New research shows that diet doesn’t need to be a hundred percent healthy, every day, to be healthy. In fact, aiming for a healthy diet without cheat days is now considered to be counterproductive and does nothing to help in sustaining a healthy body weight in the long run.

It is now advised that you aim for an 80 per cent or 90 per cent healthy diet per week, and leave the remaining 20 per cent of your meals (or 10 per cent) to less healthy options if you are to attain optimal weight loss.

The myth of never cheating on your diet

One of the myths that have long ruled the fitness and weight loss community is that you must never cheat on your diet; and that you are on the way to failure once you sneak a snack or a less healthy food option. For example, a woman who succumbs to temptation after ten days of clean eating and eats a packet of crisps is immediately considered to have derailed. Repeat this behaviour once, twice and thrice and she is considered a failure and unchangeable.

More often than not, people who cheat this way are made to believe that they are never going to get back on the right track.


A fallacy

Never cheating on your diet in order to sustain maximum weight loss or maintain healthy body weight is nothing but a fallacy. While it is not advised for people to binge eat and crowd their plates and palates with all the unhealthy food choices under the sun every now and then, eating a hamburger or a slice of pizza every now and then when your goal is weight loss is actually advisable.


The science behind it

There are several reasons why it is now advised that you aim for an 80 per cent or 90 per cent healthy diet rather than a hundred percent healthy one. Here they are:

You stop yourself from feeling deprived: When you suddenly turn your back on all the delicious food you have enjoyed in the past and adhere strictly and fully to healthy foods only, you are likely to feel deprived. And when you feel deprived, you are at a higher risk of abandoning your diet plan altogether and reverting to unhealthy food choices. Having cheat days gives you a kind of mental break that can help you stay steadfast and truthful to your diet plan. This is because discipline is much more doable when there is relief and reward just around the corner.

You trick your body into calorie-burning: When we diet for the purpose of burning fat and losing weight, we usually lower our average intake of carbohydrates and calories. Over a period of time, the body realizes that it is ingesting fewer calories than it is burning (which is your ultimate goal). When your body realizes this, your metabolism drops as the body tries to correct the calories deficit by becoming more efficient. This is where cheat days come in handy. When you cheat, let’s say once or twice in a week, you trick your body into thinking that it is getting more than enough calories and this will encourage it to restart its fat burning metabolism again. Simply put, cheat days help combat the body’s tendency toward adaptive thermogenesis.

How to approach cheat days

We advocate using the 80/20 rule. On average, an individual eats about 21 meals in a week, if we consider breakfast, lunch and dinner.

80 percent of these 21 meals equals 17 meals.

17 of your meals should be healthy while you are free to have 4 not so healthy ones during that week. So, if you are longing for fries and ketchup, or a good old slice of pizza, don’t reach out for them just yet. Instead, schedule them for the week. Plan to eat that pizza perhaps Tuesday afternoon and that fries and ketchup Thursday night.

If you choose using the 90/10 rule, this means that at least 19 of your meals per week should be healthy while only two can be a little less healthy than usual.

A word of warning

You need to understand that you should never use your 20 or 10 percent less healthy meal allowance as an excuse to binge eat. While you may allow yourself a slice of pizza a week, your 20 or 10 per cent less healthy food should not all be pizza. Neither does it mean that your less healthy food allowance should all be potato crisps.

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Never overindulge yourself. Here are you can take to prevent binges.

Never allow yourself to enter starvation mode. When you are overly hungry, you lose the self-control to stop eating and will definitely overeat.

Eat slowly and savour every bite of your meal.

Wait for at least 10 minutes before helping yourself to seconds. Most of the time, you find out you don’t even need the seconds.

Drink plenty of water while eating.

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Deal with the stress or negative emotions that are causing you to binge eat in the first place.

If you find yourself consistently craving junk food or less healthy choices outside of you allotted percentage per week, try drinking more water, having a piece of fresh or dried fruit instead, or going for a walk.

Good news

A new Australian study published in the Journal of Obesity conclusively reports that dieters who adopt the cheat days method actually lose more weight than dieters who follow a hundred percent healthy diet.

So, go on, have yourself some cheat days.


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