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So, It's Your Cheat Day, huh?
Approximately 25 or so years ago the term "cheat day" started to gain traction in the world of diets and food fads. And, it is still being used today in the diet/food fad world. Let's break this down; let's look at the definition of the word, cheat; Act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage. Now, when has cheating ever been good? Cheating on your taxes… Bad. Cheating in school… Bad. Cheating in sport… Bad. So, why would we think that cheating on our nutrition is somehow going to be advantageous?
The Anatomy of the Cheat Day
Why did this cheat day even come about? Well, with all of these outlandish food fads and diets over the past many decades, which are completely miserable for individuals to try to stick to (and not to mention, they will never, ever work in terms of achieving meaningful and sustainable results for a lifetime), the cheat day was born simply for these dieters to have something to look forward to and to try to keep them engaged during this outlandish food fad and diet they are following. The dieter is so miserable by the end of the week because of the food restriction, calorie restriction, carbohydrate restriction, following a liquid diet, etc., that when Sunday rolls around, the Cheat Day keeps the individual "alive." Bottom line is this, the individual is so deprived of adequate fuel because of the food fad and diet that they are on, this cheat day becomes the life preserver vest while caught in the middle of the ocean during a raging storm.
And, because of the severe deprivation caused from the diet, it is "game on" on that cheat day. The amount of calories, sugar, fat, etc., that is typically consumed by an individual is enough to feed an army. And more often than not, individuals come out of their cheat day feeling as miserable as they did going into their cheat day; except the misery is now coming from feeling completely overloaded in the gut with food.
Now, if an individual is simply just eating right and not following some outlandish food fad and diet, they are not going to even contemplate a cheat day; and why would they? This individual feels amazing because they are fueling their body properly. Their energy levels are high. They are getting great sleep each night because they are properly fueled. Their workout productivity is extremely high. They are recovering exceptionally well from their workouts because their body is being properly fueled. This individual feels amazing and therefore, they neither want nor need a cheat day. I don't think an individual would give the following response, "I am so tired of feeling amazing and having such great energy levels. I don't want to keep feeling this good. I better have a cheat day so that I can feel lousy, bloated and so that I can crash my energy levels." Bottom line is this, if an individual is treating their body right, fueling their body right and eating right at every meal and snack, they are not craving a cheat day. In no way do they want to ruin this great feeling of high-energy and punish themselves for feeling great.
This would be the equivalent of a cheat-sleep day. Let’s say an individual is getting 8 great hours of sleep each night and they feel incredible. Are they going to punish themselves for getting great sleep and feeling amazing? Are they going to purposefully deprive themselves of sleep and stay up all night so they can experience fatigue, decreased mental acuity and general malaise? Absolutely not! This cheat-sleep day makes no sense whatsoever.
Now, does this mean an individual can never eat foods such as pizza? Absolutely not; but we just have to establish some better parameters. First off, let's really work on changing our verbiage. Once again, cheating is not a positive thing. So, how about if we change the word to splurge. And, let's change the word "day" to the word "meal." A splurge meal is head and shoulders above a cheat day. Now, the timing of this splurge meal becomes critical. And this is another big reason as to why the cheat day is such a disaster. We will touch on this later.
Let's define the word, splurge; to indulge oneself in some luxury or pleasure. Wow, just the definition of this sounds a lot better than the definition of, cheat. Now let's talk about the timing of this splurge meal and let’s relate it to other areas in life aside from nutrition. For example, a successful business owner who has put in many, many years of hard work, effort and energy may splurge on a new car, new house, etc. This individual earned this splurge. He/she worked amazingly hard, amazingly smart and reached a level of success that has earned them the opportunity to easily afford such luxuries.
Now let's take this business owner back to the early days, the grind. They are just starting their business, from the ground up. They don't have any momentum at this stage. They are just putting in the time, effort and energy and they are willing to do whatever it takes to make their business successful. In these early, critical stages of business building, when the money is tight and the debt outweighs the income; is this individual, at this stage, going to splurge on the expensive car, expensive house, etc.? Absolutely not; they do not want to dig a hole so deep that they cannot get out of. This individual knows that there is a lot of work ahead of them and such luxuries are earned, not deserved.
The same holds true with the splurge meal. Let's go back to the cheat day for a moment. When individuals are overweight/obese and go on a diet, when are they implementing these cheat days? Typically, these cheat days start the very first week of the diet and food fad. This makes no sense, right? This is no different than the new business owner, deep in debt, splurging on expensive luxuries. The splurge meal is okay, but it has to be earned; it's not deserved. Plus, when an individual is eating right, once again, splurging is not even a thought simply because the individual feels amazing doing what they are already doing. And in no way do they want to ruin this. Because nothing feels as good, as feeling good.
Once an individual continues on their body transformation journey and they have completely transformed their physique where they are now lighter and leaner, ‘luxuries’ are then earned. They have dropped a significant amount of body fat and they have turned themselves into a fat burning machine. This is a fantastic stage to be at. This took a ton of time, effort and energy. If this individual wants to treat themselves and they want to have a splurge meal, go for it. Why? Because they earned it and they are not in the "early critical stages" of body transformation.
The early critical stages are when the individual has a lot of additional body fat and body weight. But, once the individual puts the early critical stages behind them and they transform their body into a lean, mean, fat burning machine, they have earned the right to a splurge meal, if they choose. I don't want to give a mixed message. It's not that individuals that are super lean and superlight can consume all of these splurge meals that they desire. Rather, the point is this; a splurge meal is not going to negatively impact someone who has earned this because they have built a well-muscled, lean, fat burning physique. This splurge meal will negatively impact an individual in the early critical stages of body transformation. Just like purchasing the expensive luxuries in the early critical stages of business building is going to put the individual further behind the eight ball and in even greater debt; the same holds true for the human body.
If diets, food fads and cheat days worked so well, I don't think we would see obesity rates doubling as they have over the past 35 years. Diets and food fads don't work and cheat days only add to the diet-devastation. Always remember a DIET is simply a, Disaster Imminent Every Time™. Let's change our verbiage and let's change our thinking. Let's not associate health, fitness, nutrition and body transformation with such a negative term like, cheating. Let's focus on a much more positive term, splurge. And, let's change the mindset from "deserved" to "earned." A splurge meal is earned, not deserved. If you are ready to pivot, move in a completely different direction, put the cheat days in the rearview mirror, look out; because you are going to set yourself up for a level of success that you never thought possible.
Workout Smart, Eat Right, Get Results™!
Dr. Rick Kattouf II
2x Best-Selling Author
9Round Nutrition Coach
Named One of America’s PremierExperts® in Nutrition & Fitness
Named One Of The World Fitness Elite® Trainers Of The Year