I just finished a sugar detox, no foods with added sugar for 10 days and I found it was tougher then I thought but only the first two days and after that no problem. Many of us try to fit a cheat day in the schedule somewhere. They want to do a detox but they feel they should have a cheat day. There’s a problem with that and you should read the following to learn about the problem with “cheat days”.
The Problem with Cheat Days
You’ve committed to eating healthy. You want to look and feel great, and you’ve stuck to your diet an entire week already. You feel good about how you’ve done and think you deserve a gold star… or that cupcake that’s calling your name (especially the one with the extra layer of frosting on top). Maybe you even think you deserve a day off—a designated “cheat day.”
But are “cheat days” a good idea? Do these special days of indulgence help you reach your health goals? Or do they set you up on a seesaw of destructive eating habits?
The Argument for Cheat Days: Rewarding Yourself
Some say that giving yourself days of indulgence is giving yourself a needed break from your diet. These cheat days are a relief valve that help you stick to healthier foods.
The philosophy behind this basically goes something like this: Healthy eating requires some willpower—willpower you’ve used to keep yourself from forbidden foods—so to reward your constraint, it helps to have one scheduled day (or meal) per week where you’re allowed to eat some of the treats you’ve been avoiding. When you give yourself a window to enjoy these off-limit foods, it’ll satisfy your cravings, replenish your depleted willpower, and, some studies suggest, even increase your production of the hunger-dampening hormone leptin while boosting metabolism.
The Argument Against Cheat Days
So cheat days sound like a good thing, right? Not so fast. The logic behind these days has more than a few flaws, and it’s due to the psychology and physiology behind them.
The Name Is to Blame
The trouble with cheat days start with the wording.
“The very phrase ‘cheat day’ sets up enjoying a meal as something forbidden,” says Sondra Kronberg, R.D., executive director of the Eating Disorder Treatment Collaborative. “Separating foods into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories encourages you to associate eating with guilt and shame.” This means that instead of enjoying everything we eat, we feel bad about ourselves when we eat something we consider “bad.”
What’s more, when we deem certain foods “bad” or “cheating,” the negative name doesn’t help us pump the breaks.
“When a food is off-limits, it can develop a specific, emotional charge,” explains Melainie Rogers, RD, a nutritionist and eating disorder specialist. “You begin obsessing over it, fantasizing about, and looking forward to that ‘indulge day’ all week. Then, when you finally have access to it, you overeat.”
On the flip side, labeling foods as “good” or “healthy” can also backfire. Science shows when we think something is healthy, we’re not concerned with portion control and thus overdo it—whether it’s a “normal” day or a “cheat” day. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing.
Along these same lines, thinking of a meal or snack as “healthy” can have a surprising effect on our hunger. Studies show merely considering items we put in our mouth as “healthy” can literally make us feel hungrier—especially if we select a “good-for-you” item out of obligation over something we’re truly hungry for.
Attack of the Calories
Folks who assume they can compensate for giving into temptations—say, by holding themselves back on all days except their cheat days—are actually less likely to reach their dietary goals. This is because they’re more likely to consume a greater number of calories, not just on their cheat day but on the days following it.
Restricting ourselves throughout the week and then slamming our bodies with sugar and fat once our cheat day rolls around, can have “a massive impact on blood sugar and insulin levels,” Rogers says. “You’ll wake up the next day craving more sugars and simple carbs, and you’ll find yourself feeling pretty ragged. And if you repeatedly increase your caloric intake above baseline, you may inadvertently end up gaining more weight over time.”
Cravings serve as a sign that your nutritional approach isn’t sound. “Most cravings come from overly restricting your food intake, using food as a drug, or over exercising,” Kronberg says.
Bingeing Leads to Extra Cheat Days
There’s a very fine line between a cheat day and a free-fall into food bingeing, especially if you’re, “white-knuckling it during those other six days of sticking out a meal plan you don’t particularly like,” says Ryan Andrews, R.D., author of Drop The Fat Act and Live Lean and coach with Precision Nutrition. Once that day of indulgence comes, it’s not about enjoying the foods you haven’t had all week. Instead, you’re approaching it out of a need to consume all you can before the day goes away. “It feeds into a feast-and-famine cycle,” Andrews says.
