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In Defense of Cheat Days

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A (Completely Biased) Look at The Illogical Arguments of the Opposition

Cheat days can be a controversial topic…

We’ve spent a lot of time this past week discussing every aspect of cheating on your diet.  From the cheat day cheat sheet to videos of the most cheat-y cheat day I’ve had, we’ve established that I am firmly in favor of strategic overfeeding as part of a dietary strategy.

However, as a follow up to my last few blog posts, I thought I’d round out and conclude our discussion of cheat days with a look at the arguments offered by those who oppose the practice.

But first, let’s take put all the cards on the table: despite the fact that today I find myself in the position of defending cheat days, I certainly didn’t invent them.

In fact, cheating isn’t a new idea by any stretch; in 1999, Bill Phillips put forth the idea of the “free” day in the bestselling newbie bible Body-for-LIFE. More than a decade later, in his own bestseller The 4-Hour Body, author Tim Ferriss again extolled the virtues of the cheat day.

In between those two bestsellers (2002), T NATION published The Cheater’s Diet by Joel Marion, and since then Joel has followed with a number of highly successful programs that incorporate cheat days, such as Cheat Your Way Thin and the Xtreme Fat Loss Diet.

Now, having talked about and been a part of the development of those programs myself, I don’t have to tell you my views.  And, considering that some of the best pros in the biz recommend those programs, it’s easy for the laymen to think that cheat days are accepted by the fitness community across the board.

Not so! You see, recently cheat days have come under fire. A number of respected coaches, including a few T NATION top guns, have spoken out against cheat days, despite their apparent popularity.

Of course, what’s popular isn’t always right, but to dismiss cheat days completely out of hand seems a bit rash.

This is especially true when some of the arguments against cheat days are founded in illogical reasoning and sensationalist statements—which is what’s been going on.

The main purpose of this article is to defend cheat days. But rather than present a stack of before and after pictures or testimonials supporting their efficacy, we’ll explore the most common argument against cheat days, and ascertain whether it even holds water.

To Begin at the Beginning – Why Use Cheat Days?

Let’s first cover the theory behind cheat days and why they’ve been included in nutrition plans to begin with. (This was covered in my last blog, but it’s a nice refresher.)

The theoretical benefits of cheat days are:

  • Increased 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. A cheat day or strategic overfeed is used in part to increase these hormones.
  • Increased 24-Hour Energy Expenditure. A caloric surplus from a cheat day causes the body to upregulate basal metabolic rate (BMR). Some studies have shown an increase of 9% above baseline, and it’s hypothesized that more is possible.
  • Increased serum Leptin levels. The big one that most harp on. 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.

Those are the physiological and hormonal benefits of employing cheat days. Of course, there’s 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. It’s hard to quantify how much that actually helps, but the majority of folks who opt to use cheating protocols cite this as one of the most significant benefits.

The First Problem with Cheat Days: A Matter of “Proof”

The issue that arises in any discussion of cheat days is that from a purely scientific or research based standpoint, the studies are conflicting and the conclusions that are most solid aren’t always applicable.

Essentially, the idea of using cheat days is to get leptin-depleted individuals to increase leptin levels, which will result in all the benefits listed above. That would be great, but the problem is that often those using cheat days simply aren’t leptin-depleted; at least, not insofar as their metabolic rate is slowing to a significant degree.

Or so cheat day doubters would posit. Two points to consider about cheat days:

  • Any drop in metabolic rate is unacceptable. As TNATION contributor Shelby Starnes wrote, a 6% decrease can slow things down to a degree that the dude simply can’t abide. This is especially true at higher levels of development, and even more so when a contest or deadline is approaching.
  • Those who aren’t depleted in the technical sense are keeping calories too high on non-cheat days. This means that while they’re still getting some benefit of cheating, they’re not optimizing progress. This can be—and is—true of any diet, and so for the purposes of deciding whether cheating protocols work, it must be discarded as user error. Problems with the client are not the fault of the method.

The Fact Is…

Cheat Days WORK. They just work. Even if there is evidence to suggest that cheat days or periodic overfeeding doesn’t enhance the rate of fat loss, at this point there’s too much anecdotal evidence to say that they slow fat loss.

I’ve worked with hundreds of clients, and while I’m not testing leptin levels, I know that cheat days DO NOT slow progress. And so, if they don’t hurt and probably help, what’s the problem?

The Second Problem with Cheat Days: The Illogical Argument

There’s a growing trend to argue against cheat days based NOT on any physiological basis but rather a psychological one, comparing cheating to addiction.

I’m not kidding. I wish I was.

The illogical argument is as follows:

“Telling a dieter to have a cheat day is like telling an alcoholic that it’s okay to binge drink one day per week.”

Ummm…actually, NONo the fuck it is not.     

That argument ONLY holds water if a few things are assumed as fact:

  1. (Cheat) foods are addictive.
  2. People who eat cheat foods are addicted to them.
  3. Eating cheat foods one day per week perpetuates the addiction.

Now, it’s true that for some, food can be addictive, and as such it can be used and/or abused for comfort and the like. I’ve no real issue with the first assumption, in theory.

The problems start to arise when we get to the second assumption, that people who eat cheat foods are (all) addicted to them.

That’s ludicrous. Fact is, basing an argument on such an assumption is to commit a logical fallacy known as “affirming the consequent.”

