If you haven’t read the first two parts of this series, I would highly recommend you do so! This will give you some backstory and give you the first two tips on how to lose weight without restriction or restrictive dieting.
The Problem With Not Enjoying Foods You Love While “Dieting”
Like 100 and 1,000s of others, I thought that I had to eat dry chicken, broccoli, and spinach for every meal to get to and maintain the body of my dreams.
I restricted my eating hardcore as I maybe would go out to eat once or twice every few months because I was worried the added calories, fats, or whatever else was in that meal would hurt my progress.
And let’s just say eating 2,500 calories of straight dry chicken and steamed broccoli all day was no fun at all.
And if you think I’m joking… I legit did that were 3 meals out of the day were 8 oz. of chicken and steamed broccoli or cauliflower.
I was miserable!
But it goes beyond just eating boring and bland health food.
I didn’t seem to be even getting the results I was after!
How Restrictive Dieting Hurt My Fitness Results And Can Hurt Yours Too
I noticed when having to restrict myself, I would be a good boy for 3-6 weeks at a time.
Super dedicated, super motivated, and trying to act excited about all the kale I was about to eat. But once that bit of motivation faded, it was all but game over.
Restrictive dieting leads me to binge eat the foods I was restricting myself of.
It leads to such an unhealthy relationship with foods that I loved. I no longer could just enjoy the foods that I loved in moderation but because I held myself away from them for so long, I would absolutely demolish them and fall of the wagon.
After weeks of restrictive dieting, there would be days where I would eat 5,000 to 6,000 calories of pure sugary, carby, and fatty foods.
Although delicious, it would lead to an insane amount of stress.
Not only because after 1-2 weeks of doing this straight it would kill my weight loss and fitness results. But also because all the added sugar would mess with my mind, confidence, and leave me feeling depleted.
The stress became two-fold. I was stressed about the results I lost and stressed because the foods weren’t a clean fuel source that gave me great energy.
And this would happen over and over again every 3-6 weeks.
Restrictive dieting for 4 weeks to lose weight then binge eating on the restricted foods for 2 weeks and going back to square one.
Does The Dieting Hamster Wheel Sound Familiar?
That’s the big question and what I find happens most when it comes to fad diets and restrictive diets.
We all get pumped up to try this new fad diet and go all in.
For 2 weeks, were absolutely perfect using this cookie-cutter diet and system that has you giving up foods you love.
Then once the newness and motivation fades we fall off. We start slowly going back to our old ways until we’re back to square one.
I’ve done it many times and I’m taking a wild guess you have as well.
So What’s The Solution For The Restrictive Dieting Hamster Wheel?
It’s a sustainable plan that allows you to enjoy the foods you love without having to restrict them or cut them completely.
The best way I’ve found to do this and actually helps increase your fat burning is strategically adding in cheat days to your weight loss diet and program.
But if you do it controlled and strategically plan these days out, you’ll be able to optimize your hormones to increase fat loss, jump right back on your plan and to fat burning mode, and be able to enjoy the yummy foods you love!
Sounds awesome, right? Let’s dive a little deeper
What Is A Cheat Day?
A cheat day can be known by many names such as a refeed day, refuel day, high carb day, break day, etc. but all encompass the same general meaning.
During “dieting” or low-calorie times when you are trying to lose body fat and weight a cheat day is put in to give your body, mind, and metabolism a break from low-calorie periods. On top of that, it allows you to enjoy the foods that you want/crave.
So basically for one planned day, you eat whatever your little heart desires.
Cheat days generally consist of higher carbs and higher calories than usual. Sometimes higher fats are involved as well but the real benefits of cheat days come in when you boost the number of carbs to help your body refuel and recover from intense exercise or prolonged calorie deficits.
It’s popular to put these days on the weekends or celebratory days such as holidays/birthdays so that you can enjoy out to eat meals, drinks, and sugary fun without feeling guilty or getting thrown completely off your diet.
Such as for me Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter are my favorite cheat days of all time.
How Can A Cheat Day And Eating All The Foods I Love Help Me Lose Weight?
Now, I know what you’re thinking… How could eating a ton of sugar or whatever I want in one day help me lose fat?! It seems counter-intuitive…
And you’re right; it does seem strange. Cheat days and putting them strategically in fat loss programs can help burn more fat by manipulating hormones more specifically your leptin and insulin. And doing this correctly can take a cheat day from a set back to a fat burning boost!
But so many individuals are doing it incorrectly, too often, or not committing enough to their health to make these cheat days beneficial. So I decided to share with you below my 10-steps on how to incorporate cheat days directly and give you step by step instructions.
