How Can Cheating on a Diet Really Work?
A cheat meal or a cheat day is a scheduled break in a diet. Meaning you do it on purpose instead of by accident. And that makes all the difference!
Obviously the best diet plan is one you can stick to without cheating, but we all know forbidden food just tastes better and the expectation of perfection is unrealistic. The Military Diet is one of the easiest diets to follow because it has more ‘days off’ than ‘days on’, meaning the light at the end of the tunnel is never far away if you can just make it through those three days.
But as we always stress, the four days off the Military Diet should not be considered a free for all if you want to maintain your weight loss. If you’re going to do the Military Diet a few times in a row, it’s best to eat moderately on the four days off to maintain your progress. But that said, we highly recommend treating yourself to a cheat meal or cheat day now and then.
What Is a Cheat Day or Cheat Meal?
A cheat meal or cheat day gives you permission to eat whatever you want without counting calories or worrying about fat or carbs. Remember that pizza you can’t stop thinking about on Day 3 of the Military Diet? Promise to indulge yourself with an upcoming cheat day or cheat meal. Most people like to cheat on the weekend when they have more time to enjoy their meal or can indulge their cravings with friends and family. When you’re in the middle of dieting and temptation is looming, you can stave off cravings for forbidden foods by delaying gratification and assuring yourself you get to indulge those cravings one day soon.
Knowing that the discomfort of a calorie reduced diet isn’t forever provides incentive to keep going.
When to Cheat…
Weight loss only occurs when you eat fewer calories than you burn. To that end, some feel the odd cheat meal is better than a whole cheat day. To lose weight, you need to stick with your calorie goals over the long term – the Military Diet is a low calorie diet. If you diet for three days and then have two cheat days in the same week, you’re likely to erase any progress you’ve made by overindulging. If you’re going to have full cheat days, make sure it’s only once every couple of weeks to balance out your calories. If you’re going to have cheat meals, like a plate of wings or nachos, one per week is beneficial to your weight loss rather than detrimental. In cases where you take a whole cheat day, like a wedding or holiday, and you plan to eat dessert, drink alcohol and graze all day long, plan in advance so you can spend more time on exercise beforehand or adjust your calorie intake before and after to accommodate a big calorie day.
The Benefits of Cheating:
A Boost to the Metabolism…
At the onset of a diet, you may notice that the weight comes off quite easily. Then weight loss starts to plateau after an extended period of dieting. When you’ve been eating a calorie reduced diet for a long period of time, then you throw in a cheat day, your body’s leptin levels increase. Leptin is a hormone responsible for suppressing feelings of hunger. When you reduce your caloric intake, amounts of leptin decrease in the body. When you have lower levels of leptin in the body, you don’t get as many signals to the brain that the body is satisfied or full, so the temptation to overeat looms heavy.
Our bodies are smart. Over time, on a calorie reduced diet, the body realizes it’s operating at a deficit and the metabolism slows down ever so slightly to become more efficient with the calories that are going into the body. This is usually the time when your weight loss plateaus. With a cheat meal or a cheat day, the added calories trick your metabolism back into higher gear. With a cheat day or a cheat meal, levels of leptin in the body rise again and you spring back into fat burning mode. The body realizes this calorie reduction isn’t going to last forever. The body is willing to release more fat since it doesn’t fear hanging onto secret calorie stashes in case of extended food shortages. It seems to go against logic, but a calorie rich cheat day or cheat meal throws the body back into fat burning mode and you are less likely to overeat.
Motivation to Stick to Long Term Goals…
Planning to cheat is a great motivator! Occasionally allowing yourself to indulge in forbidden treats gives you the motivation to stick to your actual diet. Knowing there is relief around the corner keeps us going. It’s all about psychology and knowing that the deprivation of a diet isn’t indefinite. Knowing this helps us to resist temptation when it does arise and better control our behavior while we are in the middle of dieting.
Imagine two groups of people. The first group is asked to stick to a 1200 calorie a day diet for three weeks. With no cheat days. The second group is on the same calorie reduced diet but gets a 2800 calorie cheat day at the end of each week. Which group do you think would feel more motivated to stick to their diet goals at the start of each week? Which group would have more motivation in the face of temptation mid week? Those who know they have a cheat day coming up or those who don’t? Dieters aren’t satisfied by an all or nothing approach, knowing there is no reward for hard work.
People who don’t reward themselves with a cheat day feel way more guilt when they fall off their diet and eat a piece of chocolate cake while standing naked in front of the fridge at 3am. You feel like you’ve ruined all your progress so far. With a built in cheat day or cheat meal, all that guilt is gone and you don’t build shame and remorse into your diet. With cheating built in, eating the cake becomes acceptable and is seen as a reward instead of a punishment.
Putting things in perspective…
Dieting can be psychologically gruellng to be sure. On a diet, it’s the concept of never eating such and such again that makes it so hard to stick to a diet. Knowing there is an end or a break in sight keeps us motivated. Cheat days give you a mental break from a strict diet.
Dieting reframes our relationship with food. We learn better portion sizes and eating habits while on the Military Diet. A cheat day or cheat meal can help us make smarter choices overall too. We probably feel amazing in the moment when that donut or burger hits our tongue, but how we feel an hour later is revealing compared to how we were feeling while eating less and eating well. So a cheat day can also give us incentive to eat healthier and make better choices overall.
Having a cheat meal or a cheat day that allows you to indulge in your favourite foods won’t create serious setbacks and can actually make your diet goals more achievable.