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Do Cheat Days Work? The Cheat Day Cheat Sheet

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Roman’s Nuts and Bolts Checklist for How (And When) To Use Cheat Days

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about cheat days. Mainly, I’ve been getting asked if they actually work.

The short answer is YES, they do. I’ll explain why later in the article. But for now, the important thing to know is that, if done correctly–for example, the Feast/Fast model–taking a planned day off from your diet can help you lose fat much, much faster. In fact, I believe it so much that I have the cheatiest cheat days around.

I’ve become known for my love of such days. And so today, instead of talking to you about my favorite foods, I thought I’d just give you a break down that can serve a few purposes.

Firstly, if you’re still on the fence about whether or not to cheat, this post will help you decide if it’s for you; please note that his particular point is made in a different manner in my article defending cheat days, so you should check that out, as well.

Secondly, if you do decide to use cheat days, you may find yourself in the position of being asked why you use them and how this works. Now, you’ll have a place to send them to get the information in brief.

With that in mind, we should first cover the very basic question:

Why cheat? Do cheat days work?

As I said earlier, the short answer is yes, they work–in more ways than one. But now, you want the long answer. So, let’s talk about the science and physiology of the entire thing.

Anyone who’s ever been on a diet can tell you that although things tend to start out well, that doesn’t last long; after the first week or so, your rate of fat loss slows down dramatically. While you may have lost 5-7 pounds in the first few days, you lose about half of that over the next several weeks.

The reason for this is hormonal. There’s a hormonal called leptin that dramatically influences a number of mechanisms related to fat loss. Known as the “anti-starvation hormone”, leptin more or less controls the rate at which you lose fat, because it controls a few other hormones that also affect metabolism and fat loss (most notably the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 ; more on that below). 

Put in the most basic terms possible, the relationship is like this: when leptin levels are high, you can lose fat quickly; when leptin levels are low, fat loss slows down. And, as you may have guessed by now, leptin levels drop when you’re dieting.

You see, leptin levels are influenced by two major factors: the amount of fat on your body, and your caloric intake. Your total fat mass influences leptin because leptin is produced in the fat cells; more fat equals more leptin. As for the second factor.

Keep in mind, leptin is known as the anti-starvation hormone; it’s evolutionary function was to slow the metabolism and conserve energy (and fat) during times of famine. As a result, when you take in few calories, leptin levels decrease, helping you to survive the famine.

Except there is no famine; there’s just your diet. And when you’re on that diet, you are decreasing fat mass and have a reduced caloric intake. As mentioned, this is a surefire way to tank leptin.

The long and short of it is: lower calories -> lose fat -> reduce leptin -> stop losing fat.

Obviously, this doesn’t bode well for your fat loss efforts; the more fat you lose, the more difficult it will be to lose fat. This is why losing the last 5 pounds is in many ways harder than losing the first 50: leptin is one of several hormones that come into place when trying to drop those last few pounds. (I addressed the others in this article on hormonally influenced fat storage and how to fix it.)

The other side of that coin is positive: if you increase leptin levels, you can start losing fat again; usually pretty quickly.

And that, my friends, is where cheat days come in. You see, cheat days aren’t just about taking a “break” from dieting; they’re a tool for helping you lose fat. Remember, a big factor leptin levels is your energy intake, and a cheat days (also known as a strategic overfeed) allows you to drastically increase the number of calories you consume, allowing for increased leptin levels.

In short, the benefits of cheat days are:

  • Increase in serum Leptin levels – This is really the big one: leptin levels drop while in a caloric deficit (lasting as little as 72 hours), and a periodic bump in leptin coming from a cheat day has several benefits including: increased thyroid output; increased energy expenditure and BMR; and overall increased thermogenesis. 
  • Increase in thyroid hormone output – When in a caloric deficit, underfed individuals produce less T3 and T4—both important thyroid hormones that play roles in the regulation of metabolic rate. This is partially a response to decreased leptin. A cheat day or strategic overfeed is used in part to increase thee hormones.
  • Increase in 24 Hour Energy Expenditure – A caloric surplus from a cheat day causes the body to up-regulate your basal metabolic rate (BMR); some studies have shown an increase of 9% above baseline, and it’s hypothesized that more is possible.

Those are the physiological and hormonal benefits of cheating. Of course, there is the psychological benefit of being able to take a day off from your diet, eat whatever you like, and be comfortable in the knowledge that you’ll still get lean.

Reading all of this, cheat meals and cheat days are, of course, very appealing. While there are a lot diets that rely on cheat days to be successful, nearly any nutritional plan can, under the right set of circumstances, benefit from cheat days.  So, without bogging you down too much, here’s a primer—the Cheaters Cheat Sheet, if you will.

