It is important to stick to your diet and exercise plan, right? Of course it is! But many experts advocate a ‘cheat’ day for many reasons. For one thing, you can’t be perfect all the time, and for another, sometimes giving your body something different can be good for it!
Cheat Days, Why Do We Need Them?
Yes, you read that correctly, you should cheat on your diet and workout plans. These ‘cheat days’ are good for you both physically and mentally. Let’s start with your diet. You have a good plan in place, you are losing weight, so why cheat?
For one thing, having a cheat day (which is loosely defined as having one day of the week where you can eat anything you want, all those foods that are taboo the other six days of the week) can help you fight craving during those other six days. If you know that on Sunday you can have pizza, or a doughnut, you will tend to stick to the plan the rest of the week.
Body for Life was one of the first tomes to put forth the idea of a cheat day. The plan’s creator, Bill Phillips, said that a free day once a week, in which you were allowed to eat things that were otherwise not part of a ‘healthy’ diet, would help your body avoid going into any type of starvation response.
This was also a great way for followers of the plan to keep from bingeing on other days as they knew that cheat day as coming!
Recently, in his book The Four Hour Body, Tim Ferris also advocated taking a cheat day once a week to combat cravings and keep the body from feeling deprived. Think of that day as your ‘reward’ day for being good the rest of the week.
Hormonal and Metabolic Benefits
In addition to those ‘mental’ benefits (the reward response), there are also a number of hormonal and metabolic benefits to the cheat day.
Science has shown that these days can actually increase the production of thyroid hormones, because during the rest of the week, you might be in calorie deficit. This typically only applies to those who are dieting, rather than simply following a new, healthier eating pattern. In other words, if you have simply decided to forgo dairy or sugar and perhaps put healthier options in place, you are probably not in calorie deficit2.
If one is in calorie deficit during the week, the cheat day will turn those thyroid hormones back on2.
Another fact is that the cheat day actually increases your BMR, or basal metabolic rate. Why? Because your body is having to deal with all of these extra calories, so it is really working hard! But if you did this every day, it would simply result in weight gain2.
Take a Day Off from your Workout. Every Week.
Personal trainers, exercise physiologists and doctors agree, you need to take a day off from your workouts–every single week.
Repair and Reset
Muscles and joints need time to rest and repair and your entire body needs a day to reset each week. On this day, get extra sleep and just enjoy the time off! For those who have rigorous workout regimens, who lift heavy weights or do intense cardiovascular workouts, a rest day will allow the body’s muscles to recover.
If you run a lot or do any type of high intensity exercise, your joints can take a beating, and they need some time off. If you don’t rest, you will pay the price down the road with tendonitis, back pain, joint pain, or worse.
While this is not at all considered a ‘cheat’ day, per se, as all personal trainers agree that the body needs a day off, many who are gym rats or workout enthusiasts pale at the thought of taking a day off.
But, as stated above, when you do not take a day off, your body can begin to fail, and you won’t perform at peak conditions anymore once your body is too fatigued. If you are one of those people who just cannot fathom a day off from exercise, take one day a week to practice some gentle yoga or take a walk. Have a dog? Fido will appreciate some extra time with you!
This allows your body to recuperate will allowing you to still feel active.
All in all, a cheat day, or rest day, is essential not just for the body, but for the mind, too. Refueling and relaxing are as important to your body as are exercise and nutrition. We can’t be perfect all the time, and we need a little time every week to just enjoy. Our bodies need to be strong both mentally and physically. So once a week, enjoy the slice of pizza and sleep in!