Yes, we just used the words “cheat day” as a verb – and for people who have been on Paleo trying to lose weight, cheat day can be one of the sweetest word combinations they could ever hope to hear. A cheat day can be an effective strategy for some people, and a decision with disastrous results for others. It’s definitely not a one size fits all solution, although it is is something that you should consider, as to whether or not a cheat day will fit well into your regimen as you try to lose weight.
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Today we are going to be going over some of the advantages of a cheat day, as well as the disadvantages, so you can decide for yourself.
Advantages of a cheat day
One of the most difficult parts of Paleo for most people, is trying to come to terms with the fact that “I’ll never eat pizza again!” Having a dedicated day once a week where you can indulge and have all your favorite foods again makes the whole thing much easier to swallow.
Instead of giving up your favorite foods forever, you give them up for a week, until you can have them again for a short amount of time. This helps to keep people’s heads from exploding in nervousness about never being able to taste pizza, cake or pie again.
Of course, a cheat day isn’t just a mental thing, it can actually be positive for you physically, and even help you to lose weight. See, when we eat similar foods over and over, eat at a constant caloric deficit, or eat a fairly limited diet, our metabolism adjusts accordingly. It starts to hold onto some fat, because we have been eating in a way that causes our body to put up yellow flags – as if winter were coming for pre-historic man.
As a result, a cheat day can shake up our metabolism, and keep it from getting too used to our new way of eating. Of course, you’re going to weigh more immediately after your cheat day, but by the end of the week, you’ll probably weigh less than you did before you took your previous cheat day, so everything works out.
A cheat day can also be a great way to keep you on track and motivated for the long term. Just like not having to accept the fact that you might never have pizza again, a cheat day makes it much easier to imagine yourself sticking to Paleo on every day except your cheat day for years to come.
Disadvantages of a cheat day
For some people, a cheat day simply isn’t manageable. Give them a cheat meal, and they’ll fall off the wagon hard for the next week. These are the all or nothing types, who do well either restricting everything, or nothing at all.
Similar to the recovering drug addict who can’t even have a sip of alcohol without going off the deep end, some people can’t responsibly have just a couple bites, or cheat just a bit at dinner. Before they know it they’ll be surrounded by empty cookie and donut packages, wondering what happened.
Another big problem with cheat days, is if done like most people do them, once a week, they keep you very unhealthy. Even if you continue to lose weight with your cheat days, if you’re eating things like gluten on a once a week basis, then your gut is staying inflamed and suffering the negative effects of gluten all the time, since gluten doesn’t stop affecting the gut until it hasn’t been present for a full month. At this point, it’s almost a lie to even say you’re Paleo.
Cheat days can also give you a pretty bad hangover, where you wake up feeling pretty awful. Some people’s first response is exactly the same as when they wake up with a hangover from alcohol. They do a “hair of the dog” where they have a little bit more of what made them feel so bad, hoping it will balance them out. Just like with alcohol though, where a drink first thing in the morning can result in you drinking all day, cheating first thing in the morning will ensure you extend your cheat day.
What’s the best decision for you?
Only you know the real answer. Do you deal well with temptation and moderation? If so, a cheat day might work well for you. Otherwise, you might want to limit your cheat days.
Some people have success with doing cheat days, but with Paleo-friendly foods. So they might be low-carb all week, but on Saturday, they will binge on fruits and Paleo-treats. This will help to shake up their metabolism and keep them losing weight, but they won’t get the negative effects of eating non-Paleo foods.
Another good tip, is to not make your cheat day an all day event. Some people find a cheat meal once a week is more than enough to get their fix. If you need more than just a meal though, make an effort to eat a very healthy breakfast on your cheat day, before moving onto to cheat foods. This will help to make sure your insulin levels are stable before you start punishing them.
If your current weight loss routine is starting to not work as well as it once was, then you might want to experiment with your implementation of cheat meals, whether that means taking them out or adding them in. No matter how you do it though, an infrequent cheat day is always going to be much healthier than your past lifestyle, in which every day was likely to be a cheat day.