Your Cheat Day Cheat Sheet

  1. If you’re on a diet that doesn’t specifically call for a cheat day or cheat meal and you wish to add one in, assess progress first.  If your progress has slowed for two weeks or more, a cheat day may help. That said, it’s probably better to start with a cheat meal and see how things go.
  2. Consider your overall level of caloric deficit: if you’re not in a huge deficit, you don’t need to cheat that often. The more you restrict calories, the faster leptin levels will drop and the more you’ll benefit from a cheat day. Frequent cheat days generally only have merit for diets that are pretty calorically restrictive. If you’re on a diet that doesn’t force you to eat at a deficit of 500 calories per day or more, you don’t need to cheat more than once or twice a month. And, in some cases, a cheat meal will suffice. A deficit of 750 calories per day or more generally allows you to cheat once per week, depending on your level of leanness.
  3. Along those lines, the leaner you are, the more often you can cheat. Speaking generally, if you’re guy who is 10% or below, you can cheat once every 5-7 days; women 16% or below can do the same.  If you’re 11-14% (or for women, 16-21%), every 7-9 days.  If you’re over 14% (21% for women), you can cheat once every two weeks. Again, frequency is also dependent on your caloric intake FIRST, and your leanness second.
  4. Similarly, people who are above a certain fat threshold—let’s say 16% for men or 25% for women, or, to make it easy, anyone with more than 40 pounds they’re trying to lose) probably doesn’t need to cheat, from a physiological standpoint.  These people are better off with cheat meals, not cheat days, which should be used once every two weeks until progress slows; after that a progression to one cheat meal per week is used. To be clear, if you’re above the cheating threshold, use cheat days minimally, even if you’re in a pretty steep caloric deficit; your leptin levels will still be high, based on your body fat.
  5. If you’re naturally prone to fat gain, don’t cheat unless you’re pretty lean (12% for men and 16% for women); even then, start small.  Use cheat meals and assess progress, and graduate to cheat days.
  6. Along similar lines, ectomorphic guys can schedule one cheat meals during mass gaining phases a day to help them put on some more weight.  For these guys, I don’t recommend cheat days; rather, a single cheat meal every 3-5 days or as needed to get in some extra calories.
  7. The basic “limit” guideline for ANY cheat (either meal OR day) is to not push past the point of satiety. Eat whatever you want, but don’t intentionally stuff yourself.  Stop eating when you’re nice and full, but not uncomfortable.
  8. To make any cheat day more effective, I always recommend using some form of intermittent fasting the day following the cheat. Ideally, you shouldn’t eat at all: this is an intermittent fasting protocol known as Feast/Fast; it creates a huge caloric deficit following the caloric overload. In essence, you get the hormonal benefit of cheating (enhanced metabolic hormonal output) as well as the hormonal benefits of fasting (namely, increased Growth Hormone production). But pairing a “feast” with a fast, you get the best of both worlds.

Are Cheat Days Right for You?

I think the above list covers it pretty comprehensively, but I just want to go a bit deeper.  I’ve been working with clients looking to lose fat for about a decade now, and I’ve been on all sides of dieting—either trying to lose fat myself, trying to gain muscle, or trying to help someone else do one of those. And having helped countless individuals, I’ve come to realize that while everyone is different, there are really two types of dieters.

  • FREEDOM Dieters– These people do well with guidelines rather than rules; all you need to do is tell them “eat low carbs” and they’ll have no problem automatically eating more protein, avoiding bread, and getting their fats in. As soon as you try to restrict them and put them on some sort of schedule, or have them count calories or perform carb cycling, they feel trapped. Normally, Freedom dieters don’t do well with cheat days, because they are generally not strict enough during the week to make a cheat day necessary or even beneficial. (This is not always the case, as I’ll touch on below.)
  • RULES Dieters– These people (like me) need restrictions. Rules dieters find limitations oddly freeing, because the restrictions create a framework that’s easy to follow. Essentially, rules dieters don’t do well when they’re let off plan, mainly because they are usually emotionally attached to food in some way.Rules dieters thrive when they are told to measure food (or simply to eat a certain number of meals) but fail if you have them just wing it.  For these people, a cheat day is a great idea, because they’ll be structured most of the time and can build the cheat day into that structure; and because the diet will probably be strict, they’ll get results.

The important thing to understand is that you can’t take a guy with a “freedom” personality and make him be a rule dieter. It won’t work. Similarly, you can’t take someone who needs rules and just tell them to make it up as they go along.

This is one reason I love the Xtreme Fat Loss Diet so much — it’s one of the only dietary protocols I’ve ever encountered that is equally effective for both Freedom Dieters AND Rules Dieters.

Freedom dieters like that each day ultimately has one very simple rule: One day, eat whatever you want; another day, don’t eat at all; the next day, just have shakes…and so on and so on. Just follow those guidelines and you’re home.

Rules Dieters love the constriction those guidelines give. And, if they want to go hardcore with it, they can do so by counting macros, weighing food, and being really strict about everything.

Because it’s only a 5-day cycle, both types of dieters can easily deal with any aspect that is mildly outside of their comfort zone — because there’s something else coming the next day.

That’s just one of the many reason I love XFLD, and I want you to get your hands on it during the launch sale–it allows ANYONE to lose up to 25 pounds in 25 days.

Ultimately, when it comes to cheat days—or ANY nutritional practice—you figure out what kind dieter you are, and which will be the most beneficial for you.

I know where I stand.

Do you? 

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

  • Hello John,

  • Leah Rae Getts

    I just purchased your Omega Body Blueprint and was wondering how to use cheat days with it. Do you still follow the 1 day of not eating afterwards when doing the 16/8 intermittent fasting regularly? Also, still follow the guidelines above on the frequency based on your BF% with the OBB program?

  • Scott

    So as someone who is about 16% body fat, weight trains four times a week and maintains a moderate deficit, a cheat day every two weeks would work? And then afterward don’t eat the next day/don’t eat for 24 hours after the last meal? Or is this only applicable if I was on a more aggressive daily deficit?