I know before I learned these 10 steps and the exact benefits of cheat days, I was doing it all wrong. But now, I incorporate cheat days throughout every program I run and thoroughly enjoy the freedom and flexibility it gives me, while still staying under 10% body fat.
The two ways cheat days help you burn more body fat and increase your weight loss are as follows:
1. Mental Break
Cheat days give you a mental break you may need.
Will power and discipline is a finite resource in our brains and after a week, 2, or 8 weeks of control, staying low calorie and eating your veggies as your mama told you, it may help to give yourself a break a let go for a little bit.
This can then give your will power a rest, let it recharge for a day, and be able to come back stronger and stay consistent with your diet.
Losing weight and living the healthy lifestyle you want is a marathon, not a sprint (although I will teach you how to do it fast!). So set yourself up to finish the race, not gas out with a crash diet after mile 1.
2. Increases your leptin levels (boosts your metabolism)
When you are low calorie (“dieting”) for an extended period your leptin levels (a hormone in your body vital to fat loss) slowly drops.
The issue with this is when your leptin levels drop so does your metabolism, growth hormone, and testosterone. And in turn, cortisol (fat gaining and stress hormone) increases.
So when you refeed or have a cheat day of higher calories, it replenishes your leptin levels.
When that happens, it triggers your mind and body that there’s a surplus of food and calories available to burn. So what does your body do?
It increases your metabolism (which may have hit rock bottom while dieting) to burn through the amount of food that’s coming in and can last for the next 24-72 hours depending on the individual.
Now this leptin replenishment doesn’t just increase your metabolism allowing you to burn more calories throughout the coming week, but it also produces an increase in testosterone, growth hormone, and lowers your cortisol all leading to muscle recovery and further fat loss benefits.
Combining these two physical and psychological benefits. It’s clear that cheat days are awesome for you and awesome in general (I mean who doesn’t love donuts, pancakes, pizza, and cookies?). But they are only great for you and will give you these benefits if you are following one thing.
Cheat Days Only Work If You Are “Dieting” Or In A Calorie Deficit For A Period Of Time
If you’re not depleting your calories or carbohydrates before having a refeed or cheat day, it’s going to end up packing on more body fat than helping you burn body fat.
Your insulin and blood sugar need to be low for this to work and this only becomes low when you are in a caloric deficit and lower in carbs for a good period of time (2-4 weeks before your first cheat day).
But if you are in a calorie deficient, cheat days can and will help!
On top of that, if you’ve hit a plateau, it’s mostly because your metabolism has plateaued. So instead of continuing to eat less and do more (which will continue to wreck your metabolism), try a cheat day! Aka do more and eat a hella lot more!
And with this simple 10-step guide (you can also download it here for easy access) you’ll be able to enjoy the foods you love the most while boosting your metabolism and torching body fat!
10-Step Guide To Cheat Days For Fat Loss
Step 1: Plan It Out
Cheat days should be planned out and not done a whim.
Doing cheat days randomly will end up in guilt, cravings, and an overabundance of cheat days where it ends up hurting your progress more than helping.
Make sure before the cheat day you are depleting your calories and carb stores as much as possible with lower carbohydrate days (especially if you’re following a program that cycles your carbs).
I suggest planning this one week in advance, so you know you’ll be eating more (less guilt factor) and that you can prepare for your favorite meals.
I highly recommend going out to eat instead of buying it for the home for one main reason. When you go out to eat, very rarely will you have it in your house the next day or two. Whereas when you buy a whole box of Oreos, you may not finish it on that day and guess what?? You’ll probably end up eating it the next day and so on.
So if you do buy things at the grocery store, toss them in the trash the next day. I call that a six-pack tax.
Step 2: Wake up and have a half of a Grapefruit
This small amount of fructose has a flatlining effect on your blood glucose levels.
Waking up with this should allow you to maintain much lower glucose levels throughout the day.
This is not good to do on an everyday basis as your body because due to this your fat loss may plateau but is perfect for one day binge to lower your blood glucose and desensitize your system to the massive amount of carbs and glucose to come.
Step 3: Deplete Glycogen just before eating.
Deplete Glycogen? What does that even mean?
Your muscles hold and are fueled by glycogen. So during a workout when you are drained, and your muscles can’t push the weight any longer, that’s when your glycogen is depleted. But on cheat days, you’ll want to take it one step further and push your body to where it has never gone before.
This is just fancy talk for doing a kickass and hard workout on cheat days.
