Sticking to a healthy eating plan can sometimes be tricky if there are certain foods you particularly enjoy that are off the menu.
The question is, can you or should you allow yourself a cheat day where you can eat all your favourite foods without it affecting your overall weight loss strategy?
It’s well known that weight loss is really a matter of eating fewer calories than you burn, so as long as your cheat day is combined with a well-planned diet and that you can maintain a reduced calorie intake on the non-cheat days, then it can allowing yourself a day off can help alleviate the boredom or boost motivation.
There have been studies taken on whether cheat meals will lead to fluctuations in the hunger hormone leptin.
Leptin is the hormone that suppresses feelings of hunger and some research has indicated that some people struggle with weight loss as their body is not producing adequate amounts of leptin and they’re eating more than necessary.
Some proponents of the cheat meal strategy have theorised that eating these higher calorie foods can help trick the body into producing more leptin an prevent the desire for overeating.
However, there is little scientific research to support this theory so cannot be necessarily relied on.
What most likely happens is when you allow yourself a cheat day, you find it easier to resist temptation on the other days as your motivation is stronger having indulged the previous day.
Sustained weight-loss is really about ensuring you eat fewer calories than you burn and that you have a healthy attitude towards food.
Some experts suggest the word cheat be reframed to treat as to avoid negative connotations and to help with emotional eating.
Research found that associating the cheat day with celebration, correlated with better healthy eating attitudes.
Participants with a weight-loss goal who associated chocolate cake with guilt were less successful at losing weight over a 3-month period compared to those associating chocolate cake with celebration.
Experts also recommend considering mindful eating as a weight loss strategy particularly when having a cheat day.
One study found that “mindfulness and mindful eating have the potential to address problematic eating behaviours and the challenges many face with controlling their food intake.”
Another strategy would be to tie in your cheat or treat days with a social event such as a birthday party or upcoming social event so you’re not missing out and feeling restricted.
The key thing about healthy eating is to still live a normal life and not feel like your diet is a chore or something unenjoyable.
Having this healthy mindset to you eating plan will set you up for success in the long run.