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  • ChuckS123

    I was my trimmest when I ate one big meal a day about 10 am. I made a 1/3 lb california cheeseburger on whole wheat bread, french fries, and a1/2 can of peas. I bought a pound of hamburger and made 3 patties about the size and shape of my slices of bread. I had a desk job and didn’t work out. Eating in the morning probably helped.

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  • Steven

    Being a freedom dieter who is currently at about 17-18% BF, yea I’m not doing cheat meals…

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  • Daniel

    well i want to tell you my situation,
    im 17 years old, and i always wanted to have a six pack,
    but in all the stuff i’ve tried, i failed!.. until now!.
    i read a lot about fitness, diet, and workouts…
    and i think i may have found the answer, but not completly,
    i’m on a diet which has the following rules:
    -Make everyday(Sunday-Friday) a caloric deficit of 600-700 calories, (Wednesday i make it a little bigger,  i usually eat 1200 calories and burn 800)
    -Eat just fruits and veggies for carbs.
    -At dinner, just eat protein and fat.
    -Workout into fasted state(3-4 hrs without food before workout)
    Carbs 172 g (70 g of Fiber)
    Protein 112 g
    Fat 20 g
    And finally, i make a 2000 cal cheat meal saturday night(always at 6:00 pm)
    I have three questions:
    1. Can you tell me Roman, can i make cheat day?
    2. If i can, how do you recomend me to do it?
    3. Am i on a good way to fat loss?
    Thanks for your attention!
    Hope you could answer me.

  • Amystl26

    I’m a 25 year old female that weighs 145 with a BMI of 22.7… I’m trying to get lean. How many cheat days a week should I be allowed? one or two??

  • I do the cheat day thing, it has actually helped me out a lot.  I will say this though, I don’t really limit myself on anything, but I rarely increase the refined sugar, and if I do increase it, it’s minimal.  My typical cheat day I load up on complex carbs (Sweet Potatoes) between meals, and each of my main courses is usually a large pizza.  It’s kind of funny how I can eat all that crap, and appear more lean the next day, haha.  Our bodies our so strange!

  • Thanks for another GREAT article, John!  Your information is always clear, concise and doesn’t leave you thinking “Wow, this sounds great, but how do I make it work for ME?”  I need rules and this explained things perfectly.  Now I’m off to enjoy every minute of my cheat day.  :D

  • Josieklyne

    Depending on how much you need to lose, I think a cheat meal or a cheat day is something most people need to keep them motivated and help with feelings of deprivation. I always tell my clients to work out on their cheat days. Plan your cheat meal or day and eat what you’ve been craving but don’t pig out.

  • KristinaMikeMartinelli

    go patriots!!  It has been a cheat week for me unfortunately…  Life has been chaotic and somehow I injured the belly of my deltoid in my left arm.  No idea how that happened.  My life gets back to normal tomorrow and a 3 day cleanse.  I am bookmarking this page though as I do think it has some good guidelines.  Thanks for sharing!

  • That’s fine – I’ve been known to hit 15000 cals =)

  • manbearpig360

    hey John, i was wondering about how far exactly you can go on cheat days… I'm 16, 5'8″ and 150 pounds. I just finished a weight loss cycle for 8 weeks (lost 10 pounds and went from 15 to 10% body fat), and i wanted to take on this 8000 calorie burger challenge at a nearby grill for lunch and maybe have a good serving of cake/icecream later on in the evening (if gut room allows)… I'll be taking off of training this week to let my body recover (first week off in 12 weeks), is this going too far?

  • Dee

    Hey Roman,

    I've just come across this post. I wasn't aware that women with more than 21% body fat or who are prone to weight gain shouldn't cheat…I've been wondering why cheat days haven't worked for me! I actually don't know my body fat% exactly but it looks like it's about 40% from the online calculators I've used.

    I've had a lot of trouble trying to lose the weight and I tried the XFLD, but I gained 2.5lbs in the first 10 days so I stopped it. You said that because of the restriction, anyone should be able to do it without modification and still lose weight. Do you have any idea why this didn't work for me?

    I really don't like fasting – I can't stand the hunger pangs and I feel really ill too – so I want to try IF, but I also crave junk food constantly. I've tried to deal with the cravings, but I keep just messing up and cheating. I thought it would be good to have a structured cheat day, but since according to your rules I shouldn't be having one, is there anything you could suggest?

    Thanks!!

  • Danielle

    Hey Roman,

    So I was just curious as to what method you use to measure body fat? I tried using calipers…but the readings were so inaccurate; same with the body fat scale. I always thought I had around 19% body fat, but today I went and got a reading from a Dexascanner (supposedly the most accurate) and it said I was at 24.4%. So which method do you use? And would you consider it a little less accurate than exact numbers, like from a Dexascanner?

  • Edward

    I recently purchased the XFLD after purchasing both the Cheat Your Way to Thin and Final Phase Fat Loss programs. According to the CYWT plan, low-carb days (as opposed to fast days) follow cheat days. Is this option still valid in light of your recent article on fasting following an all out cheat day?

  • Adam

    Hey Roman, what's the tattoo on your left pec of? Just curious.

  • Usually, about 3x your normal caloric intake.

