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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I know where I stand.