Diet Dilemmas: Do Cheat Days Work? Part 1
Let’s first look at what a cheat day is
A cheat day is typically a day or a meal where you simply dive off the proverbial wagon and eat and drink whatever you want for that day or meal.
Some people view this as a reward.
A reward for the deprivation they have put themselves through for the 6 days previous without understanding that cheat days or meals are a tool to prevent plateaus and continue to see results.
Over the years, I have had clients that want to know if they can have cheat days or meals and I like to explain it this way.
There are no cheat days or meals
I don’t mean that in the sense that you can never have days where your food isn’t 100% perfect. If we look at it as a cheat day, we tend to splurge or overdo it and end up falling short of maximizing all of the gains we have made that previous week and essentially storing more fat.
However, you can have days or snacks throughout the day that strategically give you what you need to satisfy cravings and still help you achieve your fat loss goal.
When we are looking to lose weight we tend to think immediately of deprivation
We think calorie restriction, carb restriction, we have to cut out this and cut out that in order to see results.
Yes, initially there will be adjustments that need to be made, but in my experience going cold turkey, (excuse the pun) when it comes to food, sets us up for a binge later on down the line.
Addictive personalities as a factor
On the other hand, I have also seen people with addictive personalities deprive themselves of the foods they shouldn’t have like refinded sugar for example and do perfectly fine. So, when it comes to deprivation I feel each individual will be different as to how they handle it.
Obviously when we are looking to lose body fat, we must be in a calorie deficit (expend more calories than we take in) to get the job done.
The issue with this is when we are in a chronic state of caloric deficit there are some hormones that are affected.
The hormone Leptin is possibly the most important (yet overlooked) hormone in your body.
In short, Leptin tells your brain that you are full!
The absence or chronic decrease in Leptin levels leads to uncontrolled food intake and resulting obesity. Several studies have shown that chronic fasting or following a very-low-calorie diet lowers Leptin levels.
Leptin levels are mediated by two things:
The first mediating factor of Leptin: your level of body fat
All else being equal, people with higher levels of body fat will have higher leptin levels than those with lower levels of body fat and vice versa.
Because Leptin is secreted by your fat cells, there is a direct correlation between the amount of circulating Leptin and the amount of fat in your body. Thus, being fat is kind of ironic since having more fat would mean higher Leptin levels, which would mean lower appetite and thus less food intake.
However, research tells that people who are really overweight or obese are Leptin resistant – much in the same way that Type 2 Diabetics are resistant to insulin.
So, even though there is more Leptin in the body of an overweight individual, it has little effect because their body doesn’t respond to it!
However, just like insulin resistance in Type 2 Diabetes can be reversed through proper diet and lifestyle, so too can Leptin resistance.
In an effort to lose body fat, most people hop on the latest “fad” diet and restrict their calories severely.
This is a bad idea because during prolonged periods of caloric restriction or starvation your body responds by lowering Leptin levels.
The second mediator of Leptin levels: your caloric intake.
When you lower your caloric intake, Leptin levels fall – regardless of your body fat.
So, even though you might be overweight, you can still suffer from low Leptin levels if you’ve been starving your body or severely restricting calories.
The good news
Research has shown that Leptin levels decrease by about 50% after only 7 days of dieting!
This is detrimental to the metabolism, but also to the health of our bones since Leptin is also known to stimulate bone formation. So, extreme dieting is not a good idea.
The good news is that it only takes about 12-24 hours for Leptin levels to climb back up with a substantial increase in caloric intake.
This is where the strategic cheat day or meal kicks in.
Tomorrow, in Part Two of the article I’ll be exploring the most crucial part of the cheat day process: preparing for your cheat day. I’ll be recommending how to set up for a successful – and non detrimental! – cheat day, and the most important part: how to help your body recover from your cheat day.
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