Re-think your Cheat Day: It’s probably doing more damage than good
It’s a pretty common thing for people following a strict diet to take a “cheat day.”
Many say it helps motivate them during the week—when they’re depriving themselves of all these delicious foods their brains want—to stay the course, as they know they can go nuts on Saturday.
In other words, the thought behind a cheat day is that it makes following a strict diet 6 days a week more sustainable. Trust me, it actually makes it harder because you won't see any results.
But a new study from the University of British Columbia Okanagan says these cheat days aren’t good for your health. Specifically if you’re doing the popular Keto diet. Read more here.
If you truly are Keto—meaning your body is in ketosis and is using fat for fuel—then just one 75-gram dose of glucose on your cheat day, which is like a large sugary beverage, can actually do damage to your blood vessels.
To discover this finding, the researchers looked at nine healthy young males who drank a 75-gram glucose drink before and after seven days of following a high fat, low carbohydrate diet made up of 70 percent fat, 20 percent protein and just 10 percent carbohydrates. Specifically, the researchers were aiming to see if there’d be an inflammatory response or a reduced tolerance to blood glucose.
Instead, what they did find were biomarkers in the blood that indicated blood vessel walls were getting damaged from a sudden and unexpected spike of glucose on the cheat day. (Obviously the study was small and needs more research, but it does make quite a bit of common sense.)
There is also much to be said on days referred to as a 'Refeed' day where you may eat above your normal caloric intake (but only 30-50g of Carbohydrate) but are typically reserved for a more balanced diet of all nutrients of Protein, Fats and Carbohydrates.
Looking beyond this study, there are a number of other emotional reasons why cheat days aren’t the best approach in the long term, and can even backfire and make your life worse.
Here are three:
You risk becoming food obsessed:
Many people who follow a strict, often short-term diet, report how they live for their cheat day. All week, they make mental notes of their cravings, of all the things they can’t eat during the week, but intend to eat on their cheat day.
The result: They become obsessed with food. Then they gorge on everything in sight on their cheat day and end up feeling like crap both physically and emotionally, and then they do it all over again the next week.
You risk developing a negative relationship with food:
Cheat days imply you are making a mistake. You are CHEATING!
But what exactly are you cheating on?
You’re not perfect in life and you’re probably not going to be perfect with your diet. And that’s OK. However, cheat meals imply you are messing up, and this creates a relationship with food where there are good foods and bad foods, where there is right and wrong.
Living this way doesn’t set yourself up to have a healthy relationship with food—meaning an intuitive relationship with eating. When you have a healthy relationship with food, you intuitively choose healthy foods most of the time without putting much thought into it. Most of the time, food is fuel. Then every now and again you treat yourself, guilt-free, to an indulgence. And then you go back to intuitive eating. This kind of relationship is impossible to forge if the words cheat day or cheat meal is in your life.
You live in a prison where food controls you:
Again, if you eat well during the week, but cheat on the weekend, your life can become driven by a perception of having to have all this discipline and willpower five or six days a week.
This means food has power over you.
But if you stop using willpower to drive your food choices, food will start having less power of seduction over you. You know you have the permission to eat what you want, and then you’re also free to choose healthier foods, as opposed to feeling like you’re depriving yourself of tasty things all the time.
If you want help changing your lifestyle habits in a way that helps you intuitively choose healthy foods 90 percent of the time, come and talk to us for some nutrition and lifestyle coaching.