I’ve been reading a lot lately about the idea of purposefully being a diet cheat. There are several ways that I have seen this idea presented, but the basic concept is always the same. Sometimes it’s one or two meals, and sometimes it’s an entire day. Whatever the form, the point is that you stick to your diet all week and then you get to take a break.
Example 1: Overfeeding
I first heard the term overfeeding in The Truth About Six Pack Abs by Mike Geary. This is the term that he uses to refer to taking one day a week to completely forget about your diet and basically eat whatever you want. Notice that I said basically. You still need to exercise some self control. This isn’t a free pass to go out and eat enough for three people.
Mike uses calories as a guideline. If you want to lose fat, you have to consume less calories than you expend. There is no way around it, that is just the basic science of it.
There is, however, more than one way to look at it. You can compare the calories that you eat to the calories you use on a daily basis, or you can look at your week as a whole. For example, if you create a consistent caloric deficit six days a week and then splurge a little on the seventh day, you will still have a caloric deficit for the week as a whole. This is all assuming that you don’t go crazy on your overfeeding day.
For a more detailed explanation, check out Mike’s program. It’s got a lot of really great information in it.
Example 2: Treat Meals
I recently wrote a review of Jackie Warner’s book This Is Why You’re Fat. The full title of the book is This Is Why You’re Fat (And How to Get Thin Forever): Eat More, Cheat More, Lose More–and Keep the Weight Off. You can see just from the title that Jackie is a proponent of being a diet cheat.
Jackie’s approach is to allow yourself to have two “treat meals” on the weekend. That’s one treat meal on Saturday and one on Sunday. She gives a couple of guidelines that you should follow. The first one is that you only get to have your treat meals if you stick to your diet during the five preceding days. The second guideline is that you should keep each treat meal under 1,500 calories. Other than that, you can pretty much go nuts for those two meals.
Why You Should Be A Diet Cheat
There are two reasons why you should consider being a diet cheat. The first reason is psychological and the second reason is physiological.
The psychological reason is pretty simple. When you are on a diet (see note below), sometimes it can be difficult to stick with it, especially in the beginning. To make the adjustment easier, it is good to have a light at the end of the tunnel. If you know you have a cheat day coming, it is easier to stick with your diet. If you don’t have something like that built in, it becomes very tempting to just give up and go back to your old ways of eating.
The physiological reason has to do with the way your body reacts to a sustained caloric deficit. As you start consuming fewer calories than your body needs, your body will start drawing on your fat stores in order to sustain itself. Eventually, your body will think that you are starving and will respond by lowering your metabolism and increasing your appetite. This is the worst possible scenario for someone who wants to burn fat. Cheat days, with a higher caloric intake, can trick your body out of thinking that it is starving.
I think both of these points make sense. Physiologically, we are all pretty much made the same so the effects of going into starvation mode apply to us all. Psychologically, however, we are all a little different from each other. You have to evaluate yourself and decide if the psychological effects of having a cheat day will be positive or negative for you. If you are the type of person that will lose all self control if you allow yourself to cheat, then cheat days probably aren’t the way to go.
As always, give it a try and see how it works for you.
Note On Dieting: I do not believe in dieting. I do believe in having a good diet. Hopefully you see the difference. Eating well should be a way of life and not a temporary way to reach a fat loss goal. Eating healthily over time will result in sustained fat loss. That being said, I accept that eating in such a way as to create a daily caloric deficit (if done wisely) can speed up the fat loss process. However, this should only be done over the short term to bring your body into healthy body fat percentages.
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