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What about a cheat day?

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One of the most frequent questions we get asked is: What about a cheat day?

Here are my thoughts:

1. The word “cheat” is really ridiculous when applied to eating off-plan food. We typically use the word cheat to apply to academic dishonesty or marital infidelity. Who are you “cheating” on when you eat a cookie? This association leads to unnecessary guilt and shame with off-plan food. As Robb Wolf says there is no such thing as “cheating” when it comes to food. We eat things, there are consequences to eating things, and that’s the end of it. No guilt or shame should be attached.

2. Blood Sugar RollerCoaster-If you go on a complete bender for an entire day you send your blood sugar and corresponding insulin response is going to be put through some hard paces dealing with that spike and crash on a routine basis.

3. Actively searching for bad food just because it’s a cheat day is a bad idea. You shouldn’t have off-plan food just because it’s a Saturday. You should save your off-plan foods for legit special occasions for foods you really care about. Home made cookies made by your grandma for Thanksgiving is a way different context than sitting by yourself eating a bag of Doritos because it’s a Saturday.

4. A cheat day results in an unhealthy psychological response to food. Half of that comes the word “cheat” itself, but the other half comes from this constant binging and “purging” on Monday (not literally purging). It’s just this yo-yo back and forth, that could be dealt with in a much healthier fashion.

So, if you’re going to ditch cheat days what should you do instead?

1. First, let’s focus more on a single off-plan meal in one-day rather than an entire day of off plan foods
2. Have an off-plan food only for a legit special occasion (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.). If this is happening more than 1-2 times a month your definition of a special occasion is too broad.
3. Make it for a food you truly care about.


Today we’re gonna talk about the infamous cheat day, and my thoughts on the very notion of a cheat day.

So first thing, always got to emphasize, especially with these types of videos, I’m not telling anyone what to do, you want a cheat day, have a cheat day. You like your cheat day, have a cheat day. We’re not in the business of being a nagging spouse, or an overbearing boss, or a parent. We’re just providing information and if you choose to use that, great, if you choose not to, that’s cools too. These are just my thoughts on the whole concept of a cheat day.

Number one. As a whole host of people besides me have pointed out, the very word cheat is really ridiculous when it comes to using it in this particular context. We use cheating to refer typically to academic dishonesty, cheating on a test, or marital infidelity, or something of that nature.

Why are we using that term for something that you are activity choosing to do, and not harming anyone else? I don’t really understand, I think there’s a whole lot of physiological baggage that comes along with it. I understand the idea of trying to say, “Oh, well you’ve made a promise to yourself, and you’re cheating on that promise,” but I think it just creates all this physiological baggage that is just really really unhealthy, and I’ll dub into that a little bit more in just a second.

But, I think as Robb Wolf one of my favorite people in the health and nutrition space has said, “We eat food, there’s certain consequences that come from eating said food and that’s it.” There should be not guilt or shame or anything around this notion of cheating on your diet. It’s either you make a choice to have some food, or you make a choice not to have some food, that’s really it. We shouldn’t be using this term of marital infidelity or academic dishonesty for cheating.

Second problem with a cheat day, in my opinion. Blood sugar roller coaster, so you’re going along, going along, going along, you eat nice real whole food and then you spend this entire day essentially, coming close to being diabetic. Let’s say, not of course actually, but spiking your blood sugar unnecessarily with all these kind of off planned meals. I think that is really problematic, which I guess leads into the third idea.

When you make it into this kind of day, there are a few things that happen. There’s this image of someone kind of sitting in the corner chowing down on a bag of Doritos, saying “Oh, it’s my cheat day, it’s okay.” Actively searching for bad stuff to eat, because it’s your cheat day, I think that whole notion is problematic.

I think if you’re gonna have off plan food, it should be with others in a social context, it should be a legitimate special occasion, as we’ve talked about many other times. And it shouldn’t just be because it’s that day, it shouldn’t just be because it’s a Saturday. Realistically speaking, it’s not the case that we need to have this gigantic binge once a week just because it’s a Saturday.

Which leads into the next problem with the notion of a cheat day is, you create this very unhealthy physiological relationship with food. Part of that unhealthy physiological relationship comes from the idea of you’re cheating on someone and the guilt and shame that comes along with it. But, the other half comes from the idea of kind this binging and then purging when Monday comes around. Not literally purging, but kind of cleaning things up and “Okay, it will come back around on Saturday, so I can binge as much as I want.” I think that just creates a unhealthy physiological relationship with food.

So, what do we propose instead? Well, I’ve said in many other videos that I think there’s nothing wrong with having off plan foods, like pizza and ice cream, health conditions not withstanding, there are some people who legitimately with certain health conditions can’t have those things. But, health conditions not withstanding, every year on my birthday I have a pizza and I’m going to continue to do that with friends and enjoy myself. And I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but it should be for a special occasion.

Had do you navigate this? So again, don’t try to plan this one specific day that has no connection to Thanksgiving or Christmas, or these other special occasions, it’s just a random Saturday were you’re just gonna completely binge, that’s just silly. There’s nothing wrong with having maybe a couple squares of dark chocolate on the weekend, or a glass of red wine if that’s your thing or maybe a gluten free burger or something like that.

But, just from the outside, let’s reduce it down from like a cheat day, to maybe a meal, which I wouldn’t call it a cheat meal, because again I think the whole notion of calling it a cheat anything is ridiculous. But, something that you’re sharing with others, something that you legitimately enjoy and you’re not just having it just because it’s “Oh, it’s my cheat day.”

Those are for the more of you’re yellow light items, like the dark chocolate and the red wine and the gluten free items that we’ve talked about in other videos. And then for those red light items, those things that don’t actively contribute to your health in anyway, shape or form, you really should just save those in kind of our opinion for no more than once or twice a month. Only for the purpose of a special occasion and only for something you truly care about, it shouldn’t be something that happens on a regular basis.

And no ones gonna be perfect with all of these rules all of the time, but this can be a way to guide you. So, just in general when people ask me my thought of a cheat day, I think it creates a horribly unhealthy physiological relationship with food. I think it makes people end up eating bad things that they wouldn’t normally eat just because it’s a cheat day and I think it makes it so that they fail long term at keeping their cravings and appetite in check. And I think there’s a whole better way to do things that involves having those off plan things less frequently and in a more special and meaningful context. All right guys, thanks so much for tuning in.