What if I told you that cheating on your diet with cheat foods could actually ramp up your fat burning, accelerate your fat loss, and even help you plow through frustrating weight-loss plateaus? Would you think I’m crazy?
If you do, that’s okay; I won’t take it personally. After all, as one famous song goes, “We’re never gonna survive unless we are a little crazy…” But as crazy as the idea may sound, in my experience with thousands of successful clients, I’ve found cheat days are an extremely effective strategy for shedding weight.
In fact, I credit this very strategy for my own radical body transformation, which resulted in me winning one of the world’s largest body transformation contests. But I didn’t stumble upon cheat days by accident, and I don’t use them with all my coaching clients because they’re some off-the-wall idea or simply because they worked for me. Nope.
You see, cheat days and cheat foods are supported by science, so before I unveil the top cheat foods to boost fat burning, let me take a moment to explain.
In the past, when you’ve dieted to lose weight, have you ever noticed that it becomes increasingly more difficult over time? Invariably, at some point—sometimes within just a couple months—you get stuck. That’s what we call a weight-loss plateau; it’s frustrating. Basically, getting stuck sucks.
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Also, when dieting, have you noticed intense hunger and cravings? Food that’s normally pretty tasty is downright heavenly. And no matter how much you eat, you just can’t seem to satisfy your appetite.
The reason for all this comes back to a fat-burning hormone (produced by fat cells) called leptin, which is considered a “satiety,” “energy-sensing,” and “anti-starvation” hormone. Basically, leptin is keeping tabs on how much energy (calories) you’re consuming and how much you’re burning. And when there’s an imbalance (such as a reduced-calorie diet), leptin takes notice, leading to a whole bunch of changes to balance out the energy mismatch.
So, when you eat less and lose fat, leptin levels naturally decline. While this is a very meaningful and protective survival mechanism, it leads to a cascade of metabolic adjustments to help conserve energy expenditure and increase caloric intake. For example, metabolic rate drops, production of fat-burning hormones decreases, and hunger hormones skyrocket.
The result: Slowed, or completely stalled, fat loss and an appetite that’s out of control.
Enter the cheat day.
My Favorite Cheat Foods
One way to temporarily boost leptin levels is to overeat, especially overeating high-carb foods. In the short-term, overeating—maybe an additional 1,000 calories or so—can offset some of those metabolic adjustments I mentioned above. In other words, a cheat day helps crank metabolism and fat burning back up, and it can help suppress hunger hormones and appetite.
Cheat days have other advantages too. For example, folks typically have more energy and feel better in the following days, and as a result, they exercise harder and burn more calories. What’s more, I find people are much, much more strict on their diets the rest of the week, and overall, folks find it’s just a lot easier and more enjoyable to stick with it for the long haul.
And most importantly, you should do it because it works for me, and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be like me?
All kidding aside, when it comes to eating on cheat days, there really aren’t any restrictions on the types of foods that you can eat. Basically, it’s a day where you can take a break from diet rules, and you can feel free to enjoy the foods you crave without feeling guilty. Some of my favorite cheat foods include:
- Pizza (New York-style, naturally)
- Ice cream (chocolate chip cookie dough is usually my go-to)
- Grandma’s mac ‘n cheese (mmm…cheesy goodness)
- My mom’s famous chocolate chip cookies (can you tell I like chocolate?)
- French toast (stuffed, of course)
Of course, my cheat days aren’t made up exclusively of these “treat” foods, but a few sprinkled in here and there—making sure to bump up my carbs and calories overall—make for a very satisfying, leptin-boosting day. So, whether you crave cheeseburgers, French fries, pie, pasta dishes, pancakes, or desserts, feel free to treat yourself on your cheat day.
Do you incorporate a cheat day in your plan? How has that worked for you? What are your favorite cheat foods? Please feel free to share your questions, thoughts, and experiences below. We’d love to hear from you!