  • Alecia

    I haven't lost any weight or cm, how is that possible Roman?! I'm following the EFLD to the T, supplements included, aside for not getting the rest intervals of the weight training spot on!? :-(

  • Alecia

    Roman I'm a big fan and love ur personality so firstly thank you for all the great content!

    Tomorrow is my Day 5, first cycle of EFLD, so far so good I'm finding it fairly easy aside for my first fast day, that was a challenge!

    I do however have a few concerns regarding working the same muscle groups (doing the same/similar exercises back to back), don't they need time to recover/rest/grow to maximise the benefits of weight training? I'm using heavy weights on all days training through aching muscles and it's not like weight training is new to me, I love it and normally train 4 times a week heavy weights (3 sets 12 reps) and HIIT Cardio, on a low carb diet (aside for binging on chocolate lol, which got me into this mess to begin with!). I wasn't getting thinner which is why I'm on EFLD! Also, could I only do the HIIT cardio instead of the slow cardio when required?

    My Body Stats: 5f, 55kg, 24% body fat (calipers) DISGUSTING!, strong solid hr glass shape, bottom heavy :-(

    Roman I need thinner thighs please!

  • Elina

    Hi Roman,

    I’m starting XFLD next week and have a question concerning the BCAAs on Protein-Only Day:

    Does everyone take 25g for the whole day regardless of body weight? I weigh around 100lbs (I’m petite), so basically I’ll take in the same amount as someone who weighs around 200lbs?

    Thanks,

    Elina

  • Seth

    Roman,

    From what you know, how LARGE must a cheat day be calorically? I'm concerned that if I take in too little of a caloric excess on my cheat day, that protein degradation may take place during my fast day–don't want to lose any of that muscle! Put my mInd at ease?

  • Happy to help!

  • Bonuses went out – if you didn't get them email me.

    Regarding your situation, do the program as written until your BCAAs arrive.

    Good luck!

  • MartyJo

    Roman, I appreciate your explaining about the whole 'cheat days' thing this way. I'm one of those 'Freedom Eaters' that tends to fail miserably if the diet is too structured. And, now I understand the 'why', I can make this work for me! Thanks a Million!

  • Allan

    Nice post; thanks for all the good info!

    I was wondering more about the priming that goes along with this strategy. Should the day PRIOR to a cheat day be somewhat of low/no-carb day coupled with a workout that depletes glycogen levels?

    Also, would you recommend training on a “cheat” day? If so, what protocol would you recommend?

  • Preston

    Hey Roman, so I'm doing the XFLD as we speak and I had a question for BCAA's.

    I ordered the BCAA's but haven't received them yet so I did the fast day without them. Will this hurt my results?

    I was wondering if i should just purchase a day's worth for my Fast Day which is on Thursday or can I do it without it for two fast days and then start using them when they arrive?

    Also, when will you be sending out the bonuses if we ordered XFLD through you?

    Thanks for the help!

  • Leptin stays elevated for about 36 hours.

    Regarding the caloric value of the BCAA, I wouldn't worry at all. High thermic value, for one.

  • Alexander

    Hey roman.. I am a major fan of the blog man.. if you do not mind I had a couple questions for you.. one, For how long does a cheat day elevate Leptin? and during a fast day you specify zero caloric intake (I am very familiar with IF being that I use lean gains as well as ESE) i am curious about whether you feel the caloric value of BCAA (it is a protein after all and has 4kcal/gram) negates the fast or perhaps it has an above average thermic value. thanks a million (hope you dont mind slightly scattered writing, sneaking this at work)

  • For gaining mass, assuming you're eating “clean” most of the time, do a cheat MEAL followed by a 12-18 hour fast the next day.

    Break the fast with your pre-workout shake.

    For that, I'd recommend prograde workout.

  • Preston

    Hey Roman, your blogs are very informative but don't put me to sleep. Perfect combo! :)

    Anyway I had a question, how do you implement a Cheat Day when you're on a bulking diet or a maintaining diet? Do you just do the Feast –> Fast meathod?

    Also, I think I remember reading somewhere that you would have a pre/post workout shake on a Fast day if you were trying to gain muscle. So what would you usually take for the pre/post workout shakes?

    Thanks for all your help!

  • I generally take in between 6000 and 8000

  • I haven't read this – where did you come across that?

  • You're entitled to those as well =) Email me

  • Nope, as much as you like!

  • I do enjoy my fast days – you get a lot done, not worrying about eating.

  • The overall level of caloric restriction will affect how often you can cheat. Since XFLD has your pretty restricted, just about anyone can do it without modification; so it's not just for lean people =)

  • I would try to limit the fried food to cheat days.

  • Danielle

    I know that on your fast day, you are supposed to have a negative calorie day…so you exercise while you're fasting.

    Is there any sort of limit to how much you are “allowed” to exercise?

  • Kim

    Heyya Roman! I bought the Xtreme fat loss system, along with the bodyweight training system and “extra” overdrive package. Now I'm getting all these emails about more freebies from Joel. What happens if you've already bought the system?

  • Sam

    Hi Roman

    I have been utilising cheat days once a week for a few months now. I read that cheat days increase your fat cells making it easier to put fat on in these affected areas for the rest of your life. Kyle Leon say's this too and I noticed you promote him on your site. I would really appreciate your help with this as I am a little confused. Thanks Roman.

  • Joel Putz

    How many calories do you typically eat on a “treat” day?