The assumptive argument would be, people who are addicted to junk food eat junk food; therefore anyone who eats junk food is addicted to it.

Clearly, this isn’t accurate.

To go back to the example of alcohol, the representation of this utter nonsense would be, alcoholics drink alcohol; therefore everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic.

You can see where this is going.

As the saying goes, not all rectangles are squares. Not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic, and enjoying pizza once per week doesn’t mean you’re addicted to pizza or have fantasies of copulating on the counter at Papa John’s.

The third assumption is that eating cheat foods perpetuates the addiction to cheat foods.  This requires the second assumption to be true—that is, in order for it to even be considered, you’d have to accept that everyone who eats a little non-diet food is addicted to those foods.

Since it’s quite clear that the second assumption is false, and the third relies on the second to be relevant, the third can’t be true, either.

So, of the three assumptions that would NEED to be true in order for the original argument to work, two are logically invalid.

It’s not hard to see how this type of thinking could lead to some weak arguments.

To be fair, there are folks who do battle serious issues with food. For these individuals, cheat days aren’t a wise idea. However, as with any dietary protocol, there will always be certain populations that would be better served following a different approach. We can’t allow dietary practices that have value to many to be dismissed outright.

The Third Problem with Cheat Days: The (Assumptive) Argument Against “Abundance”

Another argument that’s been used (again, comparing food to alcohol) is, “Even for non-alcoholics, is it a good idea to encourage excessive recreational drinking one day per week?”

Um, yes—that day is called Saturday, and it’s the day when epic things occur and embarrassing pictures are taken. See my Vegas post for insight on such inanity.

Seriously, again this argument implies a strong assumption. It assumes that proponents of cheat days suggest excessive consumption of “bad” foods as the sole or even primary source of nutrition.

That simply isn’t true.

First, there’s no rule in any cheating protocol that states a person has to eat unhealthy foods on cheat days. As long as the dieter gets in adequate carbs, fat and calories, it doesn’t matter if it’s from oatmeal and egg whites or oatmeal cookies and Egg McMuffins.

On cheat days, clients can—and should—eat whatever they want. Most of them want to have some junk food, and that’s fine. No one has ever published a diet involving a cheating protocol that suggests or requires that ALL calories be obtained from a drive thru window.

The great thing about cheat days is that they’re about freedom and choice, about removing the dietary mental shackles and enjoying yourself. Food choices and amounts are intensely personal, and the client chooses what’s best for them.

To go back to the example of alcohol, I might tell a client it’s okay to have a few drinks; that of course will mean different things to different people.

The point is that no coach recommends only bad foods for an entire day, and so the abundance argument is also irrelevant.

Final Thoughts on Cheat Days

The fitness and nutrition industry is in part dependent on debate of various topics—hotly debated ones get attention and that’s good for everyone. While it’s certainly acceptable to enjoy a debate and I don’t mind defending the ideas of what I endorse, I take issue with the way those ideas are attacked.

Whether someone agrees with and recommends cheat days for their clients or readers should be based on their assessments of either the science or the practicality. It seems, in this case, the arguments are based on emotion rather than logic, and that does everyone a disservice.

Hopefully this article has shed some light on the issue, and helps you to decide—logically—whether you’d like to include cheat days in your diet.  

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.

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  • Mike Samuels

    I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of cheat meals/cheat days and was prompted to write my own blog after re-reading this and seeing the Rock’s epic cheat meal. Hope it’s cool if I post it here Roman, might get some discussion going :D

    http://www.healthylivingheavylifting.com/cheat-meals-the-rocky-road-to-a-crappy-physique/

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  • Hewy II

    Hey Josh. Man, you need to change ur diet over the 6-days then! I run on a CKD so no carbs except Friday night and Saturday (Saturday being the “cheat” day), and I can tell you , I LOVE most of the food I eat throughout my 6 days of calorie deficit and carb depletion. The only suffering is that I don’t eat junk food for 6 days, but I certainly don’t “suffer” for 6 in the sense you describe it. In fact, the guys get jealous at work when I pull out Sizzling steaks with veggies all day long

  • Tim Sweeney

    A big LOL to the post that said you can NOT build muscle on vegetable protein. Amazing that people still believe that in 2012 despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. As far as cheat days, I personally couldn’t care less who thinks it doesn’t work. It worked for me losing 40 lbs in 5 months, and in fact was the BIGGEST reason I was able to radically alter my lifestyle for the better. So theories on why it doesn’t work hold no weight to me.

    • Ren

      Awesome me 2 mate I’m a mother of 4, youngest is 9 months & my 6 pack, ripped arms, legs & back tell me I can eat what ever I want once a week. I luv cleaning eating as well so I don’t consider it suffering. 6 days clean 1 day not. I don’t drink alcohol either.

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  • Rayca

    I can tell you I lived by the Dr. Fuhrman “Eat to Live” diet for one year and absolutely loved it. I lost 37 lbs., however, you canNOT build muscle from vegetable protein. I had to return to serious, high quality protein sources. And guess what, eventhough I was very full and satisfied with the Fuhrman plan, I still CHEATED. You can't take a lifetime of eating meat, potatoes and dessert every night (how I was raised) and just dump it. They say it takes 30 days, 90 days, whatever to change those habits. BS. They are there for life. You can try to modify your habits, white knuckle it, whatever but cheat days allow people to enjoy life and not feel bad about messing up their “diet.”

