Any Benefit to Cheat Days?

I had never heard about cheat days until after I lost my 150 pounds. Then, I started hearing about them from friends and reading them about them in weight loss books. Now, I see them mentioned on occasion and it makes me wonder. I did not have cheat days during my journey. I messed up every now and then, but I tried to be consistent with my food and exercise choices. I did choose to eat dessert or candy on occasion, but never had a day set aside to eat whatever I wanted.

A cheat day gives a “dieter” the chance to eat anything they want to for a whole day or perhaps just one meal. You might save up your cheat calories and have a big restaurant meal or choose a special ice cream treat. Or maybe on that day you choose to just snack on foods you would not normally eat. However you might do it – is it a good idea?

Here are my thoughts:

♦In my mind, a cheat day might mean you are thinking of your eating plan as a temporary diet rather than a lifestyle change. If you are changing your relationship to food forever, then there is no reason to cheat, because you are just living life. Does that mean you can’t have the occasional brownie or piece of pie? No. If you choose to have those desserts once in a while, make it a choice that fits within your lifestyle.

♦If you are someone who struggles with controlling their sugar or processed food cravings, then a cheat day might set you up for failure. Oftentimes, if we crave those foods and then eat them to excess we might find ourselves on a “roll” and have a hard time stopping.

♦If you go all week eating a really clean, healthy diet but all you can think about is your cheat day coming up is that a healthy thing? Would it make you see that cheat day as a reward for good behaviour? It might, and when you do reach your goal you may still see food as a reward, which can hurt your maintenance efforts.

You can probably tell that I’m not a big fan of cheat days, but I’m very interested to hear what you all think.

Is there any benefit to having a cheat day while you are losing weight?  Diane

47 thoughts on “Any Benefit to Cheat Days?

  1. Miz says:

    BIG Dizclaimer that this is just my experience 🙂
    and since this is a comment and not a post only the barest of bones BUT…

    I say yes.
    I dont call em cheat days but find that I intuitively eat a LOT MORE on some days than others (and did when I was losing as well) having nothing to do with amount of exercise that day etc.

    Now I tend to veer toward cleanER foods (tho not always) but it is as though my body realizes if I dont, if I stay at my normal range, it will plateau or go backwards (cling to the bodyfat and shed the muscle. catabolic).

    More calorie cycling I guess (now that I type this out) than “cheat”

    .-= Miz´s last blog ..Shabby Apple (aka Miz & her workout skirt addiction). =-.

  2. MrsFatass says:

    I don’t really have a problem with the premise of cheat days, no matter what they’re called. Because, to me, it’s sort of the same thing my kids and I sing about with Cookie Monster. Some foods are just “once in a while” foods. Some foods are “every day” foods. And over the years I have learned well which “once in a while” foods I really should stay far away from. Like, have you ever tried eating just 5 pringles? Yeah. Impossible to stay away til the whole can is gone.
    .-= MrsFatass´s last blog ..the international sensation that is my hoohah =-.

  3. Debby says:

    I have always incorporated cheat days into my diet. That being said, I’m still struggling after 41 years. Yep, that’s right, I’ve been dieting off and on for a minimum of 41 years. I have been searching internally a lot lately, and I believe I need to stop dieting. I believe I need to adopt a healthier attitude toward food. I believe I need to work on a lifestyle and not a diet.

    Thank you for this blog. It’s putting more ideas into my head. Very good ideas.
    .-= Debby´s last blog ..Deep water =-.

  4. Debra says:

    I really don’t like the term cheat day because it does make your meal/eating plan seem like a temporary thing. I prefer to call it a “free” day. Free to choose foods that maybe aren’t as clean as you normally would eat. Free to sit on your bum all day if you feel like it. Free to eat larger portions of your “clean” food if that’s what you prefer. Having a “free” day built into your eating plan does give you that calorie zigzag that keep your metabolism on top of things and in the beginning it gives you something to look forward to. “I can’t have that cheesecake today but I will have a slice on Friday.” It only takes about a month of serious clean eating for the “free” day freeforall that some people do to become too much. It’s easy to feel how horrible it makes you feel the next day and then for most people they just naturally take it back a notch or two so that it’s they day they eat out, or they day choose to veg on the couch watching sports.
    I think it does help. I’ve seen too many people get stuck and lower their calories to a barely sustainable level and then wonder why they aren’t losing weight.
    I think it can hurt those people who don’t have a stop. If eating chips is your trigger then don’t plan a day for chips or you might find yourself going 3 days with chips and feeling like a failure. I tend to do that with sugar. (cake, ice cream, cookies, etc) I’m better off not having them at all but having one day/week where I can out for a nice restaurant meal as part of my plan makes me feel like a “normal” person and not a chronic dieter.