We can thank our biology for cheat days turning into these all-out food fests. We’re wired to chase down food when we’re caught in the feast-and-famine cycle. “People will eat beyond satiety when they’re coming from a fear of scarcity,” Rogers explains.
Bingeing on a cheat day also makes it challenging to confine cheat-day foods only to that designated 24-hour window. “It’s very hard for people to compartmentalize their diets,” Rogers says. “‘I’m only going to have those cookies on Saturday’ can easily spill over into ‘I’ll only have a few cookies Sunday too.’”
The Solution: Stop Restricting, Start Enjoying—in Moderation
So if cheat days don’t work, are we all better off eating whatever we want, whenever we want?
Well, not quite, says Corby K. Martin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and food intake researcher at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. “Following a healthy diet means including a number of foods—all of which are consumed in moderation,” he says. “If weight loss is the goal, this usually means three square meals a day with planned snacks, incorporating treats but in smaller portion sizes.”
Research suggests eating a balance of foods—with none of them off-limits or labeled “bad”—is the best way to reduce the kinds of cravings that can lead to a binge.
During the first week of a new diet, most people experience an increase in cravings for coveted foods, but when people stick to a balanced weight loss diet, the tendency to occasionally overeat actually goes down over time, Martin says.
So what does a game plan for a healthy eating with no cheat days look like? Remember these three things:
1. Listen to your appetite.
“If you want to eat spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, have it!” Andrews says. “Don’t find the low-carb version with the fat-free sauce. If you actually eat what you want, you’ll likely end up eating a more reasonable amount of it.” Eating in tune with your hunger is a principle of intuitive eating, and it’s shown to have a positive effect on both your weight and your wellbeing.
2. Enjoy treats from time to time.
Research shows (and experts agree) that sprinkling reasonably sized desserts or treats into your daily diet encourages you to find pleasure in meal time again—and that pleasure will help ensure you don’t feel the need to go overboard.
So instead of confining your treats to one single day, drop them into places throughout the week. For example, enjoy: “a cookie or a few pieces of chocolate after dinner on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays,” Rogers says.
3. Savor every bite.
Once you place any item of food into your mouth, take a moment to: “taste, smell, and experience it as a whole,” Rogers says. “When you take the time to be mindful about what you’re eating, you tap into your satiety cues.”
Forget about designating a cheat day to reward yourself. Denying yourself most of the week and then indulging like crazy on your one day “off,” just promotes bingeing, anxiety, and shame around eating, —which means you won’t likely get to the health outcome you’re looking for. Instead, make every day a great day by listening to your appetite, periodically adding in some of your favorite foods in small portions, and savoring each and every bite of everything you eat. This sustainable approach will help you think of all of your eating as enjoyable, and that’s what gets you down the road to where you want to be.
Using this type of sensible diet instead of a restrictive diet is the best way to go. How even this doesn’t mean you should continue eating the same foods you’ve been use to. This is where I think you should consider the Mediterranean diet. The foods and the diet of the Mediterranean people has astonished science for decades. These people have far less health problems then the rest of the western world. For on thing, they eat less animal protein, which means less animal fat. They eat almost no red meat. You can find information on the Mediterranean diet on this blog. In some of my posts and on the diet page.
If you really want to lose your body fat than look for my e-books at the websites listed below. You’ll get information on Healthy eating, exercise, and diet. Instead of spending hours on the internet reading dozens of posts, you can save time by picking up one of my e-books.
There are two e-books. “How Bad Do You Want To Lose Weight?” is available at all the online bookstores selling for $1.99. Go to any of the websites below and search the title to find my e-book. This book gives you all you need to lose weight without spending money on gym memberships, diet plans or meal plans. Look for my book. at Amazon.com, B&N.com, iBooks, Kobo.com, Scribd.com, or Gardner Books in the U.K.
My new e-book is available on Smashwords.com, just type “getting to a Healthy Weight” in the search box at the top of the home page.