  • Jake

    Well, it MUST be working somehow because Roman is ripped!

  • Thanks so much for the kind words, Larry. I really appreciate it.

  • Basically, yes =) I'd offer the caveat that I would want people to make sure they got 1g protein per pound of lbm, but that's about it.

  • You make a good point. Cheating works when it's done in a specific way; so I'd just hope that people aren't doing it willy-nilly.

  • Well, it really depends on the type of person you are.

    I truly have an all-or-nothing personality in every facet of my life, and that carries over to diet.

    When I'm dieting, I ENJOY the huge restriction of 6 days, and then ENJOY the freedom of 1.

  • No!1!!1!

    Okay. Yes.

  • Thanks, David! Looks for more articles in the future on cheat days and fat loss.

  • I don't think they're necessary; not in the slightest.

    My main point is that I don't believe they're a drawback.

    So if they can possibly help, and definitely don't hurt, why not enjoy?

    Moreover, as I hope was evident in the article, I am BY FAR more concerned with the WAY people are arguing against cheat days, rather than the fact that they disagree with them.

  • Well, Isabel and I generally agree on most things, and I know that she's like me: we look at food in terms of what it can do FOR you instead of just what it does TO you. And cheaty foods help burn fat, build social relationships, etc. So there is merit.

  • Aw, shucks…thanks!

  • Thanks for the perspective, Zev!

  • This has been my experience, and it's one reason I like them so much. Plus, I just love ice cream.

  • That's not exactly the kind of thing you can just drop lightly; especially since it essentially calls into question the scientific validity of my claims, and therefore, my program.

    I'd love for you to elaborate!

  • I am pretty new to the whole “cheat day” concept. It's good to know the are some scientific benefits. I always thought it was all psychological.

  • Jake

    Mark,

    Mind elaborating on that a little? I'm just curious what the opposition has to say.

  • Mark

    Missing the forest through the trees on this post. Too much to write here, but to make a long story short, cheating CAN help in the areas mentioned. But cheat days are the wrong way to go about it for a whole laundry list of reasons. Misinformation perpetuated throughout the internet….go figure.

  • Ty

    In my exerience, those who have voiced their opposition of cheat days to me are those that cheat Daily. Cheat days have allowed me to change my body composition while maintaining the same weight (I've spent years gaining weight to get to a mere 150lbs, so when I try to lose fat, I try to replace it with lean tissue).

  • Zev Davis

    Toby,

    The nutritional plans that restrict the intake of “food”, means that even the food that taste good all by themselves have to be rationed. My Naturopath calls for three, count 'em, fruits, and no more. A cheat in that system means more that three fruits a day. Pastries, well, there are some people who use real food in ways that create a “festival of calories” in a confection that is awesomely delicious. One of those, once and a while, ain't gonna make you fat. You enjoy it, genuinely enjoy it because it is real food that was prepared by someone who knows how produce something that is the top of the line. You eat one, enjoy it, savor it, knowing that they don't come any better. Call it a cheat, and know that you return to the rules.

    The bottom line is what I said in my comment–as long as it is real food, prepared by someone who knows how to put it together with TLC, but . . . only for special occassions!

    Zev

  • It's sometimes good to have a cheat day, but I think I'm going to defer to people like Dr. Fuhrman (Eat for Health) and Isabel De Los Rios (The Diet Solution program).

    If you're eating the right foods, you shouldn't feel deprived. If you're feeling deprived, it's highly likely that your taste buds are overloaded with salt and sugar. Vegetables and fruit taste bland, because our taste buds have been sandblasted.

    That said, is it going to kill you to eat some cookies or cake once in awhile? Heck no. But I really don't crave those foods. And when you stay off them for about a month or so and then try them again, they taste way too salty or sweet. You start to realize how good vegetables, fruits, and legumes actually taste.

    I'm not denying your science though. I'm just saying, no one should ever feel deprived on their diet. And I don't think cheat days are necessary for fat loss. It's all about the nutrients baby. ;-) But if it makes you feel better to binge a few times a week, who am I to stop you?

  • David

    A great article. Well thought out and articulated

  • Chuck S

    I think that for cheat days to work, they have to fit into everything else. Like lower calories the preceding and following days. I see that some (most?) programs have significant exercise on cheat days to burn off some of those calories. Some program has a fast day after the cheat day.

    I think all of us are addicted to food – we have to have it. I guess addiction means excessive desire that makes you eat much too much. Some people have said to eat anything on cheat day and some have said eat only healthy stuff, just more of it. I think a person could avoid some or all junk food on cheat day if he wanted to or thought he should.

  • sonja wells

    Excellent article! It was great reading and it made a lot of sence! I AGREE! with your findings about CHEAT DAY!

    Thanks! Have a healthy day!

  • Joy

    The best thing about cheat days, I found, is that you can enjoy having a bit of junk if you feel like it WITHOUT THE GUILT!!

  • Irma

    Hi Roman,

    Hot AND smart! That's a good combo! :)

  • Josh

    Hi Roman,

    Just found your blog, and really like it. I'm not a fan of cheat days – I don't think the physiological benefit is borne out in studies (but that's a small point). Bigger problem for me:

    It often seems to involve 6 days of 'suffering' to reach that holy grail of a day where you can eat all the stuff you want…. Wouldn't it be better to find a consistent diet (perhaps with calorie cycling to offset possible metabolic downregulation) where you ENJOY what you eat on a day-to-day basis? Rather than being hungry / dissatisfied for 6 days per week….?

