Desperate to lose weight but loathe to give up your favourite treats? While following a healthy diet and fitness regime is vital for effective weight loss, the good news is you don't have to give up tasty food forever and it's OK to treat yourself. In fact, having a weekly junk food binge can actually aid weight loss.
When following a calorie controlled diet there will always be times in which you struggle. 'Not only will a calorie deficit eventually lead to a drop in energy levels due to not consuming enough calories to keep up with energy demand, but following a strict diet can at times also feel very restrictive,' says Cardiff Sports Nutrition and Supplement Advisor, Matt Plowman. 'It can become hard to mentally overcome that stumbling block. Hence the need for a reward every so often in the form of a cheat day or meal.'
In order to lose weight it’s essential that you create an energy deficit, which effectively means cutting back on your calorie consumption. 'This is great for dropping the pounds, but not so great for diet morale when you’re craving junk food and feel restricted,' explains Plowman. 'While many think cheat days are great for a break from continuous healthy eating they can actually benefit your overall weight loss journey.'
Plowman recommends including some form of higher calorie day in your diet. 'This is important, not just for scientific reasons but just from a psychological point of view too,' he says. 'As long as you go straight back to your diet after and a day doesn’t lead to a cheat week instead then it will have no negative impact on your weight loss goals.'
When dieting your body adapts to the calorie deficit for survival. 'It does this by lowering the metabolism as a way to burn less calories in a day,' says Plowman. 'However this eventually means you will stop losing fat. The next best way to increase the fat burn is to increase the amount you eat on certain days to avoid a sluggish metabolism occurring.'
Indulging in a cheat day can actually aid weight loss. 'Leptin is a hormone which regulates energy levels in the body,' explains Plowman. 'As soon as it reaches its desired level it lets the brain know that sufficient energy has been stored. When it drops too far the other way, hunger pangs soon appear and body weight and fat mass become less regulated. Combine this with Ghrelin, a stomach hormone which stimulates appetite, which is often produced when a low calorie diet is followed, and increased hunger occurs.'
'After around three days of restricted dieting the body drops in Leptin and Ghrelin,' he continues. 'However this can be regulated by incorporating cheat meals into a diet as it raises Leptin (improving energy store levels), decreases Ghrelin (increased appetite) and increases the metabolism rate. This effect lasts for a few days after you’ve consumed a cheat meal which means it can actually help you lose weight in the long run by keeping your hormones in check and prevent starvation occurring.'
While cheat days are proven to be good for dieting, be sensible with what you eat. 'You may want to consume all the pizza and ice cream in the world but don’t use cheat day to go too crazy as you may find it harder to get back on the wagon the next day,' says Plowman. 'Indulge but make sure you keep those healthy eating habits in the back of your mind. Try to incorporate a cheat day once a week for maximum impact.'