  5. Susan says:

    I don’t have “cheat” days per se. If I want a food that I don’t normally eat I will have it but in small quanity. I don’t usually do two of those days together either.
    I have to be careful even after all these years that a treat doesn’t become a binge.
    Also it helps to take what ever your portion and plate it up and put up the rest of whatever it is. Hopefully out of sight out of mind:)
    Then the next day I just pick up on my “normal” healthy habits and get on with it.

  6. Deniz says:

    Agree with you Diane. I don’t like the idea of a planned “chance to eat anything … for a whole day” cheat. It doesn’t sound sensible to me, but that’s just my opinion. If it does actually work for others then I guess it may be OK – just not for this fat lass!

    I still have my days when I don’t make the most sensible of choices and eat something I would otherwise not choose, or just plain eat too much. I don’t plan for this to happen and am more likely to call these ‘bad’ days when they do occur.

    If I know I have a big meal looming on the horizon I’ll cut down beforehand (and usually afterwards too) to compensate. Steve at Log My Loss calls this ‘IF’ (intermittent fasting), a concept I feel more much comfortable with.
    .-= Deniz´s last blog ..Health stuff =-.

  7. Marcelle says:

    I dont think you should have cheat days while losing the weight….once you are maintaining I think you work things into your day and not see it as cheat and def not eating whatever you want for a whole day….shows you have learned nothing.

  8. Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman says:

    I think balance is OK and allowing yourself a splurge now and then is fine. I don’t call it a cheat day though, because that implies eating whatever you want all day long. Instead, I’ll eat healthy all week and allow myself a desert out on Saturday night. Then again, like you said, maybe that’s not a cheat but just how I eat.
    .-= Tracey @ I’m Not Superhuman´s last blog ..You Asked: June =-.

  9. Jody - Fit at 52 says:

    I think this is very individual & should be based on what a person feels they can handle & do without going off the wagon per se long term.

    When I first lost weight & years after, I was really bad about allowing myself to enjoy even with all the hard work. I don’t think that is a good thing as you crave it more.

    I know people that do that 1 cheat day per week type thing. Me, I don’t do a full on cheat day. I usually eat very healthy meals but plan for a treat. like my cookie treats each weekend. I don’t go crazy but have one each day or maybe one a weekend or whatever I feel…. but my meals stay healthy. For me, I crave the sweet treat vs., food/meal treats as I am already enjoying what I eat for my main mini meals.
    .-= Jody – Fit at 52´s last blog ..Who Is Stopping You? =-.

  10. Alissa says:

    I don’t like the idea of having a cheat day. I say eat a sweet when you want one. In moderation. Anything is fine in moderation. But a whole day of eating unhealthy foods is just not a good idea. I think that’s the difference between someone trying to become healthy and someone just dieting. Big difference!
    .-= Alissa´s last blog ..Saturday =-.

  11. Sharon says:

    I have been uncomfortable with that concept ever since the first time I heard it and you’ve captured the reasons perfectly. It’s the same idea as cheating on a test in school – if you plan to “cheat”, you haven’t learned what you need to know (permanent lifestyle changes) and are still looking for easy shortcuts (diets). It will come back to haunt you later.
    .-= Sharon´s last blog ..Is It The Moon??? =-.

  12. Andrea@WellnessNotes says:

    What works for me (and worked while I was losing weight) was fitting foods into my daily and weekly calories. I don’t count anything, but I do know approximately how many calories I’m eating. I certainly have days when I eat a bit more, but I wouldn’t call them cheat days. I think cheat days would put too much focus on food for me. I try to eat lots of veggies, lean protein and healthy grains every day. But if I want to eat something that’s not on “the plan” I try to listen to my body and fit it in. I guess I naturally end up with a couple of days per week when I eat more calories, but it all equals itself out over the week.
    .-= Andrea@WellnessNotes´s last blog ..Some Farmers’ Market Fun After An Eventful Week =-.

  13. Pam says:

    Funny you mention cheat days after the weekend I just had….ugh…I used to think they were an okay concept, but my thoughts are more like yours now, which is why I do not understand what happened to me over the weekend. Oh well, today is a new day, right?
    .-= Pam´s last blog ..What Was I Thinking? =-.

  14. vickie says:

    I agree a whole DAY seems like it is really asking for major trouble.

    And I have read about these ‘days’ in books and they do not intend them as a free for all – they still recommend portions and still recommend only eating at meal time – it is NOT a free for all.