    Loving the blog,

    Josh

  • Hey Roman,

    I'll admit that I'm not a strong believer in the magic of cheat days.

    Can you drastically lower your calories during the week to allow more wiggle room on the weekend? Sure.

    Would it just be the same if you took those calories and evenly distributed them through the week?

    I personally don't think so…at least not for MOST people.

    I DO think that for those whose results have slowed or are already fairly lean I think it may have merit. And there is certainly something to be said about the pyschological component.

    I guess I don't believe that they are a necessity for fat loss. I wouldn't exclude the practice, but I think it is only one of many options.

  • Dan

    Diet is about discipline and addictions are for the weak minded.

  • Dana

    Cheating sounds bad ! Imagine lots of

    Great tasting food! One day a week!

    Live to eat or Eat to live? I like to

    Live. And invite you to eat as U see fit. l

  • Desiree

    Well today is “cheat day” for me-day 1 of my 3rd cyle of XLFD. I love the workouts by the way, Roman! To be honest my concern is I don't get enough calories on cheat days! I still find that I eat very healthy foods, but I don't “think” as hard on cheat days about what I'm eating. I like the reference to cheat day being like having “freedom.” I need a break from the heavy thinking and planning of the rest of my food days to eat what sounds good–it's nonstressful, guilt-free eating. For me I need a de-stress/no-guilt day because that fuels me for the rest of the week! I personally don't go crazy on junk food or anything on cheat days; I like the notion of moderation but mainly I just go with my “gut” so to speak! So far after 10 days on XFLD I have lost 5.5 pounds, 12% body fat, and 4 total inches–most success I've ever had! “Cheat day” is not the bad guy–faulty information and misleading food labels are the real enemies in my opinion! For those with food addiction problems, they probably need to be under strict doctor guidance before undertaking any kind of eating program, but that would be the exception, not the rule! Thanks for your insight and great workouts!

  • Danielle

    Is there really no limit to what or how much you can eat on a cheat day? I know that it is a day of dietary indulgence, and I know that there are guidelines such as, not stuffing yourself to the point of discomfort. But, are those really it? So you can eat breakfast lunch and dinner at fast food places, and then snack all you want in between? You could constantly be munching on something, as long as you're not stuffed?

  • Larry

    Right on, Roman. Lack of knowledge always causes a negative reaction. Structured overfeeding or cheat days have a meaningful purpose. Thanks for putting your always unique but insightful and intelligent argument about why they are beneficial.

  • Terry Foytek

    I really LOVE the cheat days. I have done three of them so far (I just started XFLD). My question is, that after the first 5 days, I lost 4.2lbs, but the second week, I only lost 1lb! Do I need to cut down the cheat day to only a cheat meal? And if so, can I have it at night, or should it be in the morning? Look forward to your thoughts.

    Terry

  • James Sharpham

    I think a lot of people might read a short article or 2 written by joel or roman then think 'WOW, cheating will help my fat loss'.. but then rather than buying and following the programs correctly, they simply incorporate cheating into their existing regime, which may or may not have a positive effect.

    That said, I'm pro cheating. It doesn't appear to effect my physique badly and I couldn't socialise as effectively with many of my friends without it… and I'm not interested in ditching them. :)

  • Tasha

    I love cheat days. They absolutely help me stick to my diet the rest of the week. Knowing I have a cheat day coming up is my defense against cravings, hunger, and feeling deprived on non-cheat days. I must admit, I tend to go a little overboard and should probably try to reign my consumption in a little, but cheat days are something to look forward to while being super disciplined eating low-cal on other days.

    I've tried all sorts of methods, including very controlled refeed days, one single cheat meal per week, free weekends, etc., but an entire cheat day is by far the most enjoyable and most sustainable for the long term.

  • Stacy

    Tomorrow will be my first cheat day on XFLD and to be honest, it is what has gotten me through the last 4 days. It has helped me stick to the strict guidelines because I know that I only have (x) days to go until I can indulge my cravings (whatever they may be). That is so far superior to being on a diet and looking at the vast empty sea of eating monotony that goes on forever (or until I make my weight loss goal – or not).

    Now, what do you recommend for soreness? The kind that makes trying to go down a set of stairs a feat of super human determination.

  • Tim Fisher

    This is my second cheat day on XFLD and I find myself not craving junk food and sweets. I just eat what I want on the same eating schedule that I have been on this last five days. Tonight I am looking forward to a late night pizza and a cold beer at my favorite place. So far the program has worked for me and I'm staying with it to the end of t he 25 days. The cheat day is more just like a “rest day” than a binge day for me.

  • I tried these once. They worked.

    Joel

  • Tj Carrell

    I am no expert, but cheat days seem to work for me. I was staying at about 175 lbs before I started Joel Marion's Xtreme Fatloss program, and at about 17% body fat. Even though I ran short of time some days and did not do the entire workout routines, I still have gone down to 165 lbs, 14.6% body fat, and am cut better than I have ever been before. Even on cheat days, I either stay at the same weight, or even lose a pound or two. I have no problem with them at all. I stay absolutelu busy enough between chores at home and at work, so I seldom even think about it. I am lucky enough to have a job where I can take the time to eat three lunches. Most jobs will not let you do that at all. I do have to substitute some foods on the recommended menus, as we have a small house and there just is not enough room for a huge variety of groceries. With what the wife buys and what I buy, there is very little space to spare, so I do the best I can, do my cheat days and fast days, and am seeing the pocket of flab around the middle slowly disappearing. I hope you all give it a chance.