A hard workout will allow your body to use the incoming sugar, carbs, and excesses calories to flood directly to refilling your glycogen and go straight to your muscles for recovery first as refilling and recovery then become your bodies first priority for calories and carbs. Without this, there’s a higher probability that it’ll go to be stored as fat cells for later use.
There are two ways to go about depleting your glycogen and doing a hard workout on a cheat day:
- Do the workout that’s hardest and burns the most calories. Usually doing legs is an excellent option as it has the most compound movements (squats, lunges, deadlifts, etc.) to burn the most calories and uses the most massive muscles (hamstrings and quads).
- The second way is to work a body part that you want to grow. As the carbs will go straight to recovery if you’ve done your workout correctly so it should go to the muscles that need it the most first. So if you’re looking to build a massive chest or your shoulders are lacking, train those body parts to exhaustion on your cheat day.
Pro tip: I also add a little extra exhaustion to ensure my body is fully depleted of glycogen. If you’re up for it add 15-20 minutes of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) at the end of the workout. For me, this is usually stair sprints, sprints, or the rowing machine going 15 seconds on then 45 seconds steady for about 5-10 rounds.
Step 4: Take Digestive Enzyme/Probiotic before indulging (Sauerkraut also works)
You’ll want to not only prep your muscles to intake this food, but your digestive system as well. With proper pre-eating rituals starting with Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics it can help in 2 specific areas.
- Off put some of the damage the next day. I’m not talking about weight gain damage but more the digestive pain or suffering. If you’re low calorie and low carb most days your body is not used to intaking so many carbs, which is going to leave your gut and butt a little hurt if you take it too far. Luckily these supplements can help reduce the pain, bloating, and flatulence if you decide to eat a bit more than intended.
- Digestive Enzymes and Probiotics both help your digestive system breakdown food and get the most nutrients out of it as possible. So as those carbs are passing through, you’ll still want to get the best out of those calories as possible. Meaning your body will be able to pick up more of the vital vitamins and nutrients from your meals making every calorie count for your muscle recovery.
Step 5: Before each meal have a shot of Apple Cider Vinegar and Cinnamon
Both of these supplements have had a substantial amount of scientific evidence to do one crucial thing before cheat meals. And that’s lowering your glycemic index response and blood sugar response to a high intake of carbs.
When intaking more than your fair share of carbs and sugar, it spikes your insulin. When your insulin is spiked, that’s your body’s sign to itself to put on weight, grow, and recover. So people that have low insulin sensitivity are usually the leanest as their insulin doesn’t get spiked as often, which is also why the people that each the most junk food pack on weight much quicker. Their insulin is always high.
So when you intake 1-2 oz. of Apple Cider Vinegar and ½ to 1 teaspoon of cinnamon directly before eating a large carbohydrate meal, it’s proven to lower your insulin response to those carbs. Meaning your body has a smaller response that screams packing on fat or weight.
Pro Tip: I take Apple Cider Vinegar and Cinnamon daily before meals to keep my insulin as low as possible. Keeping it low will then spiking it on a cheat day has some great effects on muscle building and recovery as the insulin spike will trigger your body to grow muscle more than put on fat.
Step 6: Indulge but eat your protein first
Finally, Eat Eat Eat!
Eat whatever your little heart desires. Whether you’re practicing a cheat meal or a full day of free eating enjoy it!
One large tip to mitigate the damage, cravings, and keep yourself from overeating is to eat your protein first.
- It’s important to get an adequate amount of protein on these days still as you’re body will need that to recover. So again shoot for at least 1 gram per pound of body weight.
- Protein is the most satiating (or filling) macronutrient. This will then help your stomach and mind trigger that you are full earlier making it less probable that you end up overeating to where you are sick to your stomach or can’t move.
Step 7: Rest
Don’t think of a cheat day as 24 hours. As it’s should be more of a sleep cycle. So when you wake up to when you go to sleep that night. Carrying it over into the next day will lead to another insulin and sugar spike the next day as well, and your craving will go wild.
Also no need to go and workout again. Take it easy as there’s probably a lot of food in your stomach that needs to be digested properly.
Every once and a while I like to go for a nice walk just to help aid in the movement and digestion before heading to bed.
But get a good night’s sleep as your body recovers and repairs best when in deep rem sleep.
Step 8: Fast
Now after your feast it’s time to go into famine mode. Feast and Famine or Feast and Fast were made popular by Roman Fitness some years back for the fat burning and digestive recovery effects it has post-indulgence in a cheat day.
Following a cheat day, this is merely running a 24-36 hour fast.
So if you end your cheat day at 9 PM on Saturday, this would be holding off intaking any calories until 9 PM on Sunday or 9 AM on Monday.