    And I agree for many, this would turn into a snowball effect or as you say a ‘roll’ (that is a good way to describe it, in more ways than one!)

    I had a girlfriend who planned her food day to fit a fudgesicle in as an after dinner/last food of the day thing. If she had kept to her plan all day – then she had room for the extra calories (I think it was 90 calories) if she had not stuck to her plan – then she had NO room for it and didn’t get it. And that worked really well for her.
    .-= vickie´s last blog ..I am now at 2002 posts – how I use my blog =-.

  15. Mbini says:

    One day of every month I have a strong sugar craving. That time of the month. I try hard to suppress the craving but I end up with a candy, sweetened tea, or fizzy drink. This happens for me only 1 day of the month. I also tend to eat bananas and fruit in general. That or sweetened yogurt which I seldom have.

    So yes, I have that day which is unplanned. I wouldn’t eat anything I want. That would feel destructive. I also wouldn’t eat a lot more than I usually do.
    .-= Mbini´s last blog ..Watching the World Cup in the Stadium =-.

  16. emergefit says:

    First, I HATE the word “cheat” — too many negative connotations. What lessons are learned from cheating?

    Second, for people with TRUE food issues, not sure this is any better than giving an alcoholic a drink, or a former smoker a cigarette.

    Noobody is going to eat perfectly, and little treats, even indulgences will come up, but the term “cheat day” is a synonym for “do the wrong ting day” and that makes no sense to me.
    .-= emergefit´s last blog ..It Ain’t Easy Being Lean… =-.

  17. Barbara says:

    In WW, there’s the extra 35 points a week. I almost always eat most if not all of them on the same day. However, I don’t eat “sinful” choices … I eat healthy foods like beans, nuts, brown rice, whole wheat pasta … foods I just want to get my fill of. I think sometimes those extra 35 points keep me on track. But again … I don’t waste them on chocolate cake (usually) … for special occasions I might.

  18. Tish says:

    Interesting subject. While the idea of a “cheat day” or a “Wendy Plan” kind of approach to dieting may be appealing, I don’t think it would work for me. I do sometimes plan indulgences (like sharing a dessert with DH on our anniversary), but a whole day of “hog wild” is not a good plan. I think the word ‘cheat’ fits that concept very well. If I did go totally off-the-reservation for an entire day I would certainly feel like I had cheated–myself. Even if it was planned, I’d feel disappointed in myself, ashamed, and like I had failed. This kind of day is not for me.

  19. Dr. J says:

    If you can “cheat” and still stay within your calorie allotment I suppose it’s alright. My biggest concern is that you are not strengthening new healthy habit neural pathways, but you are reinforcing old unhealthy neural pathways. If what you are doing is working it’s one thing, but if you are still having issues, loss the cheat days, in my opinion.
    .-= Dr. J´s last blog ..Lab Notes: FDA Warns That Fake Tamiflu Is Up for Sale; FDA Says to Stop Using Sexual Coffee =-.

  20. Taryl says:

    In the course of my daily living there comes some events or times where a little junkier food is had and enjoyed, but usually not a whole day! Things like my ladies craft night, dinner with friends, birthdays, I will often enjoy myself and not seek to restrict my calories, just log and observe them. I then get back on the wagon and continue on when the event is overly. A whole cheat day seems to me like asking to undo any calorie deficit I have cultivated throughout the week, and thats counterintuitive to my goals.
    .-= Taryl´s last blog ..Now I remember why I don’t do this! =-.

  21. Leah says:

    I’m enjoying reading the comments.

    For right now I enjoy having a day that I can allow myself a little liberty; however, I know I have to be careful not to overindulge too much or I won’t be able to get back on track.

    Very interesting…and I see both sides to this argument.

  22. Little Bee says:

    Unfortunately, I can’t do cheat days because the day inevitably expands to a week or more, ack. Rather, when I’m doing well with eating, I think it’s okay to eat non-plan food on special occasions with friends or family. That food is usually limited to very few days a year and besides, in company I am just not tempted to overeat. My current problem is more that I kid myself about what is acceptable on plan/for weightloss and what is not… every day I attempt to cheat myself out of eating well so an actual cheat day is absolutely not the right concept for my progress. For others, it might work well of course.

  23. Carla says:

    Excellent post Diane! I am thinking that cheat days are no good for many reasons! I find they are just one step away from the slippery slope of rebound weight gain. One cheat meal turns into one cheat day, which turns into a cheat week, until before you know it, every day is a cheat day!