  • Nannette

    I'm a 46 y.o. woman, lost 35 lbs. 6 years ago through diet & walking, began working out about 2 years ago, and incorporated cheat days about 6 months ago. My body was slim after the weight loss, started getting sexy after switching to weight workouts, and is becoming the body I always wanted since adding cheat days. I think I eat less on non-cheat days knowing Saturday will meet me with BIG breakfast (hashbrowns!!!) and possibly a dessert. Granted, I cheat with MORE food, but it's mostly still healthy food, because I don't want my body processing unrecognizable ingredients for days after. (But there MAY be a healthy joint burger & fries or ice cream run.)

    However, I'll add that usually my husband and I are working harder on Saturdays, too. That's our day to take a hike and/or do lots of yard work (with no power equipment!), so… our metabolism is high & happy that day.

    I think the cheat day is a help for the opposite reason opponents give. I don't WANT unhealthy food, or as much food, by evening of the cheat day. I feel like my cravings have been met and I feel OD'd on that which I craved. Rather than inducing more addictive cravings in me, I have no desire for it. It's like I threw a house party one day, then the next day I spend cleaning up and look around and say, “Don't want to do that again for long while!!!”

  • Steve P

    I'm not against cheat days but I don't eat grains, processed foods, and very little sugar. What do you suggest for cheat days that do not incorporate any of the above.

  • Laura

    I love you! I just stumbled upon Joel's Xtreme Fat Loss Diet 2 days ago and really liked your “tell it like it is” style and your ability to have fun while imparting a serious message and routine. Keep it up…already following you on FB, might start reading your blog (it will be my first). I am sure it is AWESOME :)

  • David

    I am not an expert.. so I won't make any claims as to the scientific value of a cheat day. All that I know, John, is that I had lost 30 pounds in 6 months.. and was in a sticking place. I saw your B&J's video and incorporated cheat days about 6 weeks ago. I lost 20 more pounds in that 6 weeks! It Works!

  • I'm not saying that the comparison between sugar addiction and alcoholism or drug addiction is ridiculous; nor am I saying that I don't believe sugar addiction is real.

    I'm saying that sugar addiction is an eating disorder–and structured cheating is, by definition, ORDERED eating. And that's the opposite.

    I'm saying that I don't like the approach these people take in their arguing.

    I'm not saying they aren't well intentioned. I'm saying they don't know how to argue.

    Which, if you read the article, was exactly what I was railing against.

  • I think it's a great idea to have one day a week where we indulge in favorite foods without counting calories or carbs on being super-concerned about nutrition. I believe wholeheartedly in both the physical and the psychological benefits of this approach, though I do believe that for SOME people, it's not as good an idea as for others. I really don't love the “cheat day” terminology though. I believe in the power of language and the word “cheat” has so many negative connotations. I prefer “splurge” day, “treat” day, “or my personal fave, “metabolic reset” day. As for those comparing alcohol/alcoholism/binge drinking to food/food addiction/cheat days….they are just way off base. The answer for alcoholics? Total abstinence. Obviously, we can't do that with food. Therefore, any comparison between the two is automatically a non-sequitor.

  • Zev Davis

    I'm not sure what we are talking about. If a diet aka nutritional plan has specific limits of “food”, it's obvious that stuff that is not food is measured for a reason, either by the trainer, the nutritionists, or in some cases the Naturopath. It's also obvious that some of the so-called cheats are simply food that is off the agenda. Pizza, peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat crackers, pancakes that use whole wheat flour and, say honey from carob plants, fruits, all that are restricted on account of nutritional considerations.

    When you eat more of that food, it's not junk, but what the diet trade calls “more calories”. Healthy calories, but nonetheless, more of 'em that you are normally taking in.

    Then too, some nutritional plans go big on water, two and three liters a day, a way to clean out the system. In plans that call for that much “calorie-less” liquid it's mean to clean out the body from the junk that collects inside it. It's clear that even when you “cheat” you still drink the same amount of water, so . . . Nature calls more often that it does when you are on your ordinary nutritional regimen.

    In my experience, it seems that after holidays where eating a little more that what the . . . ordered, that is “food”, say two portions of chicken, more salad, even a pastry, or two (and believe it or not, a pastry that is prepared by a master chef, or your aunt whose strudel has “only natural ingredients” is not junk food) with a good healthy walk around town at the end of the day, leads to fat loss.

    So cheating, or whatever you call it does work as long as you know what your are doing, and as long as it's real food.

  • james Quigley

    Hey pal, i have to get you some b4 and after pics. I've been cheating and going heavy on cheat days exactly like you recommended. Then incorporating the fast the next day with an intense high volume workout. SICK RESULTS! In less than 2 weeks time I'm shredded! I didn't have much to go but had hit that wall. You know the last few percentage points that would not budge..the itty bitty fat still lingering over my hip flexors ( lower abs) some fat tissue around the pecs. All gone! I will get you a testimonial in another 2 weeks brother. For now keep fighting the good fight and I will continue to push these concepts and strategies to my clients and friends.

