Are ‘cheat days’ while on a diet or exercise regimen helpful or harmful?

There’s plenty of debate in the medical community over the effectiveness of taking quick break from dieting to eat what you want

Stock image. Leigh Patrick (Pexels)

For anybody who is enthusiastic about exercise, dieting, health and wellness, the term “cheat day” can be a debatable one.

A cheat day is essentially a day in which someone abandons his or her diet or disciplined eating, and eats an item or items that aren’t very healthy.

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Gorging on pizza, ice cream, donuts or burgers and fries, are just a few examples of good “cheat day” foods.

In light of that, and since Wednesday is National Eat What You Want Day, we consulted with an expert to talk about cheat days.

Dr. Michael Lowe, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Drexel University, gave some insight on key questions regarding cheat days.

What are the pros of cheat days?

The famous actor Dwayne Johnson, aka “The Rock,” famously posts on Instagram “cheat meals” that he has every so often in the midst of his rigorous workouts that keep him ripped for movies, etc.

According to Northwestern Medicine, eating cheat meals can increase one’s metabolism, which cause calories to burn faster. It can also increase levels of leptin, a hormone secreted by fat cells that is responsible for maintaining energy in the body.

An article on said cheat days can be good psychologically because they prevent binges, reduce cravings and provide a mental break from dieting, if with the caveat cheat days, have to be done moderately.

Lowe doesn’t believe having a cheat day is a good idea, but said for some, it can work.

“If someone is at a healthy weight, has some system where they are eating a healthy diet, they’ve been at a healthy weight for a while, and it’s part of their system where it helps them blow off some steam and it helps them control their eating desires for the rest of the month, then they’ve shown that system works for them,” Lowe said. “I wouldn’t object to that.”

What are the cons of cheat days?

The obvious con to having cheat days is that it can lead to further temptation for eating unhealthy foods in the long term, and derail someone completely from a regimen.

It can also lead to stomachaches or other illnesses, and also lower levels of activity, according to Men’s Health.

Lowe, for one, doesn’t believe cheat days are worth the trouble.

“We usually drive 55 or 65 on the highway,” Lowe said. “What about having one day of the year where we all drive 100? How much harm is that going to do? Why would you even think of inventing something like that? If most of us are overfed to begin with, then why have an excuse to overfeed more?”

How often should you have cheat days?

This depends on the individual and what a regimen is, but it can vary. Some people can have cheat days once a week, others can do so once a month, while others should limit them even further.

Lowe suggests once a year is good, because each day, people don’t realize how many calories they are consuming.

“We live in a food environment that very much encourages eating more than our bodies need on a daily basis,” he said.

Do you believe cheat days are a good idea? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.

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