  24. Mary (A Merry Life) says:

    I don’t call them cheat days, because that’s just silly. I’m not cheating on my lifestyle, the lifestyle I chose to take on, but yes there are days where I eat more than the others. And there are days where I allow myself to eat sugar. I learned that I can’t have sugar every day like I want, but I refuse to give up something that I love, so I limit the times that I can eat it. I came to this pattern after six years of trying to eat healthy and be healthy, so it’s what works best for me after a lot of trial and error, not a newbie plan to still get in all I want that will backfire on me.
    .-= Mary (A Merry Life)´s last blog ..Operation Sexification Check In, Plus Some Weekly Goals =-.

  25. Babbalou says:

    Diane, I agree with the points you’ve made. I’ve been thinking about this off and on today. My biggest objection is to the term “cheat day” for all the reasons you’ve described. However, if you allow yourself occasional treats, the idea of having a special day when you can indulge in the treats can work. After 20 years of frequent dieting attempts, I finally lost (very slowly) almost 30 pounds by analyzing what had (temporarily) worked and not worked for me in the past. I figured out how I thought I needed to eat to lose the weight and said to myself – ok, this isn’t a diet, this is how I need to eat. I don’t track calories or carbs or write down what I eat. I just stick to my plan, which limits the amount and type of carbs I’m allowed to eat – which was always my problem. If I want to eat something that’s not on my plan, I tell myself I can have it on Saturday. This does two things – it keeps me on plan for 6 days every week, so my total calories are lower without the burden of counting or tracking. It also eliminates much of the daily decision making about what to eat – I just stick to my plan. On Saturday if I still want a treat (often I don’t) I chose ONE treat and enjoy it. I also plan for more exercise on Saturdays whether or not I have a treat. It’s worked pretty well for me. If I don’t tell myself I can’t have something but that I need to defer it to another day, I don’t feel deprived. It’s kind of how we stay on budget with money, isn’t it? No impulse spending, but deferring indulgences until we have saved for them. And sometimes by waiting, we realize we don’t really need that item after all.

  26. Siobhan says:

    For me, I know that having a cheat day would be the beginning of the end. I need to eat purposefully every single day. At some point that may include an occasional treat, but I won’t have to cheat in order to eat it.
    .-= Siobhan´s last blog’s unanimous =-.

  27. Cammy@TippyToeDiet says:

    I gave up the notion of ‘cheating’ right along with ‘dieting’. 🙂 Early in my weight loss, I decided I would allow one splurge meal each month, if I wanted it. I also decided that I could have one splurge-y item each week (maybe a serving of beef or white pasta). I still function that way–it fits my life.

    For myself, I use the term ‘splurging’, because it’s very clear that it’s a special thing, not an every day (or even every week) occurrence.
    .-= Cammy@TippyToeDiet´s last blog ..The Joys of Summer =-.

  28. Sagan says:

    I’m with the Miz; I have the whole “calorie cycling” thing rather than “cheat days”, I guess. (Except lately my “calorie cycling” has been on the higher end, much more frequently… hmmmm.)

    I think that different things work for different people. But I agree that it seems like a waste to undo all that hard work that we’ve done all week by having a major splurge day!
    .-= Sagan´s last blog ..What I Learned from University =-.

  29. kwithme says:

    I am in the whole lifestyle change camp. I used to do cheat days or free days. Now, I just try to eat healthfully. If I want to lose, I eat less of the same things. It is working much better. I do have desserts or other treats but I try to stick with the “I really love this” approach. Basically, I will have something only if I really love the taste. I did not have cake at a wedding this past weekend because it did not look good. But strawberries in Grand Marnier with real whipped cream on my birthday, you bet! I try not to eat things just because they are there. AND even if I love it, once I stop tasting it, I throw it out.

  30. Kate says:

    I couldn’t possibly “cheat” for a day. I am a binger who can down thousands of calories in one sitting, let alone a whole day. That said, if we go out for a special meal, or there’s some sort of an occasion with out-of the ordinary foods that I really like, I’ll save up some calories that day so I can eat more at the event. And if I go over by a few hundred, then I don’t fret about it.
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..I’m a Food Sneak =-.

  31. South Beach Steve says:

    I am not a fan of cheat days. I do enough of that without a planned cheat day. That being said, there are certain foods that are off limits (i.e., sugar). That works for me.

  32. Ann says:

    I think we all have days when we are tired or overly stressed when we eat more than we know is good for us, but I’m not a fan of deliberately choosing to have a day to eat whatever. Most of the food I used to eat just doesn’t sound good anymore.
    Less of Me

  33. Shawnee says:

    I don’t like a cheat day. Then the person is putting all of their thought and focus on that one day, rather than focusing on the healthy habits they’re establishing. Allowing ourselves a treat every now and then is one thing, but we have to learn to control ourselves.
    .-= Shawnee´s last blog ..Meal Plan June 21-27 =-.

