How Often Can I Have Cheat Days?

16 May, 2020
If you're following a daily diet regime, you may have asked yourself this question: how often can you have cheat days?
 

At certain times of the year, such as Christmas time, when we probably eat far more than usual, many people think about starting the new year with a healthier lifestyle. This might involve doing more physical exercise or eating a more balanced diet. Often, these plans are doomed before they even start. Particularly if you start by asking: “How often can I have cheat days?”

The definition of a diet

A diet is a nutritional plan that you follow strictly in order to achieve a particular goal. You might have celiac disease, for example, and need to stick to a gluten-free diet. As a result, you need to be conscious of the foods you include in your diet.

At Christmas time and New Year’s, however, most people are thinking about weight loss. Weight-loss plans are usually diets or strategies that focus on reducing your net calorie intake.

So, by restricting certain foods, you can reduce your calorie intake and thus lose weight over time. However, these plans are often very tedious and not very fun. People start to have ‘cheat days’ and, over time, end up giving up.

Cheat days: diet or nutritional plan?

Although you might see them as the same thing, there’s been a recent trend towards distinguishing between the two concepts. Whilst the word ‘diet’ is normally associated with a tedious and restrictive routine, ‘nutritional plan’ is seen as a much more appropriate way to improve your health and well-being.

A nutritional plan doesn’t focus on restricting food or calories. Instead, it aims to educate people about the importance of choosing the right foods and understanding their effects on the body. As a result, there’s no need for ‘cheat days’ because you’re simply prioritizing certain foods rather than cutting the bad ones out altogether.

 
A woman holding a set of scales thinking about her cheat days.

We can illustrate this using an example. Let’s say that you’re an athlete who wants to improve their performance. Your main focus will be to eat healthily and get the right amount of rest.

You’ll see food as your fuel. Logically, then, you’ll want all that fuel to be of the highest quality possible to keep your body performing at its peak.

So what about those cheat days?

Now that you understand the difference between a diet and a nutritional plan, you’ll see that you’re asking the wrong question. As an athlete, you should be prioritizing healthier food and providing your body with the best nutrients possible.

Simply restricting your calorie intake and starving is a strategy doomed to failure. Once your body starts getting used to eating properly, you’ll gradually achieve your goals, especially if you’re exercising regularly.

At the end of the day, you are what you eat, and this will have an impact on your health, athletic performance, and daily well-being.

Someone who eats healthily on a regular basis can treat themselves whenever they want. If they fully understand that eating unhealthy foods won’t properly nourish the body, then they’ll already understand that they can’t eat them all the time.

 

Recommendations for athletes: cheat days

It’s important to understand that nutritional plans are personalized. Each person has a different metabolism and body composition.

For people with some knowledge and interest, it’s something that you can easily do yourself. But otherwise, we recommend going to a professional to get the right guidelines for you.

However, below, we’ve put together some general key tips for people who want to know what a suitable nutritional plan should be like:

  • Prioritize whole and less-processed foods. Eggs, meats and fish, and fruits and vegetables should be the foundation of your plan.
A collection of foods that are rich in protein.

  • Opt for slowly absorbed carbohydrates since as they improve the hormonal system and help regulate insulin release. Vegetables are a good example.
  • Consume enough protein each day from both plant and animal sources. Remember that protein is the macronutrient that repairs muscles after exercise.
  • Avoid sugar as much as possible. There are studies that link sugar consumption with muscle inflammation.

Finally, as well as watching what you eat, it’s really important to stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking plenty of water. With these basic recommendations and some advice from a health professional, you’ll surely be able to improve your quality of life in every way.

 
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  2. Parry SA, Woods RM, Hodson L, Hulston CJ. A single day of excessive dietary fat intake reduces whole-body insulin sensitivity: The metabolic consequence of binge eating. Nutrients. 2017 Aug 1;9(8).
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