  • Cris

    Although I do not agree with the cheat day detractors. I understand there psychological argument. When dropping fat/lbs I have always started with the mental focus (obsession) of a diet. By incorporating cheat days the mental stress is almost eliminated. Since January 5 have lost 23lbs dropped from a 36″ waist to 32″. I don't feel deprived. I will say I can not fast for 24 hours without passing out. So my fast days includes one light meal to stay vertical.

  • Sara

    I am very new to cheat days. I just started XFLD a week ago, and I am in the middle of my second 5 day cycle. So far, my weight has not changed, but Joel says that the scale fluctuates a lot on this diet so I am not worried. I will re-measure myself to determine the change in inches in a few days. As I am new to this, I am still working out how much I should cheat for the maximum benefit.So I do not yet have any physiological proof on whether a cheat day will work for me or not.

    From a psychological perspective, I love the cheat day. I timed my start of XFLD so that my birthday would fall on a cheat day so that I can have a guilt-free piece of my favorite cake. This Saturday happens to be a cheat day and we are having dinner with friends. In the past, I have lost weight with strict low.no-carb eating plans, but could never stick to it long term, and the weight (plus some more) came back. I believe this method will work for me in the long term.

    Wish me luck!

  • MJ

    Roman,

    Back in the late 1960s(!!!), one of my 6th grade-through-Junior High teachers was put on a 'cheat day' diet. (NOTE: Therefore, the concept is older than any of those diet gurus promoting 'cheat day diets' you mentioned.) Every Monday morning, I asked what he had eaten on Sunday (his cheat day). Every Sunday, he enjoyed a total food orgy–filled with cakes, pies, cupcakes, standing rib roasts, etc. The man's weight went from 300+ pounds to under 140 lbs on that diet. And, he kept the weight off for decades. He was in his early 30s when, at 300+ lbs., he had a heart attack. When he passed away in his late 60s, he weighed in the 160s. This man NEVER worked out–only walked a little every day while working to lost the weight. Bottom line — cheat days WORK!!

  • Rob

    Hi John. A question/problem:

    A while back I discontinued cheat days in favor of occasional cheat meals. I didn't want to. I cried a little (inside of my head of course. “I am strong, I am invincible, I am wom…” Oh wait, disregard that.)

    Anyway, I found that in my case I was gaining 3-4 pounds on cheat days (usually 3500-4000 calories)and then slooowly seeing it dissipate during the week…finally eking out a meager 1/2 pound loss by the end of the week, or on many occasions winding up flat or even up fractionally for that week.

    So while CYWT and even XFLD worked for a little while for me, I quickly seemed to hit this frustrating wall at which the post-cheat day spike was too much to overcome.

    I was staying true the diet plan (which by the way, tended to average out at 1600-1700 calories and followed the weekly progression as the program(s) dictated. And I was working out faithfully (varying from the minimal interval amount outlined in CYWT to as much of the more demanding regimen in XFLD (alhtough I couldn't stick to 2-a-day workouts I found.)

    I'm 53 years old. 5'11″ and weigh 205 – down from 250 – but my progress is SOOO slow. I average maybe 1/4 pound a week.

    Any thoughts?

  • “I know, I don't get it either. Seriously, some people–some COACHES

    in fact–don't like the idea of cheat days.

    They make comparisons between cheat days and drug binges (not a

    joke), which I think is a bit ridiculous.

    It pisses me off.”

    How would comparing sugar with drug addiction be ridiculous? Yes, it's true that it's more intense with drugs, but the evidence is there. Look it up on PubMed, sugar reacts in the brain/body pretty awfully like drugs do.

    I wouldn't call someone who has a cheat day once a week an addict, but I wouldn't necessarily give him a trophy for being awesome either. I personally like real food and want to support people who grow real food.

    You have talked about your hangover-like experiences after cheat days, how's that cool? I don't want any of that stuff even if it means better leptin regulation and glycogen repletion.

  • Evy

    After watching the Ben & Jerry's food orgy, I'm almost ashamed to admit that my idea of a cheat day is allowing myself as much of my beloved salads and fruits as I want instead of having to dole out so many of my limited caloric intake to whey protein shakes. I stay away from the heavy fat junk food after one experience of spending the following day in the bathroom after indulging in a fish fry. Somehow the momentary pleasure wasn't worth the day after discomfort.

    I guess if one is going to use cheat days, it would be a good idea not to wait so long the body has cut back on the enzymes needed to digest a heavy load of fat and/or sugar. Been there done that with both.

  • Jack

    Cheat days absolutely work!

    I totally agree Roman – it pisses me off when people are so opinionated about them, saying how unhealthy they are.

    Fact is – fat loss can be successful with or without cheat days.

    I, myself, am not a proponent of cheat days (but nor do I discourage them). Personally I never get cravings for ice cream or burgers and therefore don't need them. However I do have strategic refeed days when dieting, where my carbs go up dramatically (which, although not a cheat day, works in a similar way physiologically). A refeed day every 4th/5th day works great for me.

    The thing is even though I prefer that kind of a protocol, I have no issue with those who do cheat. Everyone's human, and even healthy, lean people can want a pizza sometimes … Why on earth would that be a problem?! (unless it was every day haha) … If that's what works for you and you enjoy it, great!!

    I guess what it comes down to is personal preference. There is no 'one size fits all' approach. Different people work better with different strategies. So to suggest that cheat days are bad is just crazy.

    Nice post, John.

