Yes you heard right – CHEAT on your diet! You might have heard the phrase ‘cheat meal’ or ‘cheat day’ circulating recently; it’s quite a hot topic in the fitness world, though the concept is nothing new. Other terms used are ‘refeeding’ and ‘cycling’, ‘carb-up days’ and ‘high kcal days’.
Let’s say that as a maintenance intake you need 1800 calories. To lose weight and burn fat, you go down to 1300 calories a day, and switch to a low carb diet. This is highly likely to bring results – it’s simple maths; if you eat less than you burn, you WILL lose weight. And this system is quite satisfactory for most people. It’s probably satisfactory for most people reading this, and only usually applies to individuals pushing to get to a certain body fat percentage or weight, perhaps for athletic performance reasons or physique competitions, but hearing of concepts that may or may not apply to people trying to lose weight can be confusing, so regardless of whether it’s right for you, here’s the deal:
On the above mentioned calorie restrictive diet, certain hormones, such as leptin which plays a role in metabolism and appetite, will be affected. This is weight determined – the lower weight you are, the less leptin you have. HOWEVER when a weightloss plateau is reached and losing the last few pounds/fat % digits becomes a stubborn struggle, SOME PEOPLE find that having a temporary period of ‘refeeding’ can boost their metabolism so that when they return to a lower calorie intake, weightloss resumes.
HOW LONG? Generally speaking, the longer a person has been in a calorie deficit, and the lower their weight, the longer the refeeds should be. It can be one meal; some people need several weeks; most find one day is ample.
HOW MUCH? It needs to be a ‘maintenance’ amount or more – so at least 1800 calories for our hypothetical dieter, but would probably be somewhere between 2000-3000 in a day.
WHAT? This is not an excuse to binge on junk. Some people might do that, and it may have the same effect, but anyone serious about ‘refeeding’ properly will take the time with a qualified Personal Trainer or Dietician to work out the sums for the amounts they personally need, and the most popular (due to effectiveness) methods are high carb, lower protein, low fat, since carbohydrates in isolation appear to have the most beneficial effect on restoring leptin levels.
IS IT FOR ME? The majority of people, on closer inspection, do not lose weight because they are not being as compliant as they think, whether accidentally or not, and when truly in a caloric deficit, weightloss does occur. For long term yo-yo dieters who may have incurred some metabolic damage, or athletes and physique competitors looking to shred those last few layers of fat, calculated refeeding has sometimes been shown to help. Another way it can keep people on track is that it can be a way of allowing yourself ‘forbidden’ foods so that you don’t feel so deprived you end up bingeing or ditching your healthy eating altogether, so helps from a psychological point of view. For others it can have the opposite effect – too much sugar has an addictive effect in some people, and they may find it hard to get back on track.
To reiterate what was said before, this concept, whilst effective for some, is completely unnecessary for most. Do what works for you, which works for most people; eat healthy foods, cut excess calorie intake, and exercise.