  34. Yum Yucky says:

    oh, no no no. I used to think cheat days were cool. But since my diet has become so clean, my body does not even cooperate with a cheat day the point where I don’t even want that “day” to happen ‘lest bloating, indigestion and other stuff occur.

    If there is a “bad” food that I really want, I make a decision to eat it, but anymore the mere thought of a large hoagie or even 4 slices of my favorite pizza is enough to make me say, bah!

    Now pass the fresh blueberries, please.
    .-= Yum Yucky´s last blog ..Exercise Wedgies Are a Thing of the Past =-.

  35. ivoryfrog says:

    i have to admit I did like the idea of a “cheat” day. Its sounded like a good plan to have a day where I could have things that I enjoyed but were not healthy. Yeah, thought it was a good idea until last week where my 1 day turned into whole weekend and I felt like a failure. So much so that I deleted my blog, I was ashamed that I had fallen down yet again…but what else can I do but get up and try again, this time without the “cheat days” more like trying to eat healthy but normally – if I want a treat I will have it, no matter what day of the week it is. 🙂
    .-= ivoryfrog´s last blog ..try, try, try again…. =-.

  36. Carol says:

    I’ve lost 100 lbs using the WW points system. I use my extra 35 points and some activity points for some treats during the week. But, I also don’t count points on my weigh in days. I’ve done this for close to 3 years now and I like having one day a week where I don’t account for everything that goes into my mouth. Usually, I have some activity points leftover for the week, so I figure that I usually break even on using points for the week. It has resulted in slow losing, but it’s very sustainable for me and I think that’s what it comes down to. Can you sustain whatever eating plan you’re on for the long haul? Relaxing the rules one day a week helps me do that.

  37. gcx says:

    i’ve used cheat days and found them to be useful. If i was struggling with eating healthy (changing habits is just hard and educating yourself on food is rewarding but difficult) then they provided me with one meal or one day a week when I could be relieved of the anxiety of makign ‘healthier’ food choices.
    on the other hand, if i was going through a period when eating healthily was coming easily (typically in Summer) then I found I didn’t really use my cheat day or cheat meal because, like you said, I was just living healthily. But it was always a comfort to have it there.

  38. Quix says:

    I’m not a fan of calling them cheat days, but I like the premise of being able to let loose and eat what you want sometimes. For example, I might eat really super healthy and low cal (at the low end of my range, not starving myself) and/or get a really kick butt workout in so I can splurge on a night out.

    The prospect of never being able to eat the fun unhealthy stuff sometimes or always having to order chicken salad, no dressing, with water when out sounded like a miserable life, so I’m good with making some sacrifices to not have to do that!
    .-= Quix´s last blog ..Rage, Chocolate, and Piles of Cow =-.

  39. Hanlie says:

    I’m not crazy about the idea… I would rather treat myself to something really special once in a while, but make sure that the rest of the day stays on plan. Also, the treat should be something fabulous. A run-of-the-mill chocolate bar from the grocery store is just not special enough.
    .-= Hanlie´s last blog ..A quick and healthy dinner =-.

  40. LovesCatsinCA says:

    I don’t like the idea of “cheat days” as in, restrict most of the time and just pig out for a day. I incorporate limited amounts of treats in my diet DAILY. Trader Joe’s “Cats Cookies for People” have 110 calories for 15 of them (animal cracker size)–I can have half a serving and have a 55 calorie “dessert”–or there are sugar free Jello puddings, or even fruit and yogurt… There are reduced fat chips and baked chips and pretzels for saltiness if I want to eat a limited quantity of those…. There are always options for fitting good nutrition AND “fun foods” into daily living.

    I do have days I allow myself to have extra calories. I’m not going to totally restrict myself on holidays, or at a church potluck brunch, or on vacation. But since I use a food log to maintain my weight loss, I just plug in a higher allotment for the day… I’m petite and normally eat 1500-1600 calories daily to maintain–I’ll up it to 1800-1900 calories for the day.

    I had tempura at a Japanese restaurant when we went out to dinner with my parents for Father’s Day. I normally will have a glass of wine with dinner a few nights a week, but I’ll splurge on a mixed drink like a girly martini on vacation instead, or a margarita–and as long as I go back to how I eat normally, my weight adjusts back to normal if it goes up at all.

    This allows me to indulge a little in terms of what I eat, but not totally out of control in terms of portions.

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