  • Dj

    I know its probably not the right place for this but, I'm doing XFLD. Simply put, how bad is it to not have BCAAs on fast days? The extreme calorie surplus of the cheat day should ward off any muscle loss right?

  • Danielle

    Roman! Thanks for reposting to specify the body fat %s for women. I'm around 17.5% body fat, so when I read that if you're above 16% you shouldn't cheat, I panicked! haha Thanks for the helpful cheat sheet…cheat sheet!

    I had a cheat day yesterday and now I'm just “enjoying” my fast! :)

  • Marisa

    So does that mean the XFLD is only really great for people who are already very lean, since it has a cheat day every 5 days?

    I'm not looking forward to the fast days as far as not eating anything, yet I am as far as what it will help for my food budget (spending too much at Whole paycheck). Also what it just does for health in general. I do the interment fasting whenever I can, faster cardio.

    I'm not only a freedom dieter, yet also a freedom exerciser! I have to mix it up as much as I feel like and just go by the different concepts and styles I've read about. If I try to follow a strict workout plan as written it all just falls apart on me. My workouts are random.

  • James

    Im vegetarian and alot of my protein comes from quorn products, i think you have Quorn in the USA, its a meat tasting substitute, high in protein low in fat/carbs.

    On non cheat days i eat this and eggs usually fried in about 1 tbsp of coconut oil.

    Do you think this ok or should i limit the food fried in coco oil to only cheat days?

    Thanks

  • You and me both! I need to know what to do, when to do it.

  • My pleasure, Natalie. Happy to help!

  • I usually workout out first thing in the AM on a fast day. I take a few caffeine tabs or drink green tea as a pre-workout stim, but no food. This is what I'd recommend.

  • My best friend is the same way. Anything more than general guidelines and he freaks out and gives up. With just some very vague limitations, he excels. Pretty cool how different people can be.

  • edited to include info for teh wimminz. Thanks =)

  • Depends on the goal. If you're 100% dedicated to fat loss, a full fast day will have NO caloric intake. NONE.

    If you are also looking for some muscle gain, then you can have a pre/post shake, just make sure that your workout is later in the day.

  • Well, if you're seeing your body fat drop, I wouldn't worry about the weight. You could always get your body composition tested.

    As for calories, have you checked my post on calorie calculations?

  • That's awesome Kaci – you're right. When you look at things in small blocks (3 weeks, 3 days) it becomes a lot more manageable.

    That's one of the reasons XFLD is so effective – anyone can follow it for 25 days. And really, it's just 5 days, repeated.

  • Happy to help, Seth. Glad you enjoyed =)

  • It's all about understanding yourself, and then using that understanding to create and follow systems which allow you to progress. For you, that's 90% – and that's awesome =) Good luck and let me know how I can continue to help.

  • Anytime man, happy to help. I'm all rules all the time, so I can relate!

  • You could do this after a cheat MEAL not a cheat day.

    After a cheat day, you want the hormonal benefits of fasting as WELL AS the negative caloric state.

  • It's included in the blog – generally a difference of about 25% of bf%. I went back and edited so re-read and you should see it =)

  • bryan

    hey roman

    instead of a fast day after a cheat meal, is it ok to just cut your calories to the absolute minimum for that day? i dont think i could go a whole day without food altogether. im at 10% bodyfat and am an endomorph and keep a very clean diet. ive never been able to get clearly visible abs. im also concerned with losing muscle. does this work?

  • danielle

    What about body fat % for women..?

  • Seth

    thanks very informative

  • I think there are a lot of people who are a mix – so basic guidelines with nothing too strict. A freedom dieter with restrictions. I like it.

  • Yeah, it's pretty incredible how you come to instinctively know portion sizes. That's so invaluable, because it stays with you and you tend not to overeat.

  • Roan

    Definitely a rules dieter here. I need the structure, a plan I can follow. Though when I started dieting I was a freedom dieter, I knew what not to eat and the changes came pretty quickly. But really, this is a profound destinction I can really put to use when I try to help other people.

    Thanks Roman!

  • Alice Crawley

    This is one of the most helpful blogs I've read with respect to cheat days – thank you so much. It's imperative for me and I think for many people to be clear on what approaches work for them and no two people are the sam when it comes to food and diet – but there are plenty of commonalities too. Understanding that I'm a 'freedom dieter' will allow me to adjust my approach and respect what works for me from day to day and week to week. The 90% right rule sounds perfect toe and this is my new goal. Thanks so much!! Cheers. Alice

  • Kaci

    I've been following WeightWatchers since late January, and I LOVE it!!! Rules with latitude, and no deprivation. However, I want to pick up the pace a bit, so I'm throwing in XFLD for three weeks. I have to admit that, even with the cheat days, the idea of restricting has been a little tough. But I know that I can do pretty much anything for three weeks! So, I just jumped in today, and tomorrow's the fast day. I'm actually looking forward to it! I want the psychological boost that fitting into a smaller size will give me, so the tough training and short-term more restrictive eating is worth it. We'll see how it goes!

  • Debbies21

    Great post but you need to give us girls some specifics. I keep my calories to about 1450. And I never know if I'm eating too much or too little. I'm starting to see the beginning of a four pack but the scale is not moving.

    What's a girl to do?

