The Benefits of Cheating
Cheat days are often thought of as being strictly a mind-booster. Days and weeks of eating nothing but grilled chicken and vegetables can wear down even the most dedicated of individuals.
I use cheat days as a reward for hard work in the gym and adherence in the kitchen. Periodic, planned splurges could do more than just bolster your mental fortitude. There are physiological advantages as well.
One of the primary benefits of cheat days is their effect on leptin levels in the body. Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells that is key to maintaining energy balance in the body. Cheating with high car meals could help to stave off decreasing leptin levels.
When leptin levels reach a certain threshold, it signals to the brain that you have sufficient energy stored, allowing you to push away from the table when you’ve had enough.
However, when leptin levels drop, hunger signals go through the roof, often resulting in overeating.
Caloric restriction has been shown to cause a drop in leptin levels, and so decreasing caloric intake for prolonged periods of time can lead to a greater potential for uncontrolled binging down the road.
Caloric restriction has also been shown to have an effect on thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones play many roles in the body, including regulating metabolic rate (how many calories you burn during the day) and growth in various systems of the body (like bones).
Limiting your caloric intake can lower thyroid hormone production and a decrease in metabolic rate. Not exactly the adaptation you want to occur when you’re trying to lose weight.
How to Make Cheating Work for You
While defining boundaries between self-control and dietary freedom, following these guidelines will allow you to indulge without sliding backwards on your diet and exercise regimen.
1. Don’t cheat too frequently. Aiming to cheat once a week is a good starting point for dieters. Frequency of splurges can change depending on where you are in relation to your goal.
Someone closer to their maintenance weight may be able to splurge more often than someone just starting a diet.
2. Plan around special occasions. Weddings, birthdays and other celebrations are infamously difficult for those watching what they eat. Planned cheat meals during special events allow some freedom without going overboard.
3. Cheat on a big training day. This allows the excess calories to be used as fuel for your workout, thus negating the potential damage of excess calories being stored in the body as fat.
4. Don’t succumb to guilt. Once you slip up and overindulge, it’s easy to completely fall off the wagon. However, one little hiccup isn’t indicative of failure. When people have a bad day and fall off the rails, they need to just get back on track the next day.
Adding in scheduled cheat days can occasionally do more harm than good. For dieters that push too hard, it’s important to set sound guidelines for your cheat days to get the maximum psychological and physiological benefits without the adverse effects.
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