Why it’s not cheating to have the occasional “cheat day”

Why it's not cheating to have the occasional "cheat day" - Strong Fit Well

We all know that to get great results requires a certain amount of commitment. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give yourself a break every now and then.

In fact, research has shown that you’re more likely to achieve the results you desire if you let yourself have the occasional lapse.

Why it's not cheating to have the occasional "cheat day" - Strong Fit Well
A world without pizza would be a sadder place

That could be a day when you slob on the couch instead of going to the gym, or a day when you succumb to those pizza cravings.

This kind of “low-cost cheating” is actually a form of flexibility that can help you stay motivated, according to a US study.

It found that factoring in “emergency reserves” when we set ourselves goals, creates a “release valve” to stop us putting too much pressure on ourselves.

Why it's not cheating to have the occasional "cheat day" - Strong Fit Well
It’s all about finding the right balance

By being too strict, we actually make our goals less attainable.

The study involved 273 participants who tracked and recorded their steps using a pedometer app over a five week period.

Those that had factored “emergency reserves” into their goals took up to 20% more steps and reached their individual step goal on up to 40% more days.

Why it's not cheating to have the occasional "cheat day" - Strong Fit Well
Participants used a pedometer to measure their progress

“Structuring short-term goals with emergency reserves leads to both better performance and better persistence after failure, offering immediate benefits to people trying to reach important long-term goals such as saving money and losing weight,” the study’s author and assistant professor of marketing at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania Marissa Sharif said.

Those that had the emergency reserves tended to save them up for when they really needed them, and were reluctant to use them if not absolutely necessary.

But if they did have any lapses, thinking of them as a permitted “cheat” also meant they felt less guilty about it, and so didn’t abandon the end goal as a result.

Why it's not cheating to have the occasional "cheat day" - Strong Fit Well
Keep that end goal in sight

However, it’s important not to overdo it. Too many “cheat days” will still negatively impact your results. You’ll limit your progress, lose focus and ultimately feel demotivated.

This study is not alone in advocating the benefits of “cheating”. For example, fitness expert Joel Marion, author of The Cheat to Lose Diet says that cheat days help balance leptin levels. This will prevent your body from entering starvation mode if you are on a low calorie diet. That means your body won’t hold onto its calorie stores, instead releasing them.

So how much is ok?

When it comes to exercising, it’s a good idea to give your body a break once a week anyway. That can mean not exercising at all, or opting for some active recovery like yoga or Pilates. If you’re new to exercise, you should take a break more often as your body gets used to your new routine.

Why it's not cheating to have the occasional "cheat day" - Strong Fit Well
Yoga is a great active recovery for your body

And on the food front, if you’re sticking to a healthy diet 90% of the time, it’s ok to eat whatever you want for the remaining 10%, according to nutritionist Dr John Berardi.

“100% nutritional discipline is never really needed to change your body,” he writes on his blog.

“The difference between sticking to the rules 90% of the time and sticking to them 100% of the time is minor really. And that extra 10% means you can eat the food you like.”

So if you eat around four meals or snacks each day, that works out as about three meals per week.

Why it's not cheating to have the occasional "cheat day" - Strong Fit Well
This woman REALLY LOVES eating healthy

Even better of course is if you learn to love eating healthy. What’s more satisfying than a freshly cooked and nutritious meal made with ingredients that you know are doing you good?

And once you stop eating crappy foods on a regular basis, you’ll find your taste buds will adapt and you’ll find it tough to go back to them. Your idea of a “cheat meal” will drastically change – for the better.

As ever, it’s a case of different strokes for different folks. Find the approach that works for you. But try and keep it all in perspective – life is for living after all. Let’s just try and live it well.

Do you believe in cheat days?

About Anne Majumdar

Journo turned fitness professional, passionate about helping people to live a healthier and happier life! A long way from London, I now call Sydney home.

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