  • Matt

    Great post gotta love cheat days, but during a fasting day, should any food be consumed..including pre/post workout meals or shakes??

  • Ty

    I'd like to point out that a feast-fast weekend is beneficial even if fat-loss isn't your (primary) goal. I don't like to eat lots of food, so my usual diet is typically lower in calories than most people. I use cheat and fasting days because they leave me with more energy, and I feel as though the hormonal benefits allow me to better recover from my strength workouts.

  • Shelby Meidinginger

    I don't know what I am. I count calories and whatnot to make sure I am in the deficit, and I also try to eat at the same time every day. But on the whole I think I am a freedom dieter. If I can't have something that I want, like chocolate chip cookies or apple pie, I will find a recipe or create one that will do. I make my chocolate chips cookies with butternut squash instead of butter etc. etc.

  • Karen

    I'm definitely a freedom dieter although I enforce my own set of rules….never heard of these types before but that might be the reason all those diets never worked for me. I'm also one of those who can't get away with any real 'cheat' meals. If I have pizza I need to sandwich it in between a salad and a side veggie…and a whole cheat day!…let's say I've tried it and more than a week's progress was undone…never again! Thanks for this insight. Now I know why it doesn't work for me.

  • Evy

    Oh, definitely a rules dieter and a control freak!! I find the rules just make it easier for me in an already hectic life of full time work plus grad school and just trying to keep myself healthy physically and emotionally. As someone over fifty, I am making sure that I stay on the winning side of the battle of the bulge (as well as the battles against diabetes, osteoporosis, and muscle loss). So far so good and as always, your tactical information is priceless. Thanks for another great post.

    Now, I'll be the third woman to ask the question: any guidelines for bodyfat% for women?

  • Ylwa

    Do you treat the “leanness guidelines” equal for men and females in terms of body fat % or are these numbers for men?

    Sure women need to consume less calories but when on a diet that's ususally calculated. And while 12 % for a guys is lean it's far from impossible to reach that, whereas a 12 % BF female is close to competition shape.

  • Gaby

    Never heard of those two definitions of dieters. Very interesting. Also helps to understand why do I always find difficult to follow a strict diet. Apparently I'm a freedom dieter :)

  • Sean Tomaszewski

    I'm definitely a “rules” dieter. I've always had the best success when i followed a diet that told me what to eat and how often.

    Even when I'm not following a strict diet, i still monitor what i eat whenever i can.

    I also tend to go a little crazy on my cheat days, so it helps to be so dialed in on my diet days

  • LisaKay

    Great article. I am def a rules dieter! So my smart-ass husband tells me…just hand me some money, I will tell you what to eat and you can step on the scale in front of me ;)

  • cooky

    I'm a rule dieter. and now I'm gonna try the feast –> fast strategie!

    thanks john.

  • What if you are scheduled to workout on the fast day? Do you just take something before your workout? If so, what?

  • Tony Roe

    Very nice “cheat sheet” – I think I agree with your ideas and guidelines here (especially with the body fat ranges and how often one can cheat).

    I'm a rule dieter at heart. I try to be a freedom dieter when life throws something at me, but I always end up over-analyzing it. I'm definitely one who thrives on setting up a spreadsheet when a dietary strategy change is in order.

    However, I definitely have a much better feel for portion size and amounts (I swear I know exactly what 4 oz. of steak or chicken looks like) – thanks to you. ;)

  • This is the best and most helpful info I've ever read on the ins and outs of cheat days. Thank you!

  • JC Peronnet

    Thanks a lot Roman, I had never read for the cheat days are for and how often. This will be especially useful for me since I'll be a once every two week/no cheat day dieter…

  • Jorma

    I definitely now consider myself a Freedom Dieter. Thanks for making a distinction, I never thought about that. I do almost all things best with guidelines alone, nothing too strict ever. I tend to apply rules very loosely.

    Now, with that in mind, I read all of the rules that I can get my hands on (only from sources with real Health Cred–some guys like Roman and Joel) so that I can understand and develop the best guidelines for my lifestyle.

    I tried counting calories once, that lasted about 2 days, enough to let me know that I was in the right range anyway. I do keep pretty tight track of my weight, bodyfat% and strength (through knowing what I can lift on a few key exercises). I make adjustments when I need things to go other than they are, but again these are genera changes, looser than probably Rules People would do.

    My current “diet” got me from 30% bodyfat to about 12%.

    My strategy now is:

    1. Eat clean 95% of the time.

    2. Most days each until I am no longer hungry but not yet full.

    3. once or twice a week eat a meal that actually fill me up, but never stuffed. This is also where I allow myself a serving of something that I don't normally allow, like fries or cornbread.

    4. Fast 24-36 hours if overfed. For me my food cravings often die after a week or two and I just don't care to eat for a day or so. I know that I am done fasting when the cravings start back up.

    It's almost oxymoronic but I guess I am a STRICT freedom dieter I guess.

    My eating patterns are not totally unstructured either. I do intermittent fasting now and again (weekly or bi-weekly), which I will lead up to with a slight 1-day overfeed, which follows a few days of conscious (but not counted) underfeeding.

    I'm still shaving of a % here and there to try and get consistently in the single digit range. This I am doing now by changing my exercise strategy to a more intense fat-burning routine. Maybe I'm vain, some people tell me that there is no real point to get below the 10%-12% range, but Summer is right around the corner. I look pretty good in a tee-shirt but I wanna look killer without one ;)

    Thanks for all your posts they're entertaining and give really useable information; this is one of the only blogs I come back to again and again.

