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Nov 15 / Jeremy

Using Cheat Days to Accelerate Fat Loss

Anyone who has ever tried to implement a restrictive diet in order to lose weight knows how difficult it can be to always follow the rules.  It is tough sticking with a diet program that never lets you enjoy your favorite foods or allows you to participate fully in the holiday season or weekend barbecues.  This is one of the reasons why we are big fans of cheat days when it comes to dieting.  Cheat days are a great way to help you stick with a diet program because they allow you one day a week where you can take a break from the restrictive rules and enjoy your favorite foods.  Not only is this great psychologically, but, as it turns out, cheat days are a great way to accelerate fat loss.  Surprised? So was I when I first learned about this neat trick.  Even though I had experienced this phenomenon before, I didn’t understand the science behind how it worked until I read the recently released 24/7 Fat Loss program.

[Keep reading to learn how eating pizza can accelerate your fat loss.]

My Cheat Day Story

When I turned 30 I was overweight and uncomfortable with my body.  Recent changes in my life had gotten me out of my regular exercise routine and it was detrimental to my physique.  I knew that if I didn’t do something about it I would continue to gain weight and get in even worse shape in the years to come.  I immediately got back to exercising regularly and I was very strict about what I ate.  About seven days into my exercise and diet plan I began to see real results which encouraged me to keep at it.

The first few weeks of my diet program I was very strict, even when I went out with friends on a Friday or Saturday night.  Eventually, however, my weight loss started to slow down and I got tired of missing out on some of the fun because of my dieting.  I had lost close to 6 lbs in the first week but only 2 pounds in the second week.  In a moment of supposed weakness I figured I could splurge for one weekend, have a cheat day, and then get right back in to my diet plan.  What was the point of missing out on all the fun if my weight loss seemed to be plateauing anyway? On the third weekend of my diet I did just that.  Saturday night I went out to dinner and drinks with friends and it turned out to be a pretty late night.

The next day I slept in and decided I needed to rest instead of working out in order to recover from the night before.  My stomach was also a bit on edge and I couldn’t eat anything until dinner that day. When Monday came around I was a bit hard on myself. It had been three days since I last exercised and I went completely off my diet on Saturday night.  I decided I needed to really push it at the gym that day.

When I got to the gym I stepped on the scale to see how much weight I had gained from my Saturday blowout, and I was stunned.  I had actually lost one pound over the weekend. I couldn’t believe.  Encouraged by the surprising weigh in and energized from having taken a few days off from training I hit the gym hard and had a great workout.

I spent the rest of my week back on my diet plan and found that the weight simply continued to melt off, much faster than the week before.  I didn’t understand it, but somehow, no matter what I did on Saturday as long as I adhered to my diet plan the rest of the week the weight would keep coming off.  Needless to say, I never held back on a Saturday night again.  Following this routine, I managed to lose 20 pounds of fat in eight weeks and got into the best shape of my life.

Why Cheat Days Work

Even though I didn’t know it, there is a scientific reason why cheat days help your body continue burning fat throughout the week.  Joel Marion does a great job of explaining why in the 24/7 Fat Loss program.  In this program he refers to it as “strategic overfeeding.”

You see, limiting your caloric intake is essential for weight loss, but if you are creating a significant caloric reduction for an extended period of time, say seven or more days, then your body starts to limit your fat burning potential because it wants to make sure you have enough fat storage to survive the caloric scarcity that it is currently experiencing.

When your body is going through caloric restriction, the levels of the hormone leptin drops in your body.  Your body responds to low levels of leptin by slowing your metabolism, reducing fat burning hormones, and increasing fat storing hormones.  None of this is good for maximizing fat loss.

This is where cheat days come in handy.

By giving yourself a cheat day to eat your favorite foods you are actually resetting your leptin levels and explaining to your body that you are not starving, you are dieting and it is safe to continue burning fat.  By taking yourself off of the diet every seventh day, you will bring your leptin levels up to the maximum fat burning mode.  Then your body is ready to start maximizing fat loss as you go back to your diet plan and sustain a caloric deficit for another six days.

If are interested in learning more about the 24/7 Fat Loss program, you can read our comprehensive review of the program here: 24/7 Fat Loss Program Review.

The Best Way to Use Cheat Days in Your Diet

The best way to use a cheat day in your diet is to plan the cheat day around your life instead of trying to plan your life around your cheat day.  The best cheat days for me are Saturday as I often have social plans on for that day and it is much easier for me to stick with my diet plan while I am distracted by work during week days.  Be sure to pick the cheat day that is most natural for your weekly routine.

