How To Give Up Cheat Days


cheat day foods

I have a real problem with the way some people instruct others to lose weight. Namely.. cheat days.

If you’re unfamiliar with them, cheat days are designated days whereby dieters can take a break and eat anything they want. The idea is two-fold, in that you’ve watched your calories all week so one day isn’t going to hurt you and it’s also intended as a psychological break from continually depriving yourself of calories in an attempt to burn fat.

Here’s an actual post I saw on my Facebook stream this weekend – and what’s led to my current rant.

“Loving the weekend. Today was my cheat day and I’ve made the most of it! My husband and I had McDonald’s pancakes for breakfast and we’re enjoying a Texas Roadhouse dinner with drinks right now. We’re going to hit the movies after this. I have to have my tub of buttered popcorn before my cheat day is over! lol. It’s a lot of food but I’ve worked hard this week so I deserve it!”

While many people can instantly detect the problem here, there are probably even more people who don’t have a great enough understanding of how fat loss works and they instantly buy into the “eat all you can for one day” lifestyle.

In this girl’s defense, she’s not entirely at fault here because she doesn’t know any better and she’s merely following a program that’s being given to her. She’s been posting for the last few weeks about her happiness in finally getting a personal trainer and getting back in shape. She’s quite exuberant with her new fitness posts and she appears to be doing everything she’s being told.

She’s “sticking to the plan”.. as it were.

I say she’s not entirely at fault because she did make one large mistake in that her “personal trainer” is a girl she knows who works out a lot but has no certifications or background in training. That’s a pretty bad way to approach things. The “trainer” is a very slim girl that has obviously never had to deal with excess fat and has never been challenged to lose that extra flab. From my birds-eye view of the situation, it appears that this trainer is handing out advice to her first-ever “client”. She’s enjoying it so much that she has launched her own fitness page and has almost 10 likes.

Huge.Red.Flag.

Have you seen those Craigslist photographers that offer “professional services” and “discount rates”? When you view a sampling of their portfolio, it’s usually quite clear that they’ve never had a day of instruction in the way of composition and lighting – just to name a couple of major problems.

The world of fitness trainers has become much like this. There are far too many unqualified individuals handing out fitness advice that will have you pulling out your hair and wondering why you aren’t seeing results.

Just because someone else is lean and/or in good shape does not mean that person has the slightest idea of what it takes to help you lose fat. Most often, this is a person who has either never had a problem with overeating or has a high metabolism (age obviously plays a huge role here) and has never had to worry about fat loss.

Don’t get fat loss advice from unqualified individuals.

How Fat Loss Really Works

fat loss is difficult for most peopleYour body uses a specific number of calories for all your bodily functions and the extra energy you expend every day. This number is known as your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) and it is unique to you. If you exceed this amount of calories, the excess amount of calories will be stored as fat.

Our bodies are constantly storing and releasing fat all day long. Imagine an ocean of water where the tide rolls in and rolls out all day long and collects and deposits trash on the shore as it does so. If you eat too much too much, you get more trash on the shore. If you eat less, more of it is carried away.

If you have a “cheat day” where you eat all you want, you simply put a lot of extra trash on the shore and it will take that much longer for the tide to carry it all away. You can’t “litter the shore” on Friday and expect less trash when Saturday rolls around.

If you weigh 180 pounds, work a desk job and make it to the gym three times a week, you might burn 2,000 calories a day. If you eat twice that amount on Sunday, because that’s your cheat day, you will be contributing to overall body fat. There’s no way around that.

If Monday is the day after your cheat day and you decide to hit the treadmill an extra 30 minutes, you might burn 500-600 calories of that surplus but to rid your body of that fat, you’ll absolutely have to spend the next few days in a caloric deficit and you’ll simply be playing catch-up all week – burning away the same fat that you worked so hard to get rid of the week before and brought back during the weekend.