  • Michelle

    I'm a rules dieter!!! Don't give me the freedom, I tend to be too lenient,and it doesn't work for me!!

  • Jason

    I have dieted both wats but prefer rules. I have been using cheat days for 2 years with great results, both physiologically and psychologically. The key as you say is to follow your eating plan the rest of the week. The cheat days only work if you appropriately restrict Leptin levels through healthy calorie deficit. Using cheat days correctly my diet plan has now become a “lifestyle” plan! Thanks Romes for the great summary.

  • Gail

    Roman, thanks so much for this, esp the percent-fat-over-LBM vs. frequency of cheat days. I've wondered about that.

    I'm sort of a hybrid type. I fret under too many rules, but I keep a loosy-goosy Fitday log, because I find it is too easy to creep up on intake if I don't. “One extra teaspoon of mayo won't hurt” turns into a tablespoon four days in a row.

    Thanks for all your very helpful guidance.

  • rrb

    Thanks – it was helpful/will refer to in my weight loss efforts

  • Nancy

    I am a rules dieter. Nice to know it has a name. This is a very interesting finding. I need the freedom of a cheat day but I can get off track if I have too much freedom.

  • Theresa

    I love your blogs, they are so informative and not just trying to lead you down the path to buy some product.

    Hope it's ok to “save” to refer to again and again. ;o)

  • Sarahann

    I am a rules dieter…and this article was really helpful..thanks :)

  • Cindy

    Freedom dieter definitely. Thank you for the info. Knowing the terms helps somehow. Have lost 95 pounds. Need 25 more to be comfortably me. Not a 56 year old model.

  • Amy

    I think you are dead on with your information. I am definately a rules dieter and struggle terribly when given loose guidelines to follow when dieting, so even though I'm training for a marathon, I am struggling to shed some extra fat as figuring out how much I need to eat to be able to train yet loose some lbs and not be famished mid and late day is a struggle.

  • Charles Mcalughlin

    I forgot to mention that I was also like you just a couple of weeks ago weighing every single thing. I made progress for awhile and than I stopped making fat loss gains. I reduced my calories every week using a carb cycling method. I lost a little bit more weight than I feel off the diet. I couldn't stick to counting every single thing once I stopped making fat loss gains. I turned to a different method and that involved cups and plate size. My cheat days included low protein and high carbs. I eat about 5-6 times a day with more than half of my meal with carbs and the rest protein. I also include a small cup of pudding or apple sauce as in between snack. My low carb days are extremely different. I double the size of my protein, green vegetables, and a small amount of cashews or peanuts. I only eat 1-2 servings of fruit in the morning for low carbs. Also I use the same plate size, bowl size, and cup size for all meals. I feel its an easy alternative compared to counting grams. The only thing is you probably need to know how much carbs, protein, and fat are in serving prior to using this method. If not the amount of food could be way more than you actually need. The Cheat Your Way Thin Diet and Xtreme Fat Loss Diet both involve calorie counting. Do you think you will come out with version where you don't need to count grams and more of a wing it style?

  • kiwichick

    Your blog just rocks! Really love your posts, such sound info you are sharing, thanks heaps :)

    I am definitely a freedom dieter, which is kinda weird cause in most other aspects of my life, incl workouts & exercise I am pretty much a control freak, stick to the rules kinda gal! xxx

  • Charles Mcalughlin

    Hi Roman,

    I am glad that you are blogging more often than usual. I can tell you really love your job! I have been using a cheat diet every other day and on other days low carb. I haven't counted a single gram and I have lost already 6 pounds within the past two weeks. My LBM has dropped a bit but that is normal. I am currently 18% body fat so your cheat sheet has come in handy. I probably do not need be cheating as much as I have been. Most of my cheating is still clean except for one meal which is loaded with calories. Low carb days are not are bad as people think. I used to think I will go crazy without having alot of carbs in my diet. I am getting used to it now. Someone recommended me Meatza which is a pizza with no crust. Have your tried it? I haven't tried it yet since I just read about it. Also are you going to add a discussion board to your website? I think it would be great so we can share recipes and ideas. I look forward to reading more of your great articles.

  • Tracy

    I would say I cope better as a Rules dieter. Winging it just feels too hazey for me and I am never too sure if I have that deficit or not.

  • I am definitly a freedom eater!

    Thank you for sharing this info with us, Roman, it is very true to me. I think we need to know how we work inside, listen better to our bodies and don't compare ourselves with others. I am a natural health therapist and I love the elements “doctrine”. Used by a lot of cultures, with different names. But you could link them all together. Freedom eaters are people who has a lot of the charactistics of Air or Wind. Rules eaters (I don't like the word dieters, because I am more to Freedom, ;-)) like structure and are like Earth. But you have also Water and Fire… it would be interested to see what those people need! I think that 'Fire' people don't need a diet, because they burn it all! And 'Water' people are people with lots of emotions and are mostly (when they are out of balance) emotional eaters. This will need a different approach, I guess. And lots of people are mixes of these elements. Interesting material!!! Thank you so much! Keep up the good work!

  • Sue

    Oh, and I'm a rules dieter.

