The hardest part of losing weight is consistently eating a clean diet.
Agree or disagree?
Sure, exercise can be tough to adopt in the beginning, but after a couple of weeks your body adapts to the “pain” and you might actually start to love the feeling of pushing yourself to the limit.
Dieting is different.
The temptation to eat unhealthy foods is unrelenting and the feeling of eating “comfort” food is tough to match. I know for me, there would be nothing more enjoyable than a quiet night in – Just me, Netflix, a large pizza and glass of wine.
Don’t get too discouraged though. You can use “cheat days” strategically to give yourself a break and to actually improve your fitness results.
It’s true. An ongoing calorie-restrictive diet can take a huge toll on your body. Watching your food choices and constantly cutting back on your calories can actually prevent your metabolism from running optimally and can slow down your body’s ability to tranform from all the effort you’re putting in at the gym.
Incorporating a cheat day into your diet gives your body a friendly reminder that everything’s okay. There is no famine. You’re not starving. You don’t need to store up fat.
But, before you reach for the pizza and ice cream, it’s important to determine if your body is asking for a cheat day. To help you out, here are 5 signs that say the answer is “YES!”
1. Your Diet is Stressing You Out
Many clients I work with express feeling a mental burden associated with resisting temptations and avoiding food cravings…
“That cookie looks so good, but I can’t have it.”
“Just one piece of chocolate? No, I can’t do it.”
This kind of mental chatter can cause a lot of psychological stress.
If I’ve been eating really well for about a week, I’ll reward myself by taking a day where I don’t have to think about the food choices I make. I get to relax and enjoy. This provides a bit of psychological relief for me and allows me to keep pushing for another week before my next cheat day.
One important point to remember here is that it’s important to be honest with yourself. One day of healthy eating likely doesn’t justify a day eating all of your favorite treats, but a cheat day every week or so can be a healthy break for your mind and body.
2. You’ve Hit a Weight-Loss Plateau
A plateau occurs when your body has adapted to the healthy changes that you’ve already made in life. Suddenly your diet and exercise routine, which once worked very well, don’t produce any results.
What’s going on?
Eating a restricted diet day in, day out can actually slow your metabolism down. As this happens, your body requires even less food (or even more exercise) in order to keep showing results on the scale.
But please don’t stop eating—that will just exacerbate the problem!
Instead, you can ramp your metabolism back up by calorie cycling. Eating extra calories on a cheat day approximately once per week, followed by a day or two of calorie restriction will prevent your metabolism from hitting a plateau. This calorie intake “zig zag” doesn’t mean you’re eating less calories – it simply redistributes them throughout the week so your body doesn’t get stuck in a rut.
3. Your Workouts Are Suffering
A restriction of calories means a restriction of your primary energy source. If you’ve noticed that your workouts are lackluster, you’re not as motivated as you once were, you lack the physical energy you had in the past or you simply can’t seem to focus during the workouts – it might be time for a cheat day.
A cheat day will help refill glycogen levels (i.e. energy stored in your muscles). That’s why it’s not uncommon for you to experience a jump in energy levels and workout performance following a cheat day – Your muscles are literally primed to perform better!
4. Your Energy Levels Are Low
Many people who are in the initial stages of their weight-loss journey are greeted with a sluggish week or two. Your body is adjusting to new foods and new physical requirements from exercise. This is completely normal.
However, if you feel drained for weeks or months on end, it’s time to take a closer look.
Remember, food is your body’s fuel. If you restrict your food too much and for too long, your body and brain will lack the fuel they need to function. It might feel difficult to wake up in the morning or you may start to rely on stimulants like coffee to get you through the day.
A regular cheat day can help snap you out of this energy doldrum by giving your body the shot of energy (i.e. calories) that it has been lacking.
5. You’re Cold All the Time
If you’re constantly feeling cold, and you know that it’s not because of the weather, then it could be time for a cheat day.
Constantly feeling cold can be caused by a suppressed metabolism. Your metabolism is quite literally the speed at which your body’s cells are functioning. So, a slower metabolism means slower cell activity, which can mean less heat production.
How can you turn this around?
You guessed it – try a cheat day.
A regular boost of energy signals your body that food is not in short supply, so slowing down as an effort to save calories is not necessary.
Cheat meals are a perfect way to provide physiological and psychological relief for your body and mind. So, if any of these 5 indicators sound familiar to you, keep exercising and eating a healthy diet, but consider adding a cheat day into the mix.