Can ‘Cheat Days’ Help You Lose Weight?

The Short Answer from a registered dietitian
Can 'Cheat Days' Help You Lose Weight?

Q: Are ‘cheat days’ OK after a week of dieting?

A: Rewarding yourself with a “cheat day” after sticking to your weight loss plan all week will backfire on you.

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That’s because cheat day calories can add up fast, bringing your weight loss progress to a screeching halt – or even reversing it.

And what’s the point of all your work if you wind up regaining the pounds you lose?

Also, having a cheat day implies that a healthy diet is all-or-nothing — that you’re either “off the plan” or “on the plan.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

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A healthy diet is a balanced one. My mantra is 80/20 or 90/10.

If you want to stay healthy, healthful foods should make up 80 percent of your total calories. If you want to better your health, they should make up 90 percent of your total calories.

The remaining 20 percent or 10 percent represents wiggle room. (But portion size is key, especially when choosing foods that won’t enhance your health.)

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I recommend spreading the extra calories throughout the week. Otherwise, you’ll start associating cheat days with “treating yourself” or “being bad.”

Using food as a “tool” at either extreme won’t sustain long-term weight loss.

—Registered dietitian Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDE

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