Also, as you noticed from my own accidental experience with cheat days I did not eat much the day after my cheat day.  Without realizing it, I was implementing a fast day after my cheat day. This is also what turns out to be recommended in the 24/7 Fat Loss program.  Once you have reset your leptin levels with your cheat day, your body is primed to maximize the fat burning opportunity of an 18-24 hour fast.  This will immediately offset the caloric surplus of the day before and prime your body to use fat for fuel the rest of the week.

Of course, you should not go crazy on your cheat day and consume 6,000 calories.  If you do, then it will take much longer for your body to deplete those excess calories, but you should feel free to eat your favorite foods and there is no need to stick to any of the rules of the diet plan you follow the rest of the week.

If you can achieve a caloric deficit six days of the week, then using a cheat day strategically will accelerate your fat loss and ensure the fat continues to melt away.  This is great news for everyone.

Now please pass me that blueberry pie!

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14 Comments

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  1. Chris / Nov 15 2011

    I have used cheat days as well to great effect. I think the biggest trick is to not blow them to far out of proportion! I have a few cheat days where I actually at close to 12,000 calories of very unhealthy food and it took a few days to drop that off!

    Anyway, I am a fan of Joels products. He does bring the science to the regular people!

    • Jeremy & Kim / Nov 17 2011

      We completely agree, Chris. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Cheat days are very commonly done by bodybuilders when they are trying to lose those last few pounds, people who are trying to lose weight and those who find a restrictive diet as torture. I do know this approach works well as it helps anyone lose the necessary amount of fat by eating less calories and not feel like they are missing out on living.

    I definitely congratulate you on your success story. Losing a lot of weight in a relatively short period of time is not the easiest thing in the world but is possible when someone is disciplined.

    -Sam

    • Jeremy & Kim / Nov 17 2011

      Thanks, Sam. You are right, and it is something that we didn’t discuss much in the post, but there are significant psychological factors that make dieting easier when it involves a cheat day. It can be looked at as a reward for sticking with your diet throughout the week and it gives you some time off from worrying about what you eat for a day.
      -Jeremy

  3. It was said: you have to “zig zag” your way into fat loss and I agree.
    As long as you don’t go too wild on cheat days – this is actually a great way to give Leptin a boost and increase the fat burning. To get things even more wild I would add a cold shower that same day to active Brown adipose tissue and accelerate it even further. 😉

    • Jeremy & Kim / Nov 17 2011

      Ha! Thanks for the tip! You enjoy your cold showers, and let us know how much more rapidly the fat falls off 😉 Maybe we should research this idea and write a post about it.

  4. I’m a big fan of cheat days as well and find they’re even more effective when combined with fasting days (before and/or after).

  5. Love the idea of cheat days followed by fasting days. It feels very natural. Sometimes I like going into a cheat day in a fasted state as well. Of course, I always like to perform intense training on a cheat day. Might as well put all those extra carbs to good use!

    • Jeremy & Kim / Dec 8 2011

      That is a great tip, Dave. Exercising on cheat days will help keep your weight gain in check on those days while still allowing you to benefit from reset leptin levels.

  6. Jeff Crews / Dec 8 2011

    Would you say cheat days are good for all age groups (when it comes to fat loss)?

    • Jeremy & Kim / Dec 8 2011

      Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for your question. I would recommend cheat days for all age groups as long as they are old enough to make mature decisions about what they eat on their cheat day (e.g. will not choose to eat a gallon of ice cream for breakfast). Besides that caveat, anyone who is able to maintain an active lifestyle (i.e. exercise 3-4 times per week) and can achieve a significant calorie restriction 6 days a week should benefit from resetting their leptin levels with a cheat day.

      • Jeff Crews / Dec 8 2011

        Perfect response. Thanks! As long as the person is able to make an educated decision, I agree.

  7. Robert / Feb 15 2012

    I find the “strategic overload” concept a fascinating one. Typically, I just follow the 80/20 rule (eat correctly 80 percent of the time, the other 20 percent is a little looser). It’s worked for me, but I can also so where strategic overload has both its morale benefits plus weight loss benefits. It’s always nice to be rewarded for working hard at your goals, and sometimes that reward should be a nice slice of blueberry pie.

  8. Jenny / May 18 2013

    Wow, what a a great idea – cheat days! It makes sense you struggle for the 6 days, and once a week you can eat whatever you like. During that one day, you are back to your bad eating habits, but guys; we are just human beings 🙂

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