The weekend is often a time when we are tempted by less than nutritious treats and goodies. Is it ok to indulge in them? Well, actually, yes it is. I’ll give you some quick science below as to why but then I’ll jump to the fun part: how to cheat and make it beneficial for your body.
Why eating (lots) more calories one or even two days per week is good for you:
When we are trying to lose body fat, we need to have two things happening at the same time (1) hormonal balance and (2) a caloric deficit. If we have these two things happening we should be losing body fat at a successful rate. The hormone balance happens when we are eating a whole foods, anti-inflammatory diet like we do. The caloric deficit can come from eating fewer calories, exercising (preferably with strength training) or both.
Now, here is the catch, when we are in a caloric deficit for too long, our body goes into “starvation mode”. In sciency terms it is called “adaptive thermogenesis,” which basically means our metabolism slows way down. This is an adaptive mechanism from way back in the day when food would be scarce for extended periods of time. During these scarce periods, our body stopped focusing on less important tasks like skin cell turnover and hair growth and focused only on essential roles such as brain function and heart function.
Therefore, too much of a caloric deficit for too long really slows down the metabolism and is counter to our goal of losing body fat.
So what do we do about it?
Enter the concept of “Cheat Days”
During a cheat day, we over-consume (and usually waaaay over-consume) foods that have been scarce over the previous week such as sugar and starch. When this happens, it signals to our body that food is no longer scarce. It upregulates hormones and enzymes that are responsible for burning off all the sugar and excess calories. The combination of excess calories and an increase in these hormones and enzymes causes our metabolism to rise. We don’t really burn much fat on a cheat day, however, all this burning of calories really forces our metabolism to rev up. The end result? When we go back to eating very clean and in a caloric deficit on the days following a cheat day (this is KEY!!), our metabolism is burning body fat at a much faster rate than before.
Psychologically this really helps us too: We can only say “no” to the office candy bowl so many times before we are ready to poke our eyes out and then devour every last piece of candy in the bowl. Our willpower will only last so long. However, by adding in planned cheat days (I like Tuesdays and Saturdays), we tell our inner 3 year old that if we hold off on the office candy today (Friday) we can have an even better treat tomorrow (on our cheat day). In this sense, we can still reward our small cravings but in a controlled way.
How to cheat:
1. Always start your day off with a protein-rich and fiber-rich breakfast. This gets our blood sugar off to a good start in a stable way.
2. Move throughout the day. We want the excess sugar in our bloodstream to be burned in our muscles and increase our metabolic rate. That means we need to move throughout the day. 90 seconds is all that it really takes it increase glucose/sugar uptake in the muscles. It moves those GLUT4 receptors to the surface of the muscle where they can be available to store sugar and burn it later. We want sugar to be burned this day so move more, sit less.
3. Be aware of what you are sensitive to on your cheat day. There are no restrictions on cheat day but just know that if you are sensitive to gluten, your cheat day might not last as long as you want because of fatigue or a belly ache.
4. You will gain weight after your cheat day. But it is only water. That is all it is. Trust me. So don’t be surprised if you step on the scale the next day and are 4 pounds heavier. It is all the sugar pulled into your muscles to be burned. You will pee and sweat it out over the next couple days. If the water retention bothers you, try drinking lemon water the following day. Or a diuretic herbal tea like dandelion tea or nettle tea.
Ok, that’s it. In order for a cheat to be truly effective, it means that you have to be rather diligent on the days in between (Think: lean protein, veggies, a touch of fats and a caloric deficit). So use the cheat day as a time to satisfy those cravings and temptations you may have had over the week but passed up because you knew they weren’t the best option for you. Enjoy!