I Had 1 Cheat Day Once a Week For 2 Months, and This Is How It Affected My Weight
Some experts and dieters agree that cheat meals can actually help with weight loss. Stephanie Ferrari, a registered dietitian with Fresh Communications, explained to POPSUGAR that if a person's diet is too strict, they'll end up feeling deprived. They're more likely to have extreme cravings that lead them to binge — I could totally relate. This is the exact reason Stephanie recommends "cheat days" for her clients who are trying to lose weight and keep it off.
"If you don't give yourself permission to indulge sometimes, you're setting yourself up for failure," Stephanie said. "On the flip side, by allowing yourself cheat days here and there, you're setting yourself up for success."
For me, since I do intermittent fasting (IF) every day, I decided to see what would happen if I did a cheat day once a week. That is, eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted — IF restrictions be damned. How would that affect my recent issues with binge eating and how would it affect my weight (would I gain?). Keep reading to find out what happened.
My Eating Routine Before the Experiment
I usually eat from 12:30 to 6:30 and it works with my CrossFit and yoga schedule, my work schedule, and my family schedule. This eating routine is effortless for me. I'm not hungry until lunch, I eat a snack in the afternoon, then I'm done with family dinner by 6:30. I'm in bed two hours later since I have to get up by 5 a.m. to work out, so late-night eating in a nonissue.
During those six-hour eating windows, I eat a healthy plant-based diet, but I also indulge a little every day. The only issue is that since the holidays, I found that bigger indulgences were becoming an everyday thing — it wasn't just a square of dark chocolate after dinner. I was baking several times a week, spooning into nightly bowls of ice cream, and taking several trips to our local vegan bakery.
There's nothing wrong with indulging every day, but for me, my insatiable sugar cravings were becoming out of control. Eating tons of treats every day was making me super bloated, which got in the way of me getting a good night of sleep and prevented me from feeling my best for early-morning workouts. Actually, I started to skip out on them because I was feeling so crappy.
I thought if I had a designated day where I could enjoy these foods, then move on and stick to my healthy ways the rest of the week, that would be a win-win. Saturday was the day. The rule was there were no rules! Eat what I want, when I want it.
The Pros of a Cheat Day
I experienced so many benefits from incorporating this one cheat day a week. I was able to bake with my kids, which is one of my favorite things to do. I could eat breakfast pancakes with them and then enjoy a late dinner with my husband — my eating window was whatever I wanted, and anything was on the menu!
Having no restrictions one day a week actually motivated me to eat healthy the other six days. I still had small indulgences here and there if I wanted, but if I craved a brownie sundae, knowing it was a special thing I'd have Saturday curbed my cravings and took my mind off it. Having this scheduled cheat day made me feel more in control over my tendency to overeat sugary treats.
The Cons and How It Affected My Weight
Although I really loved having a cheat day to look forward to each week to plan special lunches or dinners out or decadent dessert recipes I wanted to try with the kids, I found that my cheat day wasn't just one day. It turned into more like a cheat couple of days. There were leftover baked cider doughnuts or slices of peanut butter pie, and I was eating a few servings each on Sunday and into Monday. I started to feel the same sugar overload I was feeling before I started this cheat day experiment.
I started to have the attitude, "Well I already screwed up; I might as well keep going," which made for other unhealthy choices, like skipping Monday and sometimes Tuesday workouts and not getting enough sleep. By Tuesday or Wednesday, I would pull it together and get back on track, but the cycle started up again come Saturday.
The result? I ended up gaining a few pounds by the end of the month, which was a red flag for me because my weight hasn't changed much. Aside from feeling uncomfortable in my skin, eating too much sugar made me bloated all week long. I was foggy headed, and I had increased sugar cravings, increased hunger, and low energy. Eating crappy three or four days out of the week just made me feel crappy all week. I felt out of control, unbalanced, and not at all like myself.
What Happened Next?
I felt like the idea of a cheat day was going to be good for me, but I had to establish some ground rules. So in that second month, I became strict about keeping Saturday only as my cheat day. Once Sunday came, it was back to meal prepping and eating healthy the other six days of the week.
My diet those days was about 90/10, eating tons of veggies, fruit, healthy fats, and protein, with the occasional handful of Trader Joe's dark chocolate covered almonds or a vegan cookie. I focused on intuitive eating; eating the healthy foods I loved that made me feel good and energized like roasted sweet potatoes and tofu, avocado toast, and raspberries with almond-milk yogurt. But I also made sure to focus on eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was satisfied.
By the end of the month, I felt amazing! I was loving taking care of myself by intermittent fasting six days a week, eating nourishing foods, but also allowing the opportunity once a week to eat the foods I emotionally wanted that I knew it physically didn't make me feel good if I were to eat them all the time. I ended up losing those few pounds I had gained, but really the best thing was the control and happiness I had gained.
I'm a big fan of the cheat day, and I'll definitely stick with it. I don't feel deprived from eating sweet treats, but I also don't feel out of control or crappy when I do. Finding balance has offered me the control I've been craving since the holidays, and the flexibility allows me to feel a sense of freedom and calmness around food.