The Real Way to Lose Fat

scale showing that the key to fat loss is taking in less energy than you expendAs I’ve discussed many times before, losing body fat is simply a matter of expending more energy than you’re taking in – eating less and moving more.

When it comes to fat loss, I always make it a point to find out about a person’s goals and expectations before prescribing a methodology. I always find two very different wants and needs when it comes to fat loss. There are those who are simply desire losing weight and seeing the scale drop – and there are those who are adamant about not losing any muscle during the process. The latter is always the best approach and is going to ensure that your body looks it’s absolute best when you reach your desired goal.

Counting calories is the best way to learn about fat loss and chart your progress. For an overweight man of 180 pounds or more (and I don’t care how much more), I make it easy. Simply eat 2,000 calories a day and ideally, get one pound of protein per pound of body weight. Don’t fret about going 20 grams over or under – just be in the general area every day. Forget about your “macros” – meaning the amount of carbohydrates and fats you’re getting. Just simply stay under your maximum daily calories and you’ll get plenty of carbs and fats – without getting too many.

Following this simple plan will see anyone dropping fat as almost every adult who has body fat is eating more than this on a daily basis and the surplus is being stored as fat. Cut the calories and you’ll cut the fat.

When you get down under 180, simply monitor progress and if it stalls, cut calories by a couple hundred a day.

Let’s get back to macros. Maybe you’ve heard rumors that you need specific amounts of carbs and fats as well? I’ve trained over a hundred clients in the last few years and I’ve yet to meet anyone that needed to adjust macros until getting body fat down to 10% or less for guys and 15% or less for women. Feel free to adjust macros if you like but it’s completely unnecessary (and unwarranted) if you have average body fat levels or more.

Get your protein and mix up the carbohydrates and fat while simply watching your calories.

When Can I Have Cheat Meals?

Diets usually fail because many people simply don’t like the idea of “eating clean” for the rest of their lives. They envision a future without ice-cream and pizza and that just sounds like hell.

“Maybe a little body fat isn’t such a bad trade-off” they’ll subconsciously ask themselves? Before they know it, a little body fat soon grows to unacceptable proportions.

If you’ve worried about forever giving up your favorite foods, lose that mindset. As total calories are all that matter when it comes to losing weight and losing body fat, you need only eat less calories than you expend every day – and you can fit any food you desire into this daily calorie allotment.

Another strategy is to think only of cheat meals and not cheat days. Cheat meals are great for the body and they’re a wonderful psychological boost but work them into your total calorie equation. Eating three cheat meals in one day isn’t a great idea unless you have the fortitude to fast the next day – and that’s certainly a strategy that will work if you fall off the wagon while enjoying an entire day of calories and junk food.

Advice From the Gifted Guy

genetically gifted body buildersThere’s a trend that’s happening online and in the gym and it’s only getting worse. People are turning to genetically gifted guys for advice on how to lose fat and get ripped.

I talk to a lot of people online and in the gym and I’ve long noticed that such individuals usually have the strongest opinions but know the least. I’m not dogging on the strong, fit guys but the fact is that since they typically have to do the least amount of research to get the best results, they usually make the worst advice givers.

Genetically gifted individuals will always be ripped in spite of their diet and very rarely because of it. If you’re trying to emulate what they’re eating, you’re not likely to get the same results. They rarely have to watch what they eat and those who do eat well will insist that they’ve found the secret to getting lean and they will implore you to follow the path they’re taking.

If your goal is fat loss, take advice from the guy that has lost a lot of fat, has a now great physique and has to work hard to maintain it. That’s your best resource, if you want to take advice from a non-professional.

Just remember that in the diet equation, you don’t have to give up “cheat foods”. I’d highly recommend giving up cheat days though – and watch those calories. Nothing else matters as much as total calories.

Enjoy those twinkies.

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  • Mišo Mićković

    Great article,but could easily be summed up to this-No cheat DAYS,yes to cheat MEALS. As in ONE cheat meal per week(that’s how i’ve been doing it and so far it’s working pretty good).