The best way to do this is to intake a vitamin supplement still, and zero calorie caffeine sources such as green tea or coffee to keep your energy up every 3-4 hours.
This does a few great reasons fasting after a cheat day can aid in fat burning and recovery:
- Naturally, it just gives your digestive system a break it needs. Allows your gut to focus on flushing out the excess calories and food. Allowing it to reset for the next week or few weeks to come where it’ll be in retaking mostly healthy food.
- This fast also resets your insulin and blood sugar levels. During your cheat day, your insulin and blood sugar spiked hard. Which may leave you feeling empty and hungry (that’s what fast digesting carbs as sugar does). This off period (although the morning may be tough) allows your body to reset those back to a reasonable and even lower level than when you started. So that your body and mind stop sending signals to pack on weight as early as possible.
- As we talked about right away, the beauty of cheat days during low caloric and carb periods is that it helps to optimize your hormones, specifically leptin, so that you can boost your metabolism and speed up fat loss.
- So in total, we boosted your metabolism by eating more on your cheat day. This tricks your metabolism into speeding up as it thinks there’s always going to be a surplus.
- Then while it’s boosted, we dramatically cut calories. So now your faster metabolism will burn through first all the calories you intook quicker and then once it’s over won’t have any extra calories to burn through so it’ll have to go straight to your body fat.
- Your body will be forced to burn your body fat for energy until you intake more calories. So it’s best to hold off your fast as long as a possible post cheat day. If you can’t make it 36 hours that’s okay, try your hardest to hold off as long as you can.
Step 9: Faster Fasting Method
If you have read the first article you already know what this is. If not here’s a brief overview of what it is.
Now I know fasting can be tough for most individuals as were so used to eating every 3-5 hours. So what if I told you there was a way to speed up your fasting period so that you can get the same effects in less time?!
Well, there is, and it’s what I call the faster fasting method.
And it’s simple.
Complete a fasted workout on your day after.
Before you intake your first calories after the cheat day, push yourself in another hard workout whether it be some good HIIT cardio or a strength training session to burn some extra calories.
This calorie burning workout session will speed up your fasting period by torching through yesterday’s calories quicker, depleting the glycogen from yesterday faster, and overall getting you to the point where you’re burning body fat instead of calories a few hours before it naturally would happen.
So if you can’t make it the full 36 hours (or even if you can), add in a workout to speed up the process.
Step 10: Your First Meal
This meal is probably the most important part to set yourself up for this next week of fat burning and keeping your blood sugar and insulin levels low, so you can continue to burn fat while your metabolism is boosted for the next few days.
Keep your first meal low carb/no carb and high in protein and fats. This will allow your body more time to reset your blood sugar and insulin. Plus keep you in body fat burning mode longer while getting the protein you need to maintain and even grow your muscle mass.
A great option here is fish, steak, or chicken with some vegetables and good fats.
And once you’re blood sugar and insulin are fully reset usually 24-36 hours after your cheat day, you’ll start to feel mentally clear again and no more drowsy or grogginess from the blood sugar spike that we know too well.
The Aftermath And How Often To Do A Cheat Day
Boom! You’ve completed your cheat day and in turn boosted your metabolism, busted through your weight loss plateau, and increased your fat burning.
Now what?! Do it all over again?!
Well yes and no.
Yes, you can do this all over again and should follow this 10-step guide every cheat day.
And no because you shouldn’t be doing cheat days too often or else your diet just becomes a cheat day after cheat day. Then you’re not really on a diet or weight loss program then, are you?
Here’s a general rule on how often you should be doing cheat/refeed days to give you maximum benefit.
Below 15% Bodyfat (lean or athletic) – Cheat days 1x a week
Between 15-25% Bodyfat (normal/average) – Cheat days 1 every 2-3 weeks
Between 25-35% Bodyfat (a bit overweight) – Cheat meals 1 every month
Above 35% (overweight to obese) – Probably shouldn’t have cheat meals if you do less than once a month
These aren’t strict guidelines but the maximum amount of cheat days or meals you should be partaking to maximize the benefits and get you to your weight loss goals quicker.
What’s Next For You?
If you read the first article, you know that fasted workouts can absolutely change your life and body for the better. And secondly, you can now have a few drinks with your friends, keep your social life, and still lose weight!
And the next piece of the puzzle just came crashing in on how you can use cheat days correctly to increase your fat burning while still enjoying foods you love.
I guess the only thing that’s left is how we’re going to bring it all together and show you how you can increase your results in the gym in less time so you can save hours!