  • Juliene

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  • Juliene

    You write very well, come with good research, and know when to put in just the right amount of slang/humor–to a point. Because you have the ability to use such good logic and fine writing, I beg you to keep the flow by not using profanity to help make your point.

  • Teresa

    Thanks for the article! I too have used Joel's xfld with great success. I have been overweight my entire life. While I am not “addicted” to food, I do enjoy cooking and tasting a variety of wonderful foods. My cheat days are occasionally junk foods, but are more often “rich” foods, higher carbs, higher fats. I am thoroughly convinced this works. I don't feel deprived and I am still losing weight and gaining muscle. I suppose, if you are competing for body building trophy or magazine shoot, you might need to be more rigid, but I don't personally think that lifestyle is “real” for most people. Keep up the good work John!

  • Nick

    @Dan … I guess the sugar overload caused a shake and you kept hitting “Enter” ;O) … but seriously … your results are speaking for themselves … Congratulations! :O)

    I love cheat days … and have noticed that I usually pile on the pounds (2 or 3 max) for the following day but have lost it all again within 2 days and continue losing weight at an accelerated rate for the rest of the week … and it's great to have the freedom to choose to eat junk food (which doesn't always happen on every cheat day).

  • ace kincaid

    normally when someone is addicted to something, they can't give it up without getting proffesional help.

    i very seriosly doubt that anyone that is 'addicted' to junk food would ever be able to try out a diet like Xtreme fatloss just based on the fact that addiction by it's very nature is too strong. i know from myself that it has taken me a long time to get my sugar addiction under control.

    i had to wean myself from that stuff over time. i went from using 3 or 4 spoons of normal cane sugar in my coffee to using 1 and a half (smaller than teaspoons) spoons of fruit sugar. i am certain that i would not have been able to do this Xtreme fatloss thing then becouse i 'needed' so much sugar back in the day. now i am ready to take the next step to break that addiction by doing Xtreme fatloss.

    my cheat days will be resonable and smart. i amnot going to binge on heavy sugar products. i am prolly only going to drink 1 cup of coffee with the 1 and a half spoons of sugar. the rest of my cheat day will be with stuff like pizza and so on. i will keep the sugar products under tight controll fer my own sake.

    just my thoughts… ;-)

  • Reka

    I have a very special problem with cheat days. I always considered myself a person who can eat A LOT and enjoy it, but on cheat days I feel I am force feeding myself and it takes away the enjoyment. You know when you are looking forward that day and don't mind depriving yourself for days because you know that, days later, you can eat whatever you wish, and then when I arrive there, after the first or second meal I no longer desire food, and though I'm able to fit a third meal late in the evening, I don't enjoy it as much as I had imagined. So for me this type of diet, while it still suits me much more than eating the same way each meal each day, (which is not for me), doesn't give comfort either on diet days or on cheat days. But I keep trying. I'm mixing it with the Leangains style intermittent fasting because that style helps me a great deal with compliance. Having to eat lots of small meals a day keeps me constantly hungry, and with IF I can at least have one satisfying meal after my workout, while still keeping my calorie deficits. But I'm also incoroprating cheat days, followed by complete fast days. People are very different, with different problematic areas so what suits someone well can be disastrous or simple not useful for others.

  • Dimitris

    Cheat days ARE needed not only for leptin etc but also psychologically….

    In my opinion, having a cheat day to look forward to makes a diet less painful and less STRESSful (less stress = less cortisol too which = less belly fat storage). I certainly love my cheat days!

    You've heard it before people: Cheat to win:).

    Thanks for the post John.

  • Tim

    i implemented this principle when i used to compeet and the day after a cheat meal i ended up harder and leaner.

    now i wondered if a cheatday or meal can stil be used in a 'clean bulking' period when u already are i a caloric surplus during the week.will it have the same effect or will it only cause fat gain?

  • Dan

    As a precursor to what I'm about to share I'd like to say that I'm a huge fan of your final phase fat loss program as well as Joel Marion's CYWT and Xtreme fat loss programs… I've gone from 230lbs and probably 30% body fat to 173 lbs and 11% so I know for a fact that this shit works…

    My only problem is that as an ex fat kid I have the tendency to go overboard with the cheating… when the door is open it's like a floodgate: the other day I went to 2 different bakeries, a sandwich place and then 2 different quicky marts and ended up downing at least 4000 calories in the span of 2 hours… Now I'm not as concerned about the number of calories that I end up consuming (though truth be said I did eat past the point of discomfort), but the quality of the calories.. I mean we're talking refined carbds & sugars, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners etc…

    From a health perspective would it be better to eat an ass load of good quality unrefined carbs and fats and top it all off with a pizza? Or would you still recommend eating junk food all day?

  • Dan

    As a precursor to what I'm about to share I'd like to say that I'm a huge fan of your final phase fat loss program as well as Joel Marion's CYWT and Xtreme fat loss programs… I've gone from 230lbs and probably 30% body fat to 173 lbs and 11% so I know for a fact that this shit works…

    My only problem is that as an ex fat kid I have the tendency to go overboard with the cheating… when the door is open it's like a floodgate: the other day I went to 2 different bakeries, a sandwich place and then 2 different quicky marts and ended up downing at least 4000 calories in the span of 2 hours… Now I'm not as concerned about the number of calories that I end up consuming (though truth be said I did eat past the point of discomfort), but the quality of the calories.. I mean we're talking refined carbds & sugars, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners etc…

    From a health perspective would it be better to eat an ass load of good quality unrefined carbs and fats and top it all off with a pizza? Or would you still recommend eating junk food all day?

