat days are a popular way for people to take a short, temporary break from calorie restrictions and dieting.
However, cheat days can ruin your diet and potentially prevent you from losing weight and achieving your weight loss goals.
As there are no restrictions during a cheat day, many people over eat and consume a large amount of calories.
Doing this for just one day can undermine weight loss goals and stop you from seeing the results you want.
However, as I’ll go on to explain, this depends on how you approach a cheat day including how often you have them.
From reading this article you’ll know:
- If a cheat day will ruin your diet
- The benefits and downsides of having cheat days
- If you can still lose weight having a cheat day
- If you will gain weight having a cheat day weekly
Will A Cheat Day Ruin My Diet?
When done in moderation, cheat days can be beneficial for dieting as they can help people to stick to their diets for a longer period of time. However, as there aren’t any restrictions, people often over consume during cheat days which can slow or reverse weight loss progress.
The value of having a cheat day when dieting is debated.
One of the benefits of having a cheat day is that it provides an important mental break from dieting.
“Sticking to a calorie deficit and following a restrictive diet is difficult”Source – 99.9% of the people dieting
Taking a temporary and short break from dieting can be beneficial if it helps you to stick to your diet on non-cheat days (normal diet days).
This can also help with cravings during non-cheat days, as you know you’ll be able to have the foods you want during a cheat day.
Cheat days may also be beneficial when dieting as they help to prevent the body from entering a form of ‘starvation mode’.
When consuming a calorie deficit – especially for a prolonged period – the body can enter a form of starvation mode and try to prevent further weight loss by slowing calorie burning and increasing appetite.
Having a cheat day may help to prevent this.
By boosting calorie intake temporarily you signal to the body not to enter this starvation mode, which prevents your metabolism from slowing.
However, there are downsides to cheat days when dieting.
During cheat days there are no restrictions on what you eat or the amount of calories that you consume.
As a result, many people overeat during a cheat day and consume a huge amount of calories.
Having a personal trainer can help with this in terms of advising on how much you can consume and a general guideline on what to eat but if you’re doing it yourself, it can be hard to make good decisions!
Consuming an excessive number of calories is going to have a negative impact on your diet.
Not only can it undo prior weeks of dieting but can also impact the following week.
Just to be clear – cheat days are not detrimental to progress.
If properly planned they can be beneficial but without the basic understanding of a cheat day and when to use them optimally, you could easily impact your current progress.
For example, if your diet involves consuming 2,000 calories per day with a calorie deficit of 250 calories per day and you maintain that for 6 days (Monday – Saturday) then you’ll have a 1,500 calorie deficit by Sunday.
If you then have a cheat day and consume an additional 4,000 calories (EASILY done on a cheat day) then you’ll have consumed 2,000 additional calories and be in a weekly surplus of 500 calories.
The Math – 2,000 calories extra on the cheat day (4,000kcal – 2,000kcal daily average) minus the 1,500 calorie deficit you built up from Monday – Saturday leaves a 500 calorie surplus meaning you could actually gain weight!
I’ve explained this concept in more detail in another article covering why you’ve gained weight after a cheat day and what to do about it.
Additionally, the benefits of having a cheat day for preventing the body from entering a form of starvation mode can be better achieved through refeed days (arguably).
Refeed days are more controlled and prioritize the consumption of carbohydrates.
In comparison to cheat days, refeed days support longer term weight loss more effectively as you don’t overeat during them.
Cheat days can also be harmful as they can promote binge eating behavior and an overall unhealthy relationship with food.
Related – Cheat day vs binge eating: a comparison
One of the most important factors of weight loss is adherence to a diet and training plan.
Adherence is basically sticking to something and the easier it is to adhere to a diet the better results people tend to see.
If you are relying on cheat days and overindulging then this is a key signal that something may not be right with your current diet, such as:
- Calories are too low
- Calorie deficit is too much
- Exercise regime is too intense
- Macros aren’t optimal (carbs too low, fat too low, etc…)
Can You Still Lose Weight Having Cheat Days?
You can still lose weight when incorporating a cheat day into your diet.
In fact, some research suggests that cheat days can be beneficial to weight loss as they prevent the body from entering a kind of starvation mode when consuming a calorie deficit.
When consuming a calorie deficit for a prolonged period, the body can slow weight loss by slowing your metabolism, and by increasing your appetite.
This is why many people hit a weight loss plateau after a few weeks to months of dieting.
By temporarily increasing your calorie intake some research suggests you can prevent the body from entering this starvation mode and support weight loss longer term.
Cheat days can also help people to follow their diet more consistently on non-cheat days which also helps to support weight loss longer term.
This is mainly due to adherence which we mentioned earlier.
If you’re on a very strict meal plan, not only is this difficult physiologically but it’s also hard mentally.
Having a very short break from a diet helps to alleviate cravings and also helps to keep people motivated with a diet long term.
It’s easier to eat a salad and feel cravings when you know there’s a treat on the horizon than if you are doing it with no enjoyable break in sight.
However, cheat days can also cause weight gain.
This is particularly the case if they’re done frequently and involve eating an excessive amount of food.
Cheat days come with no restrictions and people often over consume, meaning they eat past the point of feeling full.
As there aren’t any restrictions on the foods you eat, or the amount that you have, people often consume a lot of calories.
It’s not uncommon for people to consume an additional 1,000 to 5,000 calories during a cheat day.
Excess calorie consumption, particularly when done frequently, is going to lead to weight gain and will ultimately undermine the weight loss results you want to see.
Will I Gain Weight if I Have a Cheat Day Once a Week?
You can gain weight by having a cheat day once a week.
As I explained, if you consume a calorie deficit for 6 days a week, but then overconsume on one day then you can undo a lot of the progress you have made.
Having cheat days more frequently is going to make it harder to lose weight and mean that you are dieting for longer to reach your desired body composition.
This is especially true if your aim is for a low body fat percentage – 10% or under.
Therefore, if you want to incorporate cheat days into your diet then it’s better to have them less frequently, such as every 2 weeks or once a month.
A nutritionist, personal trainer, or online coach will be easily able to program this for you. If, however, you are doing this on your own then caution will definitely need to be taken.
Another option is to have a cheat meal, as opposed to a cheat day.
During a cheat meal you wouldn’t consume the same excessive amount of calories that you would during a cheat day.
This way you still get a temporary break from dieting, without the same consequences.
Cheat meals are often the better option for a number of reasons:
- You get to enjoy food outside of your typical diet
- It’s harder to overindulge on a single meal
- You get the same psychological benefit (mental break from a diet)
- It can be beneficial to kickstart your metabolism or restore muscle glycogen levels
- Has fever downsides than a cheat day
If you’re reading this because you’ve had a cheat day and are worried about the impact of it then we’ve got you covered.
Check out our tips on how to recover from a cheat day and minimize any unwanted impact.
Cheat days aren’t the end of the world and you can easily recover from them if you think you’ve had one by mistake or a feeling guilty/demotivated after having one (this is normal).
If you want to know more about cheat days in general then check out this video too: