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The Cheat Day Survival Guide

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For many dieters and health conscientious folk, “cheating” is an integral slice of mental sanity. After a week of eating so-called “clean” foods and adhering to a strict “diet,” fitness enthusiasts around the globe take reprieve in being able to acknowledge and indulge in their wildest cravings.

Because of the mainstream popularity of The 4-Hour Body, cheat days are more prevalent than ever. Ferriss deems them a necessity to rebound hormone levels after days of dieting.

But, sadly, most cheat day fiascos end up hindering progress rather than enhancing it. So here are so ways to make sure that doesn’t happen.

WHY ALL CHEATS AREN’T CREATED EQUAL

Without getting fancy, under-eating triggers adaptations associated with minimal nutrient intake. So the body starts operating assuming a deprivation. Some processes, like muscle building, slow as the body “senses” the lack of consistent nutrients. “Cheating” resets things and stops the body from going too far into the “deprived” state.

As mentioned, The 4-Hour Body brought “cheating” to the mainstream world. But in the underground athletic fitness community, it’s been around for a while. Ferriss science-ified his recommended one cheat day per week by advocating “regular” breakfast, timed grapefruit juice intake, timed caffeine intake, special supplement use, and specifically timed intermittent workouts. If you’re interested in the details of his method, just check out The 4-Hour Body.

When it comes to food intake, there are no barriers on the Ferriss cheat day. As most dieters are starved for junk food, cheat days turn into an indulgence extravaganza. And therefore most people associate the concept of a “cheat day” with stuffing your gizzards with junk food. But this isn’t fully representative of “cheating.”

Let’s clarify some things.

  • Cheating: Breaking your normal dietary rules or plan out of personal desire. In this sense, eating a boatload of “healthy” food can also be “cheating.” Hunkering down 10000 kcals worth of oats would likely be a “cheat” simply because of the quantity, regardless of how “clean” oats are thought to be.
  • Cheat Meals: One meal in which cheating occurs. For instance, “My cheat meal is Sunday dinner, so I’ll have the cake then.”
  • Cheat Days: Entire days in which cheating occurs. For instance, “Sunday is my cheat day, so I’ll eat donuts for breakfast, pie for lunch, and pizza for dinner.”

Now, there are different levels of cheating. For some, eating a small hunk of chocolate is a cheat meal. For others, it’s opening their mouth underneath a chocolate fountain. So let’s clarify cheat volume.

  • Normal Cheat: Eating to satisfaction. Not stuffed. Not hungry.
  • Stuffed Cheat: Belt loosening. Shouldn’t eat anymore. Not really discomforting though. Almost euphoric feeling. No regrets.
  • Binging Cheat: Eating even though you are full. Mild discomfort. Regrettable. “I shouldn’t have ate that last slice of pizza.”
  • Gorging Cheat: When binging goes wild. Being sick to the stomach. Self loathing to follow. “I want to throw up to relieve the pressure in my stomach.”

THE DOWNFALLS OF CHEATING – THE DARK DAYS

No one is perfect. Cheating, in some capacity, is essential for everyone. Essential. But whether the cheat is a twelve egg omelette or twelve buffalo wings depends on discipline, goals, and philosophy.

Some can handle the cheat day mentality with moderation. For others, however, it becomes an uncontrollable spiral of regrettable habits very similar to binge drinking.

Small pieces of chocolate bars after meals become full blown desserts. Full blown desserts become sketchy meals. Sketchy meals become cheat meals. Cheat meals become cheat days. Cheat days become binges. Binges become gorges.

Not long ago, I fell into a pattern of gorging weekly. Every week, it got worse. Every week, I was filled with regret. I nicknamed this time period, “The Dark Days.” Below are some common symptoms.

1. Your entire week is spent plotting your cheat day. This wouldn’t be so bad except you eventually lose sight of what you live for. If the aim is to live a healthy life, what good is finding refuge in the single most “unhealthy” moment of the week?

And if this “unhealthy” moment makes you feel whole, you’re ultimately limiting what gives you the most joy in life in your attempts to be healthy. It’s backwards.

2. Every weekend becomes a gorge. Ferriss admits to limiting gorges to once per month. But in The Dark Days, it’s non-stop.

3. The day following your cheat day, you wake up dry mouthed, bloated, sick with regret, and full of self loathing. This is the cheat day hangover. It’s not fun.

4. You get stuck in a cycle of cheating, feeling guilty, and then under eating to compensate for the cheating. Then, just when you start feeling good again, another cheat pushes the reset button on the cycle.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ME

In 3 Reminders for the Skinny-Fat Ectomorph, I said that cheat meals = game over. But to this day, I cheat. The extent and magnitude of the cheat, however, isn’t quite like it was during The Dark Days.

You can say this entire post is an accumulation of six months of experimentation, psychological toil, and some emotional anguish. It’s been a long road to get where I am, so learn from my past failures. The process wasn’t easy. Not everyone will face the same issues and have the same problems. For those that do, however, this information is invaluable.

At first, straying from the path of food cleanliness was difficult. I’m naturally one of those guys that thinks eating one malted milk ball instantly creates a third love handle. Being a former skinny-fat ectomorph, I don’t take this issue lightly. Gaining fat scares me. Like, “I just watched the movie Teeth,” kind of scared. So I just didn’t really cheat. And that lasted for a long time. Chips, chocolates, and most processed foods didn’t appeal to me. At all. I had no problem throwing away food that didn’t fit my normal intake. My emotional attachment was 100% cut.

Cheats started slow. Maybe a bit more of my normal food here and there. Maybe a slight indulgence after one meal, once per week. But then I found out about feasting and fasting. This method worked great for me for a long time, and I still think—for some people—it’s a kickass idea. But Monday’s, my fast day, became draining.

The feast – fast method is basically eating whatever you want one day, and then fasting the following day. So the fasts last 36+ hours. (An entire night, an entire day, and then another entire night.) This led me to overeat to the point of feeling like I had to fast. So as my feast day dwindled, I would intentionally put myself over the edge to ensure I was “full” enough for the fast that awaited.

This was likely what destroyed me. Every cheat day I told myself, “I’m not eating tomorrow, so I have to eat beyond my capacity todayto avoid miserable hunger pangs tomorrow.”

This grew. And grew. And grew.

Every week, I wanted to stop eating before discomfort. But it never happened. It only got worse.

Leftovers that normally were thrown away were forced down the hatch. I don’t know why either. Nothing changed about the confines of my cheat day, but I felt like I had to consume.  At parties, I would flock to the cookie table. Months prior, however, cookies were an afterthought. So I took a long look at what I had become and where I wanted to go. Was the cheat meal to blame for this gap?

A NOTE ON FEASTING-FASTING

In the name of transparency, I have to mention that the feast – fast method, although taking me down an unwanted path, worked 100% for its intention.

I gained muscle. Hell, I even think I lost fat. I didn’t care to track it at the time, but I made some outrageous gains. This in itself was one of the reasons why abandoning it was difficult.

But the psychological baggage became too heavy, and it interfered with my summer life. (Tricking bloated and disgusted doesn’t end well.) If you’re interested in learning more, however, I suggest checking out John Romaniello’s Fat Loss Forever, in which his feast – fast method is included in a comprehensive plan. (In the interest of disclosure, this is an affiliate link, meaning if you click through and purchase, I get some schwag. Thanks for the support.)

HOW TO MINIMIZE CHEAT DAY DISASTER

Every Sunday, I battle the cheat day urges. Some days, my food challenge-esque portions and mindset get the best of me. (I’ve been known to tackle local restaurant food challenges.) But having since stopped the feast – fast method, I’ve learned to mitigate the damage, even if I do an outrageous food challenge here and there. Here are some of the strategies I use.

1. Stopping at stuffed

This is the most difficult of them all, but simply stop eating when you feel full. For those used to gorging regularly, this won’t work well. For instance, my feelings of satiety don’t kick in until 20-30 minutes after a meal. This means I eat. And eat. And eat. And by the time I sense fullness, it’s too late.

2. Make it a cheat meal

Ditch the cheat day. Adopt a cheat meal. Make it one and done. So take one sitting and acknowledge your cravings. But once you leave the table, end it. No “I’ll eat dessert later.” No “I’ll save these leftovers for later.” One sitting. One meal. That’s all.

3. Over hydrate

Waking up with dry mouth and a cheat day hangover sucks. Combat it by downing water by the bucketful the day of your cheat, especially during and after the meal. Drinking a bunch directly after the meal also kicks in satiety faster, which can prevent you from eating when you probably shouldn’t.

4. (W)hat (W)ould (J)ujimufu (D)o

It’s no surprise: I look up to Jujimufu of Tricks Tutorials. He has been the sole purpose for who and where I am. He seems to do everything “right.” So I abide by this motto: What Would Jujimufu Do?

Now, I’m not truly sure what he do. He could very well be by the cookie table, stuffing himself with sweet treats. But something tells me that most times he isn’t. So get some standards, have a role model, or make some kind of goal that prevents you from going overboard.

5. Cheat healthy by re-conceptualizing junk food

Get eighteen scoops of ice cream? Or create your own super awesome sautéed apple protein pudding concoction with a side of oatmeal crust bread? Perhaps a sexually satisfying serving of banana, whey, cottage cheese, and walnut “parfait?”

Find “healthy” alternatives to the junk foods you love the most. You would be surprised what you can whip up with oatmeal, peanut butter, fruit, protein pudding, whipped cream, cottage cheese, and dark chocolate.

5a. Cheat healthy by overeating good foods

People cheat to rebound hormone levels when dieting. But hormone rebounding is less about junk food and more about the total quantity of food. Overeating doesn’t necessarily mean pigging out on junk food. Just up the quantity of your normally eaten foods once or twice per week. Twelve egg pork omelette with a side of oatmeal crust bread, anyone?

6. Fill up on protein and green veggies

Eat a ton of lean protein and vegetables before your “cheat meals.” Cottage cheese, chicken, turkey, whey, and green veggies carry little caloric load and make you full quick. But beware. If you’re prone to gorging, you will find a way to pile food down the pipe regardless of how “stuffed” you are, so this can potentially backfire.

7. Train the day of

If you’re going to be eating a lot, why not train and hope that something comes of it? After all, maybe the calories will help with recovery? Or kick start some muscle growth?

8. Don’t try curbing every craving in one week

Pick one craving. Then satisfy it. You can always hit the next one the next week. If it’s something seasonal that won’t be around for long, get it while you can and save the other cravings for future weeks.

9. Learn How to Throw Away Food

This may sound stupid, but it truly deserves an entire post let alone one small section. Throwing away food is difficult. It’s a mind game. It’s a waste. And I have trouble doing it myself.

But think about the emotional impact and the end result.

If you throw it away, it’s in the garbage. Gone. You can’t see it. End of story.

If you eat it, it’s in your stomach. It makes you feel bad. But the end result is still the same: You can’t see it. It’s still gone. You just end up hating yourself.

Don’t obsess over it. Just toss it.

10. Eat Out

Go out for your cheat meal and don’t get a to-go box. Finish what you can in this one sitting and be done with it. While I’d much rather cook for myself, it’s easy to overcook and be stuck with mounds of leftovers. Not good.

11. Cheat less frequently

Think about cheating every other week instead of every week.

12. Cheat, but only during social affairs

This comes from a reader of the website, Rajat Desikan. He shared a unique idea: only cheat at social functions. Don’t go out of your way to plan something. But if an event comes up, enjoy yourself. The upside of this is that you won’t kill your social life. (And you won’t be perceived as that wierdo health freak. Although, that’s kind of a cool persona to play so bask in the role if you want to.) The downside of this is that if you have an active social life, you will be tempted to cheat often.

13. No buffets.

Another reader, Daniel Wallen, said he prefers buffets for cheat meals. But in my opinion, only those with the stones to stop at stuffed will do well at an all you can eat extravaganza. Although you can curb many cravings at once, I recommend steering away from buffets. They’re like proximity mines.

14. No trans-fats.

Even though cheats allow for indulgence, keep some standards. My cheat days were optimized when I voluntarily turned things away that didn’t fit my code of good health. This extended beyond cravings and was more about living a good life. One of these codes was avoiding fried and trans-fat foods. To this day, I rarely eat them. Cheat day or no cheat day.

