For those of us immersed in the world of healthy living and healthy eating, the ‘Cheat Day’ has become all but ubiquitous. Pinterest is chock full of ideas to help you make the most of your Cheat Day: Krispy Kreme waffles, deep fried cheesecake, donut french toast, and fried macaroni cheese bits are first to come up in the search results. Even personal trainers routinely blog about how much they managed to eat on their cheat days.
At first glance, the Cheat Day makes perfect sense. Our bodies get smart over time: our metabolism slows down to accommodate increased exercise and reduced calories. So, with a Cheat Day, we can pull a fast one by overloading our bodies with calories and kickstart our metabolisms once again. If only things were ever this simple...
Cheat Days: The Good
The Cheat Day is Motivating
In one large-scale study, participants on a 1,300 calorie-a-day diet enjoyed a 2,700 calorie day at the end of the week. Participants reported having an easier time staying committed to healthy eating the rest of the week.
Personally, I have friends who’ve done the Whole 30 diet -- and they shared with me that their #1 motivation to get to the end was the meal they planned to enjoy after a successful plan.
The Cheat Day Helps Boost Metabolism
The hormone Leptin is best introduced as a ‘fre-nemy’: it tells your body when you’ve had enough to eat (i.e: makes you feel full) and that you have enough energy for the tasks at hand. A great thing, right? Well, if you’re overweight, your body can actually become leptin-resistant, which means your metabolism slows down. And, if you are reducing calories and increasing physical activity, your levels of this important hormone drop. Your body stops getting the message that you’ve had enough to eat -- and adjusts your energy expenditure (metabolism) accordingly. That’s where the trouble starts - and that’s why overloading your body with calories can raise those Leptin levels and, in turn, your metabolism.
Cheat Days: The Bad
So, Cheat Days can help boost metabolism and keep dieters motivated. The bad? Cheat Days don’t take into account what’s actually good for your body: the Cheat Day is based solely on what will help with weight loss and calorie burning.
The truth is this: your body’s physical appearance/weight is only one part of your overall health. Metabolism isn’t all there is to being in great physical shape. How healthy you are simply isn’t about how much you weigh. ‘How to lose belly fat?’, for example, only skims the surface of how to be healthy.
Take the controversy around the Obesity Paradox, for example: the Obesity Paradox is a hypothesis that some aspects of obesity can actually be protective. Right now there are many unanswered questions, but one thing is clear: being thin doesn’t necessarily equal more health than someone who is overweight.
Cheat Days: The Ugly
Maybe you’ve seen Super Size Me, or maybe you’ve heard about it. It is a documentary released in 2004 directed by Morgan Spurlock. The idea was that Spurlock would measure his health before, during, and after consuming nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days (back then, healthy fast food wasn’t even a concept yet). His results were disastrous and sparked a nationwide debate around nutrition that lives on to this day. A healthy man when the experiment began, by the end of 30 days he was not. Spurlock had gained 24 pounds, increased his body mass by 13%, increased his cholesterol to 230 mg/dl, accumulated fat in his liver, and experienced both mood swings and sexual dysfunction. All that happened with just 30 days of overindulgence.
After Super Size Me came out, a Swedish scientist went on to launch his own similar study with a group of 18 participants, and while the results are still undergoing analysis, it appears that all of the fast food and unhealthy choices were wreaking havoc for those in the study. Yikes.
Cheat Days: The Truth
As a long term solution to keeping weight down, cheat days may do the trick -- but so does Weight Watchers. As a long term solution to staying truly healthy, cheat days don’t cut it. Needless to say, flooding your body with unhealthy food for any reason is not a good thing.
Weight loss or achieving goal weights? They’re simply not the only ingredients in physical health. When it comes to health, we need to stop putting all of our eggs in the weight management basket and start really respecting nutrition.