  • Sue

    Do you see a carb-refeed and cheat day as different i.e. different goals? With carb-refeed it's high carb but low fat foods.

  • Stef

    I'm definitely a Rule Dieter (and a control freak :D). I measure all my food and put it in a program so that I know “perfectly” how many carbs, proteins and fats I get in each day. I actually always plan my meals a day a head..

    Well, I've been implementing Cheat days for a few months now, but the only problem I have is that on every Cheat day I tend to over do it and kinda get into a binge, stuff myself and end up on my bed having to take a rest because I feel sick.. So, that's definitely a working point!

    As for results, I still have great results, but for me, I'd say I could progress faster without Cheat days, but it does feel great to let go once a week :D

  • gary

    Mate,some good stuff,i am a freedom dieter,most of the time i am on the money,an you are right,restict and i'm going the other way,Just starting with the cheat stuff [last 2 weeks] it ain't that bad,I'm down to the last 8lbs and your final phase stuff is great,just need to tweak the diet an i'm there

    Got Question for you,what d'ya think of the hgh hype doing the rounds an do you think the hgh releasers work??me i'm very dubious of shit like that

  • Marcelo

    Definitely a rules dieter. I keep a log of all I put in my mouth. It's sucks after having a cheat meal and seeing how much fat, carbs, calories, salt & sugar are in a fast food combo!!!!!!!

  • Laura

    Wow, I just realized why my fat friend (5'3″, 300 lbs.) can't follow a strict program like I can no matter how bad she says she wants to lose it. I am not sure she can follow any program because she wants too much freedom.

  • Pats

    Great post Roman, been a while since I commented.

    Strict dieter here, I’ve just got back on my diet this Monday after a 2-week complete diet break.

    Mind you I never stopped working out (maybe gained a tiny bit of muscle) but I had to take a break as I haven’t done that in a long while.

    The first few days were pretty crazy (pizzas + cheesecakes are my fav) but I toned it down a bit for the rest.

    It taught me that without rules, I crave lots of stuff that I haven’t eaten for a while (peanut butter cups or nutella added to everything).

    I don’t use cheat days anymore as I can’t stop myself when I’m just full on those days and just eat till till I’m sick . Pretty fun though, I would eat more than my friends put together AND faster lol, scared the shit outa of them (where the hell do you put It all?!).

    I’m around 13-14% bodyfat, I’m having 2 SMALL cheat meals a week (one piece of cheesecake maybe or HALF a pizza) with the rest of the week being very restrictive. Going to do this for 5-6 weeks only before going back to a more moderate diet.

    • Nico Vlachos

      Cheat meals are bad period

  • CAKE

    WHY NOT! Cheat, it's rewarding that's why!! I'm definitely a 'rules' dieter! Interestingly I so look forward to my beloved cheat day and yet ON cheat day I am not particularly hungry to begin with, quickly get full and end up eating much less than I had dreamed about all week long and end up eating reasonably healthy even on a cheat day: steak/fries with a coca cola yumm. I worry about not eating enough actually knowing the fast day is right around the corner. As the weeks go by the fast days are not that difficult to go through if you keep busy. On week 3 of your FPLF, lost 6lbs off my 48 yro 125lb lean 5'3″ body. Friends think I'm nuts, they don't understand why I subject myself to this kind of 'torture' diet when I have what appears to them like nothing to lose. It is all relative, I am doing this for ME and love a challenge that leads to encouraging results as proven when trying on a pair of old jeans that use to be too tight (even when the scale doesn't budge much from week to week). Cheat day is tomorrow, hurray!!!! Thanks Roman for your consistent virtual support.

  • Marisa

    How does that translate to the leaness of women? Since we have higher BF?

    I also have been wondering, what's the deal with how much it takes to get the beneficial effects of the Liptin etc? I've heard to not count calories and just to eat as much as you want. Yet is there not a point of diminishing returns after a certain amount of extra calories and carbs, the lipton levels and metabolic boost got as high as they're going to go and any extra calories beyond that are just unneeded extra to burn off?

  • Theresa Vo

    Rules dieter for me definitely, 'cause I love to cheat! Oxymoronic???

  • Valerie Gorman

    I think that your distinction between freedom dieters & rule dieters the best I've read. I've wondered why I can do so well on my weight until I try and follow some detailed plan. Then I fail miserably. At the moment I'm back on a search for the way to eat well without a fridge. Thanks, John, you always inspire.

  • xena

    OMG Roman! Love your post on this one! Your friend Vinny D. did a similar post on the same subject a couple of days ago and that one was also good! I feel like I get closer and closer in taming and ultimately destroying the fatbeast with all you guys superb info! Thank you! xxx

  • God Damn, really digging your content lately. Another Gem.

    Passing this along.

  • Nope, I'm not going to tell you that. If you enjoy them, eat them. Done correctly, you'll still lose fat and be healthy.

  • tash

    I've heard opposing views on how far you can take it when you cheat – some people say the sky's the limit on the special day and others say no fried food etc etc. I feel that if I feed my temptation in moderation once a week it won't really harm me and I have cut out soft drinks and fast food in high doses on cheat days – sort of a weining myself off the bad stuff process. Which is working for me because I do get temptations but after not drinking coke for a while for example, it tastes like crap to me now!

    I'm hoping you're not going to tell me it's seriously detrimental to have a handful of my friend's fries on a cheat day!! :p