The Benefits Of Cheat Days When Dieting

This weekend I met up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and over the course of Saturday I had a few beers, ate an inordinate amount of crap food and generally was a million miles away from what you would consider to be a healthy diet – and I feel pretty good about it.

I’ve been pretty consistent with my food intake over the last few months. Every week I’ve hit my calorie/macronutrient targets, and once a week I’ve taken one evening and more or less eaten whatever looked good. By tracking everything and making adjustments over the course of a few days, there’s no reason not to have the occasional night off. The key is to think in the long term, rather than assuming you’ve blown all your hard work in a single day.

There’s a lot to be said for the psychological value of knowing there’s a day/night a week where you can eat what you like. It becomes much easier to say no to that chocolate bar on a Tuesday when you know you can have it on Friday if you want. Thinking you’ll just need to wait for a couple of days is much easier than thinking you’ll never eat sugar again, and the chances are that when cheat day arrives your mind will be elsewhere, and you won’t even remember how much you wanted it.

There’s nothing ‘bad’ about the occasional splurge on food – as long as it doesn’t gradually become a daily habit. Very few people need to eat clean every day. Fitness models, pro athletes and competitive bodybuilders are the few exceptions to the rule, but even they take a day off from time to time just to stay sane. If you don’t have a Men’s Health cover shoot in your immediate future, chances are that a slice of pizza isn’t going to do you too much harm.

Some people prefer to stick to a cheat meal, while others will go for a full cheat day. This is really a personal preference, and will depend on how you’re working towards meeting your calorie/macro goals. Personally, I’ve found a schedule of three cheat meals to one cheat day works pretty well for me. Knowing there’s a cheat meal at the end of the week helps make it easier to stick to the rest of the plan, and having a full day blowout once a month works well for me. Usually after the full day, I’m completely sick of eating and don’t want to look at bad food for a long time, and I usually feel so guilty about the excess I’m pretty strict with myself for the next few weeks.

The cheat meal/cheat day system might not work for everyone. Some people lack the self-discipline to get back on track once they’ve had a binge, and others just function well on a strict schedule. If you find yourself struggling to resist those sugary, fatty treats throughout the week the cheat system might work well for you.


  • Updated May 25, 2020
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