Science Behind The Cheat Day
I get many questions on what exactly a cheat day is and why it works so well. To answer those questions, I have decided to put together a mini series all about Cheats Days to explain why they work, why you should have them, the basics of the day, and how you can maximize them.
When I made the discovery of how well a cheat day works, let me tell you, I was pretty excited. I love junk food just as much as the next person so when I realized there was a way to eat anything and everything I wanted for a full day, I was jumping for joy.
A cheat day, in short, is a day where you can eat anything and everything that your heart desires. It should only happen, however, after eating real foods for the previous 5-7 days. So a cheat day should happen once per week for best results.
Cheat Day Science
Going on a diet puts the body in an interesting predicament, especially when you are not feeding it enough calories for an extended period of time. When you restrict calories for an extended period, your body starts going into a “starvation” mode and actually starts to work against you.
When the body is not getting enough calories, its starts signaling to store fat instead of burn it. The reason for this is that our bodies are made to adapt to whatever is happening to them. When you are not getting enough fuel, the brain triggers the body to store anything and everything you eat to use as back up energy.
This means that even though you are “dieting”, your fat burning will stop and you will start storing fat because of calorie restriction.
When you are trying to burn fat, the last thing you want to do is start storing it. That is the complete opposite of what you are trying to do. So how do you solve this?
Leptin is the hunger and energy hormone. It tells the body when it needs energy, when it is hungry, and when to stop eating. A few different things regulate Leptin and the first is calorie intake.
If you eat a high amount of calories, your leptin levels shoot up. Along those same lines, if you eat a low amount of calories, leptin levels fall.
When leptin falls, your metabolism slows down, as does your fat burning.
First off, leptin levels fall gradually. It typically takes leptin a week to drop and start slowing down fat burning. This means if you were to eat less calories than you burn (or restrict calories) for 6-7 days, your fat burning would start to slow down. This is the reason why when people go on a diet they start complaining that their fat burning has stopped. They need fuel (calories) to boost their fat burning and leptin back up!
Now this is the amazing part: It only takes one day to boost your leptin levels up into the ultimate fat burning zones. This means having a cheat day once per week will bring your body back to full fat burning.
The combination of carbohydrates and fats do the best job in elevating leptin. Eating a pizza or a few donuts will work better than if you just had a massive amount of pasta. By having these amazing junk foods once per week, you are resetting your fat burning and metabolism to get them into the ultimate fat burning state.
Leptin is a pretty awesome tool when used properly.
Now please do not interpret this post as “oh perfect, I can just drastically cut calories for 6-7 days then binge one day per week and get great results.” That is not at all what I am saying. If you are trying to lose weight, it should be a gradual process. If you focus on eating the right foods each day throughout the week, eat when you are hungry and until you are satisfied, then enjoy your cheat day; you will get great results. Your body will not get results by drastically cutting calories.
If you are needing to lose weight, your goal should be to burn more calories than you consume. Simply by cutting out processed foods from your diet and not drinking calories is many times all it takes. Focus on eating real food throughout the week at all your meals, then take one day to enjoy any and all foods that you want.
If you are looking to add size or maintain, a cheat day will still be beneficial. Throughout the week, depending on your goals, you will need to be incorporating more complex carbohydrates (preferably within 30 minutes after workouts) to aid in muscle growth or muscle maintenance. Then each week, enjoy a cheat day. This will aid in fat burning and lean muscle growth if you stay strong to your nutrition and workout plan.
You must have balance when it comes to the foods you eat. Not only has it been proven that a cheat day works well when done properly, but it will also keep you sane by allowing you to eat all the foods you love each and every week.
Remember, if you decide to take on the cheat day style of eating be sure the foods you eat throughout the week are incredibly healthy for you. You should not be having cheat meals during the week then expect a cheat day to help your progress. Focus on eating healthy sources of protein, fats, and lots of veggies, then depending on your goals add in some carbohydrates. Once going 5-7 days of clean eating, you should then enjoy your full cheat day!
In part two we will be covering the basics of the cheat day and I will give you an example of what your nutrition plan may look like when incorporating this style of eating.
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