Whoa, there. Back up, big guy.
You’re going to need to meet a very specific criteria before you can venture any further into this science-heavy, study-driven, reality-check of an article. Here it is...
Can you see you your shoe laces?
Then sit your big butt back on that stationary bike, Fat Jesus.
Bad news, readers. Not everyone can handle a cheat day (or spot a reference from ‘The Hangover’).
Sure, I’ve seen former doughboys before in infomercials, cheerleading the fact that they lost 50 pounds in the last year, standing side-on and holding sweatpants stretched out with that goofball look of Hey man, my pants don’t fit anymore!
But this kind of weight loss doesn't automatically qualify you for an epic day of pizza, pies, and glazed doughnuts. If you’ve been consuming nothing but low fat cottage cheese spread over small slices of cucumber on a daily basis, sucking down mug after mug of coffee (not for the caffeine but for the two delicious calories from the splash of full fat milk that you guiltily don’t add to Fitday), you haven't necessarily earned a cheat day. We need to see some cuts before you can roll with the skinny boys!
Is this a little over the top? Sure, but there’s good reason for formerly big/obese dieters to not risk having a cheat day when compared to the Average Joe. Even if said person has reached their goal weight and is in ‘the best shape of their life’, they might want to think long and hard about using a WHOLE DAY to indulge.
- Formerly big people can eat. It’s how they got that way in the first place. When you say "go" to a skinny guy, he’ll generally go to town on a Happy Meal, some skittles, and 2 slices of toast with marmite over the course of 12 hours., coming in well under 2000 cals and still believing he’s hit 10,000. You say "go" to a former 300-pound behemoth and I guarantee they’ll be picking food out of their teeth with a bone from a blue whale's ribcage by nightfall.
- For smaller, leaner folk who have no hang ups about food, a cheat day is a fun break from dieting but instils a large enough sense of guilt that they will get right back on track the next day. For larger folks however, food plays a huge psychological role in their sense of wellbeing. If you as a coach or ‘Cheat Day Enabler’ allow them to sit down and crack open a can of Pringles, the smell instantly induces an almost drug-like reaction, firing a string of dormant synapses in the brains pleasure centre and, well folks, once you pop...you know the rest.
So what’s the solution? It really comes down to the mental strength of the individual. For most it may be best to test the waters with one solitary cheat meal per week — provided they have a good deal of consistent dieting time under their belt and are close to hitting their weight goals. If they can go the next six days sticking to a calorie controlled, balanced diet, then the once-per-week cheat meal may prove to be a god send and even keep them from breaking their diet for a while longer (let’s face it, many will spend the majority of their adult lives off and on of various diets. This is unfortunately the all too common cycle: jumping on the wagon and then falling off again, time after time. Bodybuilders and powerlifters are equally guilty. We just call it bulking and cutting).
In some cases, there are those who can handle two cheat meals per week and again this is a tightrope, as the temptation to eat badly can be even more tempting than ever. Have you ever had a client who hasn’t lost a pound in the last week but, looking entirely befuddled, claims, "that’s weird, all I’ve eaten today is a chicken breast and two pieces of asparagus" only to find out later that, "Shelly brought in some left over cake from her little boys birthday today so we all had a slice during the morning meeting" and then "Somebody left the biscuit tin open when I was on my coffee break earlier, but I only had two jammy dodgers"?
Boom, there’s an extra (roughly) 600 calories you conveniently forgot to add to your total. Imagine if these little ‘cheats’ happened on a daily basis (which they often do)? 600x7 = 4200 calories. Let’s assume your cheat meals were 2000 calories each. 2000x2 = 4000. 4000+4200 of snacks = congratulations, 8200 extra calories for one week. I’d rather subscribe a once-per-week cheat meal to that person and limit the damage to roughly 500-2000 calories for the week.
Be aware of your own pitfalls. Remember that you can lie to your trainer and kid yourself all you want, but you are the one who has to look in the mirror every single day. If you want to be lean and healthy or conversely if you want to be big and muscular, you have to be accountable for what you put in your mouth. It works just the same for the individual who won’t eat as much as he needs to daily in order to grow and then accuses everyone who does put in the effort of being on steroids.
So who does qualify for an all-day cheesecake, cheeseburger, and cheese feast pizza extravaganza? That’s right, the one person who doesn’t deserve it, because they ‘don’t like to eat.'
Yes, the naturally skinny little shit who cannot for the life of him add any decent muscle mass to his bony-ass frame. A day of splurging can bring many sorely needed calories to help construct a thicker, sturdier structure. His insulin sensitivity will be so high that the fat gains will be minimal and all those precious Reese's Cups and Sushi Rolls will fulfill their divine purpose in fueling some crazy-ass muscle gains, should he at any point take control of his eating disorder.
So can any of us more regular folk take advantage of a full cheat day? Sure. But let us add some extra criteria for fun sake.
- You will ideally be 15% bodyfat or lower (20% for women)
- Your diet will be on point on the other six days. You can’t have a whole cheat day if you’re sneaking extra treats throughout the week.
- Your diet will be calorie controlled. If it isn’t some people will develop a taste for eating larger amounts of food on their cheat days and this can spill over (subconsciously) in to the rest of the week if you are not tracking how much you’re eating.
- The day after your cheat day, you will reduce your calories by 10%, specifically from carbs and first thing in the morning.
- Your biggest workout of the week (leg day) will occur the day after your cheat day. Use the added water and glycogen to hit some big numbers in the gym.
And lastly, if you’re going to do this, don’t come to me the following day and tell me proudly that the only bad thing you had on your cheat day was a fat free chocolate mousse! If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Allow me to demonstrate how I would approach such a situation (again, for the sake of fun).
DISCLAIMER: I am not recommending that anyone eat this way, ever. Despite being awesome it CLEARLY is not healthy, so be it on your own head.
Now let’s get stuck in with my ideal cheat day.
6 AM — Blueberry pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, followed by coffee with a bakery fresh bag of chocolate chip shortbreads.
8 AM — Half of a box of Lion Bar Cereal with full fat mlik followed by a Kinder Bueno, Mint Aero and 2 Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
10 AM to 1 PM — A couple of Boston Crème doughnuts to build momentum for a large Sunday Roast with 2/3 of a cookie cheesecake for dessert.
3 PM — A shop-bought sandwich of some description, a packet of Wotsits and an ice cream, all washed down with a glass of milk.
6 PM — Finish off pancake mix and any remaining chocolates.
8 PM — Cinnamon and raisin bagel with butter.
When I was dieting, I would regularly gain 10 pounds in the space of 12 hours. The interesting thing is that if I started that morning at 208 pounds, by the end of the day I would weigh 218 pounds, but come the next Wednesday morning, I would clock in at 207 pounds. So you can argue all you like that this method wouldn’t work because your weekly total would be way too high and blah blah blah, but I have done this for many, many years — not only personally but with too many clients to count. And guess what? It worked. It DOES work.
Look long and hard in the mirror and decide whether you deserve— and can truly handle—a cheat day. If the answer is yes, YOU’RE DELUSIONAL. Get back on the treadmill, fatty.
Pete Stables is a Strength & Conditioning coach from the UK and a competitive Powerlifter, taking the BPU British Record in 2014 for the 100kg Raw with Wraps Class. He is also a Nutrition Consultant and author of the best selling Ebook 'The Skinny Guys Guide to Building More Muscle'. He can be contacted through his website southpawpower.com