  • Dan

    As a precursor to what I'm about to share I'd like to say that I'm a huge fan of your final phase fat loss program as well as Joel Marion's CYWT and Xtreme fat loss programs… I've gone from 230lbs and probably 30% body fat to 173 lbs and 11% so I know for a fact that this shit works…

    My only problem is that as an ex fat kid I have the tendency to go overboard with the cheating… when the door is open it's like a floodgate: the other day I went to 2 different bakeries, a sandwich place and then 2 different quicky marts and ended up downing at least 4000 calories in the span of 2 hours… Now I'm not as concerned about the number of calories that I end up consuming (though truth be said I did eat past the point of discomfort), but the quality of the calories.. I mean we're talking refined carbds & sugars, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners etc…

    From a health perspective would it be better to eat an ass load of good quality unrefined carbs and fats and top it all off with a pizza? Or would you still recommend eating junk food all day?

  • Per

    Well, having a cheat/treat day today acctually and tomorrow a fasting day as per XFLD, coupled with your exercises from FPFL.

    I have bought a few programs over the years and the treat day is something that's been present in all of them and I notice that many “pop-fitness magazines”, even ones directed at females are turning towards advocating such days as well, which is a welcome addition to the “apples and oxygen”-diets it seems they usually have been promoting in the past.

    Can't say I've met that many people who oppose cheat days.

    I notice in one of Vince Delmontes latest posts that he has been using diet phases both with and without treat days with great success, so I guess it's mainly about the individual.

  • Tommy

    The Cheat Day has helped me maintain the same weight from 185- 200 lbs.I've been Using Cheat Your Way Thin for over a year now. Of course many times I wouldn't be doing a workout only running around at work. But The Cheat Day is vital to maintaining weight and mindset.I believe the people who are battling obesity whether by a few pounds or excessive amounts should follow a one day a week cheat day and see how your body responds to carbs and fats, every body is different and mine is best for fats and proteins and low carb. Thank Roman!!

  • Marcelo

    I have a cheat meal once a week. Only thing I hate is to bloating with all the excess carbs. But it's helped me lose weight. The other night I had a whole large pizza. I try to cut the water intake to minimize bloating due to all the sodium and carbs. My little belly gets real puffy. I hate that so it keeps me from doing it do often. Not to mention I feel guilty after eating junk!!!

  • Jake

    Btw, I don't know if it's a problem for anyone else, but when I try to use the search tool on this site, it always give me an 'error' message. Just thought I'd point it out, Roman, just in case it's a common problem for other people.

  • Tammy

    That was an awesome blog Roman! I think that if you dont have a cheat day in your diet routine then you are destined to fail. I have been on every diet under the sun for 10 years and nothing worked. Since cutting out processed foods and cutting down on carbs eating more protein I am amazed at the results. I have a cheat day once a week and absolutely love it. It helps you keep on track as well as benefits your diet.

  • Sheila

    Hi. I like the idea of a cheat day, since eating good ALL the time is great in theory, but not very practical….

    Does it have to be a 5-day cycle? Because the reality is that cheat days are more “practical” on a week end. So I was thinking, maybe follow the “5 day cycle”, starting with a cheat day, on a Saturday when needed, and then eat sensible for the other 2 days? In essence turning it into a 7-day cycle? Would this work, and does it make sense?

  • Joe

    Hell yeah I love cheat days! Sometimes maybe just a cheat meal but cheat days for me are a HUGE psychological relief from cravings and sometimes just enjoying the food I love. This is especially true because I keeps me on a consistent track with my fitness and nutrition throughout the week.

    The hormonal benefits are just “toppings” on the cake!

    Cheat on!

    Joe

  • Sally

    I have disordered eating. I went from obese child overeater to anorexic midlife adult to, now, a binge eater. My current binge pattern started with “cheat days” once a week. Now I'm not cheating, just plain old binging, every second day for 6 months and have an extra 15 kilos. I understand that this is not the way most people would handle a cheat day. But I also suspect that there are quite a few people on this blog bordering on having eating disorders or are food/exercise obsessed (in an unhelpful way). I think had I read a post like this before trying a diet with a cheat day I would have been better prepared to recoginise that, emotionally, I'm not a person who can handle a free/cheat day concept. There's just not enough safety barriers for my head. I can, though, handle the concept of a “rebalance” day for my hormones and mindspace. There's enough freedom in that for me to not feel deprived and overly restricted in my lifestyle.

  • Byron

    I really like cheat days, they are great! I get to eat all the stuff I like :) Recently, I've been trying fasting the day after cheat day. I must admit it has been pretty hard (one of the hardest things I've ever done), but the results are outstanding!

    However, I have a question. How do you know when you deserve a cheat day? The problem is that even though I try to eat well all week long, it's not always possible.

    Anyway, I've found that the feast-fast strategy is incredible even if I haven't been dieting the whole week.

    • Scott

      Sorry, very late to the party here – I’ve heard of a form of intermittent fasting where you have a full day of cheating on Saturday and then fast for 36 hours. Is this what you do?

  • Aash

    Great article Roman!

    One question though – Do you incorporate cheat days into your diet when you are bulking? Or do you use it solely for fat loss purposes?