15. Consider a fast.

This is a hark back to my feast – fast days, but full day fasting after a cheat day does work. It attacks the bloat head on, allowing you to mentally get back on track instead of depriving yourself for a week.

The feast – fast method requires a unique mentality in itself. (This is better served as a separate article.) But just know that it’s easy to get carried away once you adopt the “I need to jam two days of eating into one” mentality. Keep your wits about yourself with the above tips.

Alternately, you can do Brad Pilon, Eat Stop Eat style, twenty-four hour fasts two or three times per week instead of the one day fast crush. (Once again, affiliate link. Schwag. Thanks.)

GENERAL CHEAT RULES YOU MUST KNOW

What does it all mean?

  • Most people are better served with cheats that are simply “more” of normal food intake. In other words, take one or two meals per week and double or triple the portions.

For those of you that want to go the junk food route, here are some thoughts.

  • Cheating works better for those dieting to lose weight because the subsequent starvation mentality that follows a cheat plays right into the calorie cutting mentality. But this only works if you’re actually following a diet that does restrict calories.
  • For those looking to gain weight, that aren’t looking to gain a lot of fat, over-cheating is dangerous ground. People under eat the days following a hardcore cheat day to combat the bloat and hangover. This leads to a cycle of cheating – under eating – starting to feel normal – cheating again – etc. More often than not, this leads to sub-optimal nutrition throughout the training week. End result being that most people fail to gain any muscle because they’re too concerned with mitigating the cheat day damage.
  • Save the hardcore binges for once per month. Like I said, I love food. I eat food. A lot of it. I’ll always be into food challenges. The key is to reduce the frequency of binging. By doing this, you can also employ more drastic techniques—like fasting—to combat the hangover without the immense psychological hit.
  • For the most part use moderation on your cheat day. Stop at stuffed.
  • Have standards. Cheat meals and cheat days where “anything goes” is usually a bit too loose of a mentality. Have some stones and set some standards. Save fried or trans-fatty foods to your once per month binge. You are in this for health after all.

CONCLUSION

Cheating helps some dieters keep their sanity. Avoiding sweets for life in favor for raw vegetables isn’t exactly an appealing trade to most.

But there’s a darkside to cheating. A side that leads people down a path of living for junk and sweets. Is it a good way to live?

I’m not so sure.

+++++

What do you think?

To cheat or not to cheat? I’d love to get your opinion in the comments section below. You know I always reply, so I’ll be waiting for your answer.

 

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95 comments… add one

  • Anthony,

    Solid advice, I gues the biggest thing people can take from all of this is there is not one simple answer. What works for some, doesn’t work for others. For me, my cheating is limited to one meal per week, not junk food mind you, just a large serving of my favourite home cooked, greek style, carbs loaded extravaganza. I find this method works best for me enabling me to maintain under 10% bodyfat percentage, without feeling like I’m missing out on things.

    Niko

    Reply
  • Anthony, excellent guide indeed!!!! I have been through the same journey, first adopting the body for life approach – I once went on a “cheat” day and returned 14 months later to a more disciplined approach to eating – hehehe. I realised that when I cheat, I can go so hard after letting off the hand-break that it can be days before I recover and fight against the urges (not worth it). The “relief” from bingeing on junk foods has consequences in terms of the need to keep containing the cravings for a day or so afterwards. For me, as I start to connect more real time awareness about the way I feel to what I have eaten, I notice that the big downside for me for 30 minutes of ad libitum eating indulgence, is the loss of energy and downstream lethargy I experience for many hours afterwards. With an energetic little son and daughter, it stuffs up a large section of my weekend and theirs due to the moodiness that can arise when dealing with blood sugar spikes and excessive amounts of food to metabolise. For me, a double espresso drunk when out with my family at a cafe has become a real treat which gives me hours of energy – thanks caffeine, and I get to sample and taste different coffee beans under different baristas. I also “cheat” on Friday nights like Niko, but with chocolate and ice-cream post-meal, and make sure I enjoy every dam bit of it. The advantage of flooding the system with excessive carbohydrates and fat on Friday night is that for me, it acts as a ritual to usher in the weekend (celebration), and when the lethargy really hits I can go to sleep (and not have to do anything). Plus the interval between sleep and the binge meal is limited, so I sleep on my cravings effectively – hehehe. Excellent work again. Paul D

    Reply
    • Paul, thanks for the insights man. You definitely seem to have figured things out, so that sounds great. I never thought of inducing sleep with it, so thanks for that. And I never thought about making diet compatible with kids and whatnot running around. Some great insights there.

      Reply
  • i do mostly the 4hb diet. and i have adopted a new mindset in the last 3 month. so now, when i have my cheat day and i have left over (last week 2 x 100g of chocolate and 1 of those big pringles chips things.. i never once touched it during the week, nor did i think about it.
    this week, after sunday i had the same leftovers again.. and on monday i was thinking hard.. should i extend by 1 day and then do 12-14 days of no cheating… i was very hungry and had no food but some fried chicken nuggest in the fridge (i was too lazy to go buy food that day). so i strongly considered it. but i was strong enough to not eat either. the day after i felt very proud about my resolve and havent had this craving the last 2 days.
    the other thing that happened. even if i want to gorge (and i used to gorge a lot) i simply cant.. my stuffed feeling kicks in so much faster now and i can´t even eat half of what i used to. which is nice. but the stuff i sometimes eat still puts on 6-10lbs during that day. i will certainly try some of your advice, since living healthy and good is becoming the biggest priority nowadays for me.

    Reply
  • A good coverage of the issue Anthony.

    I like the concept of feast-fast mainly because it offers some structured freedom. I am able to go through the week and honour my ‘diet’ (still don’t like that word) with relative ease and little distubance. When Saturday rolls around however, friends, parties, sporting events, trips, family meals etc. generally create problems. I’ve made my fair share of sacrafices in my effort to cut, but I would hate there to be a trade off between my social life and my diet.

    With that said, I believe that there can be psychological damage created by thinking you’re Kobayashi for the day Plus a day of binging on crap is like most extreme diets – unsustainable and mostly uncontrollable. I’m the guilty sort, so any excessive feasting is followed by a 24-36 hour fast, and I try and offset any damage by getting in a good training session prior to the feast,

    I suppose i’m looking for some middle ground. I don’t feel as though I need to cheat to satisfy cravings anymore, I really just want the hormonal reset benefits that come with the refeed, and don’t want to be the anti-social ‘dieter’ in social situations. I have to say that I really like Rajat’s idea, but the main problem I see with that in my own situation is that social gatherings are a bit too spontaneous.

    Reply
    • Diet is a poisonous word, but it serves it’s purpose.

      I think the social benefits are definitely one of the pluses, if you’re someone that likes to keep “strictness” in your food intake. And as far as Rajat’s recommendation, that’s kind of the point. Only indulge when the opportunity presents instead of feeling like you need to do it weekly.

      Reply
  • Dude I wish you would’ve wrote this 2 years ago. I can relate to every word! Those cheat day hangovers are the worst. When I started the cheat-fast I used to binge like a mad man and I’d sometimes be in tears from the pain at the end of the day. I ate wayy past the point of discomfort. Yet I continued to do it every week just because I liked having all that freedom to do what I wanted for a whole day. Like to be normal. I finally stopped after a year straight of this cycle and no longer do full cheat days. I just can’t handle it mentally. I switched to a cheat meal once every 2 weeks and it’s working really well for me.

    Thanks for the article bro. I always can relate to your nutrition posts. I wish I could have seen this a couple years ago.
    -Rock

    Reply
    • Rocky, awesome stuff. Glad I’m not the only one out there. Once every two weeks sounds good. Do you fast or anything the day following?

      Reply
      • No, but I do a body-building split and usually I try to do 2 workouts the day of my cheat meal. As of late I’ve been doin back in the morning cheat then I’d do shoulders later that day. I try to do cardio the next morning but I do a IF type of diet. So I don’t intentionally fast but it’s like my normal diet routine the next day.

        Reply
        • Rocky, do you cheat in the middle of the workouts or after both? Just curious? If after, do you have a regular meal in between the workouts?

          Reply
  • Hey Anthony,

    This post really hit home with me, as I can definitely say I’ve gone through some of the same feelings you discussed, specifically the planning of the cheat meal over the week. If I had a planned cheat on Sunday, I would obsess over it all week, planning what I wanted to eat, and by the time Sunday came I would eat until I felt ill, feel guilty about it the next day, and usually do a 24-36 hour fast after. It might not have been that detrimental to my fat loss efforts, but psychologically I don’t think it was all that healthy.
    As of late, I’ve adopted alot more relaxed attitude towards cheats, and don’t actually plan them in my week. Rather, I plan them around how I’m feeling. If I’ve been in a caloric deficit for a few days or close to a week and have little energy then I’ll cheat. I find this to be very helpful, as I’m not actually planning the cheat meal, and therefore I don’t glorify it and grossly overeat. As well, there have been times when I didn’t feel like I needed a cheat meal (had lots of energy, workouts were still going great), but if it was planned I would still force myself to eat crappy food, and feel pretty terrible the next day.
    That brings up another point you discussed that I really like: cheating with ‘clean’ foods. I found that, after eating ‘clean’ foods for a week, I would feel like garbage after eating a big meal of junk food. I had little to no energy, didn’t feel like working out and looked like crap to boot. In my opinion, overeating on relatively clean foods when I have low energy is an awesome way to feel better, still get to eat tons of food, and not deal with the psychological demons after a junk food cheat meal.

    Anyways, I just want to say this was an awesome post, thanks a lot man.

    Ben

    Reply
    • Ben, thanks for the reply. Hope to see you around more.

      I like how you said it might not have been detrimental to body composition, but it definitely was to the mind. Share the same feelings.

      And the junk food refeed backfiring is an interesting point, especially because you compare it to “better” foods. Great stuff. Thanks for the insights.

      Reply
  • Great article, Anthony. To answer your question and reiterate what others have said, it’s a different answer for everyone. I can control cheating pretty well, but I know people that let it get crazy. I am a big follower of Brian Wansink, so I think we should change our environment rather than diet. We’re mindless eaters.

    Reply
    • Matt, thanks for the reply!

      How would you suggest changing environment for those that go overboard on cheating?

      Reply
  • Rajat Desikan June 28, 2012 1:11 pm

    Lovely post Anthony…thanks for the mention. The post is a mirror of what I experienced…Lovely work

    “I’m naturally one of those guys that thinks eating one malted milk ball instantly creates a third love handle.”…I think I just said Amen :)

    Shout out :) I had an oat meal volcano on my cheat day (day before yest)…It was no less satisfying than an ice cream bucket. (I froze the lava…try it sometime :) )

    Reply
    • Awesome. I freeze the lava from time to time too. Just make sure you don’t leave it in there with a spoon for a long time….

      Reply
  • Hey Anthony! Thankfully I never ever get to that stuffed level of cheating eating junk food. If I eat one bag of Doritos, I just start hating myself ten minutes later. I do have cheat meals which include chocolate, cereal (Fruit Loops with Marshmallows are AMAZING), and some random sweets.

    I have actually had trouble stuffing myself with “clean” food like chicken, brown rice, and milk. I used to try to down two liters of milk and the result was not usually all that good. But the absolute worst stuffing that I have had was stuffing myself on almonds unintentionally. I didn’t do it because I liked the taste, but because the fats were necessary (not even a good stuffing :( ). Yeah, I spent those nights on the toilet (sorry for this image) with intense abdominal pain that wouldn’t go away. To this day, almonds make me a little queasy.

    My worst nights came from stuffing myself on “clean food” that my stomach couldn’t handle, caloric requirements be damned. My mom thought I was going to die if I kept having these abdominal pains. I did find a way to curve it, though. I would just eat more during the first meal and eat less during my final meal. Problem solved. I almost never get those horrible pains anymore. Well, you live and learn, right? I shouldn’t wear those times as a badge of honor, but they were agony-inducing, so I think I will, haha.

    And I found your experience with the feast-fast method to be very intriguing. It was in a way setting you up to overeat more and more. You needed to hit a certain quota of calories without regards to your psychological and physical levels of discomfort. It’s almost like a trap. It’s the same thing that screwed me over. Like you, I needed to eat this amount of almonds or milk to meet my caloric requirements. You probably weren’t measuring everything like I was at that point, but it seems like you still needed to hit a certain quota of food.

    I had no regard for my physical discomfort and psychological baggage. I ate past the point of mild discomfort regularly.

    So looking back, this is a very interesting lesson life has taught us. To find a balance between your self-enforced guidelines and your self. Or “listen to your body.” I’ve read that so many times, but it was only then that I learnt it in regards to my food intake.

    On a lighter note, I’ve found that stuffing myself on other foods is way more satisfying than stuffing myself on pure junk food. Those Co-Jack cheese rectangles are soo amazing and when I reach that “stuffed” point, I just lay back and want to pat my belly. Now THAT is the sign of a good stuffing. That and maybe some good ol’ ham and cheese sandwiches. I don’t think I’ve ever gorged, though. I think the emotional hellstorm that I know would transpire as a result has locked up the thought deep down. The thought of breaking my caloric requirement by thousands of calories feels bad, man (meme inserted).

    Great article. I think it will help people manage cheating in their own unique ways, or at the very least, make them more conscious of their patterns. That’s always been the gatekeeper of the force of change. Becoming aware of your patterns is a must to even deal with them. I had to become aware of my constant abdominal pains (of which at the time, I thought very little of) in order to change.

    Reply
    • Cool reply. I recently “cheated” earlier in the day and my body responded much better. Very interesting you mention tapering your nightly calories. Although, some people advocate bunching them at night.

      Reply
  • hey anthony, good post as always.evil photos!haha.u opened up my mind.i never thought the negative aspect of cheat days from a psychological standpoint. it is true that last time when i incorporated cheat days, i looked forward to it and from the surface, it may sound okay since at least i have an appreciation towards the cheat day that i ‘deserve’.however, in depth, i tend to look forward too much that yup, like u said above,sometimes i suffered from being obsesse over it to a point where i failed to look forward to the other days of the week.and since plotting cheat days in my weekly eating schedule required me to be strict on the other days, sometimes i felt like i lost sense to note the fine lines between the cheating volumes laid above. i will tell my body (or my body telling me) that i deserve this day because ive worked hard over the week and thus, everything becomes binging.and of course,sometimes i tried to plan a training session on cheat days but it rarely happens.and when it did, i didnt achieve my best while training.usually on cheat days i didnt feel energetic,probably due to consuming tons of fat and carbs at every meal.

    but on the other side of the coin, i felt happy incorporating the cheat meals(duhh).so while i fail to consider the negative psychological aspect, but i sure love the positive effect!i saw progress in terms of fat loss and it definitely helped while practising the feast-fast method.yes, i felt dehydrated and bloated following the cheat day, but never really hungry.and to me having cheat days was a way for my mental to lay off from training just for that particular day and i felt that i needed one of those feelings after them burgers and pizzas.may not be good, but mentally this comforts my mind knowing that i can get this happiness again the following week if i work hard.

    Currently, im not as strict in terms of my calorie intake in my diet plan.therefore i feel that incorporating cheat days would be counterproductive.not to mention that i am pretty prone to fat gain.but i do have one cheat meals per week.i cant say this time it helps from a fat loss standpoint, but it sure keeps me from being insane.and as long as im not gaining fat from it, thats okay

    Reply
    • Yeah, Yannick, it’s kind of the drug like nature of cheat days. They become an addiction of sports. They bring so much happiness that it’s euphoric. And that feeling becomes so damn good it’s hard to kick.

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  • Anthony, Great stuff!

    I also tend to make my “cheats” more of a social occasion. However I don’t have any kind of set cheat schedule, and they’re very infrequent. If I feel like having a slice of pizza I have a slice of pizza, or I want to have sushi I’ll eat some sushi.

    I probably do this once a month or less. At the very worst I see it as more of a refeed!

    If you’re still around WM my mom will likely have some leftover cookies from the 4th haha.

    Reply
    • Yeah, I’m around WM. Had no idea you were from the area, hah! Just checked Facebook though, and it appears you are!

      Reply
  • When I feel like cheating on a day that isn’t assigned as my ‘relaxed’ day, I tell myself I’ll eat whatever it is, after I’ve eaten a real meal. It works every single time because afterwards I’m satiated.

    Reply
  • Helder Luis June 29, 2012 2:54 pm

    I prefer not to cheat, with that said i like Dan John’s idea, make a full war on body fat, go extreme to achieve your goals, and then maintain it. In my opinion it should be about a healthy Lifestyle, reach your goals and then live a balanced Life. I know it can be a bit more complicated, it depends on many factors, different people, but it also doesn’t have to be very complicated.

    Reply
    • Helder, I kind of agree with this. Achieve your goal as fast as possible, even if it’s going to jack up your life for that small period of time. (As crazy as it sounds.) And then try to balance everything out after that. Seems to work well when it comes to fat loss. Building muscle is a slower process as is, and is better served to be done slowly over time.

      Reply
  • Good stuff Ant!

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  • While I totally appreciate and understand all the stuff related to the psychological damage of cheating, I get the feeling that the benefits of cheating (or refeeding, whatever you want to call it) are being shunned or overlooked by most people here. After all, cheating serves a purpose right? That is to boost your metabolism.

    If the name of the game is being healthy, then for someone looking to lose weight boosting your metabolism results in greater fat-loss, and helps break through weight plateaus (generally speaking). From what i’ve read on cheat days across the web, a large number of people seem to be quite unanimous about them being a fast way to achieve your goals.

    I guess my main point here is I think that cheating is like a lot of dieting protocols. It may not be ideal (with all the psychological/sustainability baggage) but then is there really an alternative that doesn’t have its problems? Swings and roundabouts.

    P.S. Sorry if I sound argumentative. Found all opinions above very interesting, just thought cheating deserved some rep!

    Reply
    • 99% of people that cheat don’t do it solely to boost metabolism, they do it as an excuse to eat junk. Not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but if you just wanted the metabolic effect, you would overeat good foods. But I get what you’re saying, even though the metabolic effect isn’t THAT drastic.

      I think the cheat meal helps people stay a little more structured during the week. THAT is why it works. Not necessarily the metabolic boost. And the structure is what can slowly evolve into the psychological issues.

      Reply
  • Lovely article. I personally see almost every training refeed as a cheat meal, as it usually involves getting a huge surplus of calories – which triggers the sensation of “cheating” haha! So I cheat, a lot – often on clean foods, and also on the less clean stuff – and I love it. It keeps me more sane than ever, as it fits neatly in contrast with a “healthly” lifestyle in general.

    Reply
  • First Off!!! Anthony, my god I felt like I could have written this! As a matter of fact I had planned on post a similar topic on my blog, but this topic is a sore one for me. Thanks for opening the door and letting the light in!

    About me! I eat a predominantly “Whole30″ food regimen. Notice I did not say diet. I found that the Paleo style of eating worked with me, I lost body fat, gained definition and felt worlds better and stronger. I went months without any cheat days, as a matter of fact, in conversations with a Personal Trainer I am friends with, we would discuss the use of the “Cheat” term as I felt it had a negative connotation. My view is If your gonna eat something, just eat it and don’t give it a name “Cheat.”

    Well like most, after months of weight loss and great results I started to feel like I was doing all this clean eating and exercise but I was missing out on something, so I decided that I would allow a day off program every month. Then at some point I or food convinced me that every 10 days was OK. The problem is that the “Day” off program can become two or more days if you bring home left overs, or the sugar bug anchors into your brain. Not to mention the guilt and regret that Anthony mentioned in his “Dark Days.”

    For me, I am certainly considering going back to 1 a month if at all. I am great at making Whole30 and Paleo approved junk food knock offs, and those got me through before (To well in some cases.) I just have a hard time reminding myself that that one cheat day can become two and end even if it doesn’t, the regret will almost surely trump and enjoyment I had from the day or meal I ate!!

    Thanks again for the post, and I will certainly follow you from here on out!!

    Kyle

    Reply
    • It’s a balance, Kyle. I wouldn’t abandon all “goodies,” otherwise, you’ll start to hate life. Sometimes…

      I know a guy that never “cheats” but he loves it. Has no problem with it. He does tend to “overfeed” at times, but only on good food.

      I think it depends on who you are.

      But the WORST is using cheat meals as binge days. I honestly don’t care if most people “cheat” a little here and there. But when it becomes a binge and has throw-up like potential, we got problems.

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  • Great post.
    I’m a 5’2 girl and my weight is about 105 lbs and 19 percent body fat. I’m not an athlete but I work out 5 to 6 times a week with a combination of weights and cardio. I look really ‘fit’. I’m super healthy all week — avoid all refined carbs, no added sugar, eat high fiber, a ton of greens, some fruit, lean protein, and healthy fats. However, Fridays are my cheat days when I eat whatever I want for dinner. I tell myself that I’ll have a controlled portion but it somehow leads to binging. One weekend it was greasy hamburger, with a huge portion of french fries, and then georgia mudpie dessert at dairy queen. This alone probably amounted to 2000 cals at least. Another weekend it was a half box of choc chip cookies and a couple slices of apple caramel pie, and definitely more than 2000 cals. Weirdly enough, I don’t feel sick or disgusted. I feel amazing and energized the next morning. I eat perfectly well the next day and go back to my routine. I find that it keeps my sanity in check and I don’t feel physically ill. in fact and it motivates me. I’ve maintained my body pretty well too. But I still wished I didn’t have to BINGE. The idea of binging doesn’t feel good to me. Any advice?

    Reply
    • Well, if you’re doing alright I’d say you’re doing alright, ha. What concerns me is when people come close to throwing up/ DO throw up as a result of their binge.

      If you don’t want to do it on junk food, you can always fill up on healthy food. The refeed idea is only really valid from a caloric influx standpoint, not the fact that it’s junkfood.

      Reply
  • Thank you this is a great article very useful tips. I tend to the gorging cheat and this would help me prevent from doing so !

    Reply
  • I have 4 small chocolates it equal 300 calories thier 80 each i planned the treat and once i had it i didnt want more but for some reason i just feel guilty a week but some weeks i dont have my treat at all i eat healthy all the time and go the gym 6-7 days a week sometimes on the 7 day i do a 13km run i had the treat but felt like i didnt enjoy it cause i feel as if i could of had it or leave it i dont crave food but if i have one biscuit or a small bit of chocolate a week i feel like i have failed my healthy eating plan thiers like this guilt trip but in my fitness pal im in with my calorie range i have lost 8kg in the last 4 months and feel like i dont even want to treat a all but i hate this guilt feeling thinking about not having any treats

    Reply
    • Thanks for the reply. Maybe you should think about using periods next time in your sentences. Without them, it’s hard to read. And thus, hard to reply.

      Reply
  • hey for my cheat meal once a week can i eat as much as i want in tht meal and a large cookie aferwards or will tht stop my weight loss?

    Reply
    • Depends my man. I don’t know “as much as you want” is. As much as you want for person 1 might be 23145 calories. Person 2 it might be 1000. Need to get more specific.

      In general though, I don’t think ONE MEAL of “cheating” will derail long term progress.

      Reply
  • This is a great, thought provoking article.

    I completely relate to those feelings that you’ve experienced after a cheat day. I find the psychological effects of a cheat day, to be far worse than the physical. However, after two week periods of eating natural produce, it can be extermley difficult not to over induldge on a cheat day- I often rack up to 10,000 calories in a single day, feeling compleltey devoid of energy, and ambition by the end of it! In fact, that is exactly what I’m doing right now- at 5.53am, beginning my cheat day! The advice in this article was however helpful, and its nice to know I’m not the only one dealing with the perils of the anticipated cheat day!

    Reply
  • Brilliant post, I’m just about dragging myself out of ‘the dark days’ and it’s good to know it’s not just me! Definitely agree the psychological effects are worse than the physical – pizza and chocolate just aren’t worth the emotionally draining cheat day hangover.

    Reply
  • Good God. This truly hit home. What started out as 2 or 3 cheat meals over Friday and Saturday quickly spiraled into 4 buffets a day for two days straight cheat weekends, and I’m terrified they’re going to get worse.

    Thanks for the insight. Crossing my fingers that I get over this stupid psychological nonsense soon, too.

    Reply
  • thanks for holding this discussion

    hmmm, for me this is all about binge eating; howsoever i choose to dress it up

    if honest a cheat day is a justified excuse to binge. i have worked hard in the last year to get into the psychological reasons why i binge, and this has helped me more than anything – addressing the level of cause – my relationship to myself and my feelings

    right now i am eating clean and refining my diet and really getting somewhere and within that i too like one meal a week which is chosen from a wider range of food options, its a bit of a safety valve

    i wouldnt term it a cheat meal as for me that has implications of right/wrong; good/bad behaviour which underpins the binge mentality, there must be a better word

    for this meal,i set dietary parameters for myself , its not an authorised lapse into bingeing on any old crap

    i continue to enquire into my relationship to food and eating; – why do i (still) feel the need to reward myself with*special * food? when the meal becomes a mental focus/obsession then i have to look into that too

    may we all be happy, blessings of good health

    Reply
    • I have a lot of new ideas as to the why behind the cheat meal outside of this, but I appreciate the response. It’s a philosophical issue for sure.

      Reply
  • I’m so glad I came across this, thank you for the article. I am reading this after a binge day and feeling very guilty. I have lost over 90 lbs since August through eating less and training hard. I have been doing the cheat-fast thing, but, I only fast after a cheat day out of guilt and a way to restart my dieting. I didn’t know it was something people actually do. I don’t think I can take it psycologically though, it kind of destroys me. How did you manage to break the cycle? I only started doing this maybe 2 months ago and although I still see physical results it has become really hard to maintain and I don’t think I can keep it much longer. My main worry is binging and cheating becoming the norm. I guess I’m having a hard time trying to figure out how to maintain exactly. Sorry for the rambling, but this article struck home.

    Reply
    • Takes time, but it starts with toning down the cheat day to a point where you won’t feel ungodly bloated the next day. Because you’re always going to be thinking you need to fast. It’s a tough cycle to break, so I suggest sticking to your guns and eating a small meal the day following a cheat. Veggies and lean meat. Maybe 500 calories or something.

      Reply
  • Great article man, I can definitely relate to some of your experiences, especially the “dark days” ha. I’ve been better lately but I still eat until feeling sick, but I believe that is just because I’m doing the IF diet. IF is great, and it really works for fat loss, but I never know when I’m full so that leads to overeating on the cheat days. Glad to know I’m not the only one out there that experiences some of those things though!

    Reply
  • Hey anthony, I have a cheat day once every 3 weeks,thanks to your guidelines, and I usually incorporate it with the “Feast/Fast method”. I know you’re not big on #’s, but for the sake of my question I hope you’ll accept it this time lol. If I need 21,000 calories a week to maintain my weight, and the day of my cheat day I have 9,000 calories left to consume over 2 days, if I were to eat 9,000 calories on my cheat day, and follow it up with a 36hr fast+HIIT session, while I still lose weight that week? (9000-9000+36hr fast+training= should equal calorie deficit)

    Reply
    • I think your problem is assuming that you know that your body needs 21,000 calories per week, when such an estimation is likely subject to pretty decent deviation. In other words: you’re right, I don’t do numbers.

      Reply
  • Hi there! Great article. I just wanted to say that I’m in complete favor of a cheat meal 1x weekly. Having to follow a strict low gi diet due to insulin resistance/pcos-this helps me stay on track-to becoming the woman I used to be…permanant lifestyle change with one cheat meal weekly (I can certainly live with that) more cheats than that and I would only self loathe.

    Reply
    • Well, everyone is different. I know people that thrive without cheat meals. I find most people enjoy one though.

      Reply
  • Great article & advise!

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  • I am going for a cheat day today because by now my metabolism seems to be so low that i cannot seem to lose weight anymore at a calorie intake of less than 600 calories per day. I am a woman and 165 cm tall but still since i work out i should need alot more than that. Instead i actually put on weight (visibly) after i for example had one glass of coke or one little slice of cake (which i have very rarely). That really is annoying so now I want to try and see if a cheat day every other week could be beneficial for me. I will however not opt for Burger King meals or crazy amounts of cake but rather a nice full slice of whole grain bread with low fat cheese for lunch and a spoon of peanutbutter as a snack and a good piece of chicken with brown rice and veggies for dinner and then maybe i will allow myself to indulge on a coffee with real sugar and a little piece of chocolate when watching a movie :) i do not believe that a cheat day should go overboard that much that one actually goes crazy on lots of unhealthy junk food full of trans fats. Instead one could call it a high carb day :)

    Reply
    • You don’t put on weight after one glass of coke. Your mind is doing that. Your metabolism might be bunk because of how little you’re eating, that’s true.

      Reply
    • Jay,

      600 calories a day is really really low. Unless you are morbidly obese, such a low level of calorie intake can lead to chronic long term health conditions.

      The reason you see an impact from eating certain foods is simply water weight. Instead of having a “cheat day”, why not eat a nice dose of healthy carbs (loaded with micros – such as a huge number of bowls of awesome soup). Expect water weight etc, at 600 cals a day I have no idea how you are getting adequate micros.

      To boost your metabolism, you will need to slowly add calories back in, and time those calories around exercise. Carbs will do that.

      Reply
  • Hi there,

    I love your article, you have some really great advice!
    MY question is lets say you have one too many cheat meals/days (aprox 4-5), will this slow down the muscle building process, cause you to lose muscle, or cause you to gain any fat?
    Its super hard for me to curb my sweet tooth, and if I have chocolate one day, I find myself eating it again for the next 3 or 3 days if its within my reach.

    Reply
    • Generally, eating boat loads of junk will lead to a physique that looks like you eat boat loads of junk.

      Reply
  • Hey ant , i am a soccer player , am 181 cm and 77 kg .. I used to follow a restricted diet 6 days per week then i have my cheat day .. I work out my abs and run nearly everyday .. I want to keep that shape. On the cheat day , i feel i eat so much , and maybe i really do .. So i regret every sunday eating that much of chocolates and drinking pepsi and begin working out so hard the next week so i dont lose the shape, so what shall i do on this cheat day and what shall i do to keep my body in that shape without loosing or gaining weight ?!

    Reply
  • Generally speaking, how many extra calories constitutes a “cheat day”. On average, I’m on about a 1,400 calorie/clean eating weight loss program. I’m a 5’5″, 164 pound 44 year old female and ideally, I’d like to get down to 140-145.

    I have to completely agree that cheat days can get out of control and I really like your advise about clean eating cheat days in lieu of a full blown carb/sugar train wreck (which mine have been these past couple weeks). My “dark” days have been getting close to 4,000 calories and even with daily and sometimes twice a day workouts, that’s a lot of calories to try to make up for. It’s really creating a problem with my weight loss efforts and that is just not acceptable, so I’m glad I found your blog before my “dark” days turned into more.

    Reply
    • There is no definition of a cheat day. It’s a made up day created by us exercise freaks, so…no defining “amount.” If you’re looking for how many calories you’d need to offset any metabolic decline from a consistent caloric deficit, then that’s a different story. I don’t know the answer.

      Reply
  • Lakshmi Priya March 1, 2014 5:10 pm

    Hi… I’m on weight loss program .. I ve been in diet for five days ad cheated myself today by eating veg strips in kfc and some potatochips and choco biscuits.. I feel really guilty for it but wat to do ?? I couldn’t control my mouth.. I planned to stay in water diet tomorrow fully.. is it ok?..

    Reply
    • i mean, you’re alive. i wouldn’t search for long term solace in the gorging-restricting gig though.

      Reply
  • currently suffering from a cheat day hangover so I’d have to agree with you. From now on cheat days are going to be a chance for me to eat a burrito or go out for thai or Indian. Not eat icecream and chocolate (things that I would normally only touch once a month) all day.

    Reply
    • Absolute martyrdom doesn’t usually go over well. Neither does absolute gluttony. Find a middle ground.

      Reply
  • Great article!

    I seem to be stuck in the Feast-Fast cycle that you so accurately describe at the moment. I’ve dieted down to sub 10% body-fat and I’m in great shape but I seem to just rebel against it. I don;t need to diet anymore, but the feasting makes me fast so that I’m always trying to make up for it.

    Gonna try a two week diet break and see if I can get my hormones to stabilise.

    Reply
  • Wow GREAT article ! I was actually on a cheat binge when I was reading it and stopped myself thanks to you. I always felt I was alone but everything you said I could relate to . Especially the hangover – very very depressing. I will save this article and read it when I want to cheat . THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS HELPFUL TOOL!

    Reply
  • I count calories and to maintain my weight I need around 2000 per day. I’m currently 114 lbs and would like to get to 105. My question is would one clean over maintenance (500 cals over my usual 1200 to 1500 range) calorie day plus one cheat treat (candy bar or 1/2c of ice cream) plus one cheat meal (one piece homemade pizza or small piece homemade lasagne) per week derail my progress? I follow Paleo 90% of the time and workout (Insanity and maybe a 5K jog) daily. There are days where I do get really hungry and eat 500 calories of raw almonds, a few dates, and few dried figs and unsweetened dried coconut flakes but end up feeling like I’ve ruined all my progress. Should I modify something or just cut out the 2 cheat treats and replace them w/clean ones?

    Reply
  • Anthony Lombardi April 5, 2014 2:41 am

    Hey Anthony, can you give me that recipe of one of your deeserts?
    Thanks bro!

    Reply
    • both oatmeal volcano and whey protein rice pudding are here. it’s your job to dig in the archives and use that search thingamagic on the side.

      Reply
  • hey there nice article man of cheat days. I follow the metabolic diet 6 day low carbs followed by i guess you say either cheat day/refeed day etc. It has helped me mentally and it does work but damn the next following day it is like a hangover haha. The one thing that i have seen a trend of is doing things to miimize the cheat day excercising to feel less ashamed of it etc. You know my feeling of this and I remember a trainer from my gym overhearing him of a client saying to him. “you know I had vanilla shake that was this and such and such calories this one day what would you reccomend to burn it off” He said man just enjoy it and not worry about the damn calories you treated yourself dot worry of burning it off getting right to the calorie burned of how many calories you had” It kind of struck to me of that to not worry of just one day of it. I see programs where take 200mgs caffeine before working out fasted on cheat day, followed by amino acids and some probiotic or something after or before every cheat meal or some kind of thing. Im like come on guys it is just one day or two not going to kill you but i think some things are over extreme

    Reply
    • There’s a difference between a cheat day and a cheat DAY. Of course, having some of your favorite foods (sweets or whatever) every once in a while is fine. It’s just a matter of it taking over your life like an addition of sorts, which tends to happen with hardcore cheaters.

      Reply
  • Christopher Jackson April 10, 2014 2:10 pm

    Personally I have only set myself up to cheat at the end of the month but I am a culinary major that just got out of a baking and pastry class so I cheated much more than I should have and have removed my cheat days for the next two months

    Reply
    • Whatever helps you sleep at night, that’s the cheat meal’s purpose. (Hopefully sans mental disorder, too.)

      Reply
  • Great Article! For those of us that diet hard to get lean, binging is an unfortunate result. I’ve tried it all…a cheat meal doesn’t work for me. I’m all or nothing. I like your advice on cheating once every two weeks versus once a week OR fasting the day after the binge. Easier said than done but definitely worth a try. Also, working out hard on a fasted state the day after a binge helps get me back on track. If I start with the guilt and self loathing, it only spirals me into more self sabatouge! Glad to know that it’s not just me. Us fit girls binge too. I truly believe the harder we diet…the greater the binge. Moderation…it’s just not in my vocabulary! XXOO!

    Reply
  • Great article I have lost 60lbs in 3.5 months the goal when I started was to lose 50lbs. I hit the goal in 10 weeks then I felt I needed a six pack and kept going but added cheat meals as I did not cheat meals for 3 months straight. I had mc Donald’s and baked 2 pies I was sick and threw up. I was in the bathroom like I had drank a 5th of vodka . I realize now that my mind is crazy I should be happy of hitting my goal in 10weeks when I had 12 weeks in mind but instead I find that now I am more obsessed with the way I look then when I was overweight. The point of working out and loosing weight was to get healthy instead I become obsessed and to the point to eat to throw up . I’m glad I found this article it made me realize that I can get the six pack and not be so obsessed . Also I find that if you cheat don’t buy food with your eyes buy what you will eat because in the 2 cheats I have done so far I end eating half of what I bought and throwing the rest out so I won’t be tempted through out the week.

    Reply
  • Do you really still reply?
    I know you know but… you inspired many people with your marketing-or-not thoughts. Thank you

    Reply

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