When it comes to nutrition and working out, for every opinion on what exercise or supplement works chances are there will be an opposite opinion out there somewhere. For this reason, it can often feel like a bit of a minefield of advice, and nowhere is this more evident than opinions on cheat days.
Cheat days, where you allow yourself to pig out and gorge on any food or treat you want, have long been a big morale boost to all manner of athletes – from weightlifters and MMA fighters to rowers and cricketers – but whereas it has long been viewed as a much needed psychological boost, as more is discovered about nutrition the act has started to develop naysayers who insist your diet is how you eat 365 days a year, seven days a week and cheat days are the antithesis of this.
So you can make up your own mind, we’ve collected a variety of opinions and facts on reasons why you should indulge in a cheat day and reasons you might want to think twice so you can make your own mind up:
Yes: It’s Actually Good For Cutting
If getting chiselled is your aim and you want to get your body-fat percentage down, a cheat day can be the secret key. Leptin, a protein produced by fat tissue, plays a key role in regulating body weight and fat mass and in combination with Ghrelin, an appetite stimulant produced by the stomach to release growth hormone, and both are affected by calorie deficit diets. Weekly cheat meals which are high in calories and carbohydrates can help raise leptin and lower ghrelin levels – reversing or preventing negative effects that have changed your metabolism and energy.
No: There’s No Such Thing As Moderation
It helps to think of a cheat day more like a cheat meal – so rather than going straight to the supermarket and buying a tub of ice cream and a 20 inch pizza and a six pack of beers and gorging, just have one high calorie meal that you’ve been especially craving. Most people misunderstand the nature of cheat days and go overboard with their intake, undoing all the hard work they’ve achieved up until then. Unfiltered cheat days can prove to be a big downfall for some people as a result.
Yes: It’s An Incentive
By incentivising your goal – be it making a weight loss figure or muscle gain – it can change your dietary behaviour and give you something tangible to work towards. Having a theoretical finishing line before setting your next goal can keep you motivated along the way.
Many stringent dieters can feel guilty and miserable after binging on a cheat meal, but again this seems to be a problem with those who go all out on a junk food binge rather than being sensible about a cheat meal and having a couple of slices of pizza and a few scoops of ice cream.
Only you know what works for you. If your diet is your lifestyle then we recommend staying away from cheat days but if you have goals you want to achieve and need a way to incentivise them then a sensible cheat meal once a week should do no harm.