3 Reasons Why Your CHEAT DAY is Ruining Your Progress
The infamous ‘cheat day’ is a topic that works its way into almost every nutrition consultation that I have with clients. It’s a trend that has been made popular in recent years - one that has taken the social media world by storm as individuals showcase their unhealthy decisions considered as guilt-free simply because it was a planned occasion. Plates piled with overwhelming quantities of fast food, individuals seemingly knee deep at the local buffet dessert table and others still laying amidst couches covered in candy wrappers. It’s a trend that certainly isn’t contributing to the improved health of our nation, nor is it proving progressive for the development of an individual’s physique or health profile. Sure, I might just be a boring coach who just needs to “live a little” as many of my clients insist, but I’d like to offer you this perspective: although certainly not as ‘exciting’ as shoveling shit quality, hyper processed foods into your body every Sunday, you might consider shifting your mindset slightly as to how much overindulging truly takes place during your next ‘cheat day’. (I hope that you don’t also put sand into your car’s gas tank once a week as well.)
Having worked with numerous weight loss transformations surpassing the 40 to 50 pound milestones (and many of those transformations tipping the charts at the 100-lb milestone), it’s safe to say that I’ve seen a few trends in terms of why some individuals succeed and others don’t. One of those trends (among many) is the planned ‘cheat day’.
The ‘cheat day’, if I recall correctly, originated not as an entire day, but a meal which to be fair, isn’t that big of a deal for most individuals. A full day on the other hand, can pack a more powerful punch in terms of damage dealt. Not one of my most successful clients (in terms of both individual milestones reached and relative sustainability) has a planned full cheat day and most of them rarely (if ever) engage in them.
Here are the 3 reasons why I’ve found cheat days to prove detrimental to an individual’s long-term success with their health and fitness goals -
1) A cheat day can do an overwhelming amount of damage. In comparison, a cheat MEAL is usually much more contained, and the detrimental effects are mitigated by how rapidly the individual becomes full. A cheat day on the other hand, provides 16 to 18 hours of pumping garbage into your body. If you started your day off with waffles covered in syrup & butter, transitioned into a burger, fries and shake for lunch, pizza for dinner followed by a dessert of your choosing, you would find yourself having consumed thousands of calories of mostly crap. By the time your metabolism works through all the sludge that you just poured through your pipes, you’ve lost days of performance in the gym mentally and physically (not to mention potential progress as well)! Do you think that I’m exaggerating? Consider what you would consume on a cheat day (be honest) and then do the math on just how much sugar will be entering your system in that particular 24 hours alone. Also, if you think I’m being a little bit extreme – take a brief scroll through Instagram and look at the typical cheat day trends.
2) Planning self-sabotage never proves progressive. The ‘cheat meal’ was originally a way to mitigate the desire to binge to the extreme when following a disciplined eating regimen (also known as eating healthy). Eating healthy and nourishing your body can get boring when so many more desirable options are at our disposal. Knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel makes sustainability of health-conscious habits much easier for most individuals. There are just two downsides with this current trend. A cheat DAY does MUCH more damage than a cheat MEAL. They are NOT one in the same. A cheat day has very real potential to set someone back in his / her progress multiple days. If your cheat day is Sunday and your metabolism, physical performance, and mental wherewithal are compromised for even two days (sugar coma anyone?) this means that you’re spinning your wheels until Wednesday. By the time you start redeveloping your momentum, you’re getting ready to hit the brakes yet again with another cheat day. Therein lies that second downside. Habits make us. Habits break us. This is a simple fact. We are what we repeatedly do. If an individual habitually spends an entire day binging on low quality, sugar saturated, hyper processed food items every 6 to 7 days, it is no surprise why he / she isn’t making progress with set health and physique goals. As a coach, I personally suggest to clients that they do NOT plan entire days of eating crap but rather, to structure days of less restriction around true holidays and celebrations.
If it’s your birthday have a slice of cake. Hell, have two, but don’t have cake every Saturday because it’s Saturday.
If it’s Thanksgiving dinner, enjoy the weekend - feast until your heart’s content. Enjoy the one or two family dinners that will take place and then get back on track the following day.
If you’re at a family member’s wedding, have a few glasses of wine and enjoy the moment. Wine every night because dinner’s over? This is probably not the most progressive pursuit.
Most celebrations and holidays will be spaced out with enough distance that you’ll be able to develop momentum and make progress during the periods in between. The celebratory meals will NOT derail progress as they are not a habitual part of your regular lifestyle. Our history is filled with feasting during celebration and it is a part of our culture that should not be avoided; however, celebrating and feasting every 6th or 7th day simply because you ate healthy for several days can certainly lead to a recipe for disaster.
3) The challenge of getting back on the rails after an entire day of eating crap is overwhelming.
There’s no doubt that some individuals are extremely disciplined and can get back on track thanks to their high degree of willpower but for many, this is NOT the case. A full day of cheating may lead to 1 or 2 days of ‘decent’ eating whereas a meal or a few snacks are not the best due to carryover cravings. Furthermore, hunger hormones tend to be out of whack due to such an extreme consumption of ‘out-of-the-norm’ food that prove to be even further frustrating and uncomfortable for many. Physical performance and output in the gym often proves to be compromised as well. Why anyone would want to purposely subject himself or herself to this suffering seems strange to me. Getting into the best shape of your life is hard enough as is, so why increase the challenge?
To conclude, I do believe eating should be enjoyable. Steak and eggs are commonly consumed among our clientele and I have no reservations when it comes to visiting the dessert table at a family wedding. What I do make clear to our clients is that habits contribute to either our regressions or progressions in terms of our physique and future health profiles. Yes, it’s empowering to listen to the super sexy fitness model that has an efficient enough metabolism to eat 10 000 calories of crap every weekend and assume that you should also do the same to develop a comparable physique. No doubt, it’s probably a better plan to realize that eating that way is NOT what got them that physique nor is it improving their future risk of a multitude of illnesses… food for thought. (Pun intended.)