Figured it was time for me to give the IF thing a break and actually talk about food… bad food… really bad food. The cool thing is how you can eat really bad food and look sexy.
It’s possible but if only done right.
This is a technique that I have used and have had plenty of clients use over the course of their training.
When you have someone in a caloric restricted diet for a period of time you tend to see a drop in certain hormones that really benefit the body’s ability to burn fat. Have you noticed in the beginning of a diet you’ll drop fat pretty quickly but as you continue, it almost feels like the fat loss process slows down if not comes to a halt? Those are these hormones below, and some others, that are dropping very low.
-Leptin is what I call the gatekeeper hormone to fat loss and appetite regulation, this thing is that important. It was discovered in about the mid 90’s with the comparison of genetically modified obese mice and a placebo based mice. Scientists discovered that these obese mice were lacking the protein that helps with the release of leptin. When they were injected with thet missing protien, the mice slowly returned to a normal, healthy size.
Needless to say the weight loss industry went nuts over this.
Whats pretty interesting is, that leptin is produced in the adipocytes of white adipose tissue (body fat). The level of leptin you have in the body is in direct proportion to the amount of bodyfat you have. This is another reason why losing bodyfat is so easy in the beginning but those last 10lbs are just so damn hard to lose!
Without going too much into crazy detail, look at my last blog for an example. Just know that if leptin levels are high, then your body is going to use body fat as fuel. But if leptin is low, then the fat loss process slows.
-Thyroid hormone T3 and T4 both are important thyroid hormones that play roles in the regulation of metabolic rate. I’m going to stop there on this one because books have been written on these hormones alone; a blog won’t do it justice. Just know that if these hormones drop low, your metabolic rate comes to a crawl and to lose weight you’ll have to work out for 3 hours a day and eat baby food. Not even joking there.
To get these hormones back to an elevated state, an occasional bump in calories elevates these hormones back up to jump start a body’s ability to burn fat. Not to mention this just helps physiologically knowing that every so often you can take a break from the diet and eat what you want knowing that it will NOT screw up your fat loss progress but in fact, help. Now how cool is that?
One problem here
As you may have come to learn with some of my most recent blogs, I’m known to cite a bunch of references. With this one the studies are conflicting. Trying to bump these hormone levels up with a cheat day or massive caloric increase isn’t something that you’ll find in too many journal articles.
I can say this though, from personal and client experience, CHEAT DAYS WORK. They just do. Being the nerd that I am, I have seen too much anecdotal evidence that continues to reinforce the values in a correctly timed cheat day.
Heck I use this technique with getting clients VERY lean and I must say, when done right you can get pretty ripped pretty fast.
Some rules to follow
To make sure that you can get the most out of a cheat day, you really need to take a look at your body and ask a few things.
- You need to determine your level of caloric deficit. If you’re only in a small deficit, say a program that only has you on a deficit of 500 calories or less, then you don’t need to cheat that often. Maybe once or twice a month, sometimes for those people just a cheat meal will suffice. BUT if you are in a deficit of over 500 calories a day then a cheat day every 5-7 days would be a great way to boost those hormones back to a fat loss state.
- Take a look at your body fat levels. If you’re pretty lean, let’s say below 10% for men and %18 for women you can cheat about every 7 days. If you are over those levels then a cheat day every 14 days would be sufficient. For those that are a bit higher, 16% for men and 25% for women then I would recommend a cheat meal instead of cheat day about every two weeks. Remember the more body fat you have the higher your leptin levels will be, so the less often you need to cheat.
- Determine how quickly you gain fat, you’ll know if you’re one of those individuals who gain weight fairly quickly. If so, just do a cheat meal to start out with.
- Your progress. If you noticed that you have stalled in your fat loss efforts AND you can admit that you have stuck with the program, then adding in a cheat meal would be a great way to jump start those hormones back up. If you are losing the body fat that you want on your program then don’t cheat.
What is a cheat day?
I classify a cheat day as a free for all… anything goes. You want ice cream, eat it. Chinese food, KFC, doughnuts (insert Homer face here) then go for it. Your typical caloric intake will be about 2.5-3 times your normal day of dieting… that’s a lot of food so have fun!
I will say from personal experience though, if your diet has you eating pretty clean then you go off and consume some of this delicious but gnarly food. Be prepared for some major stomach issues. When you’ve been eating clean for so long and go back to your old ways of pigging out, your body isn’t ready for those chemicals that it’s just filtered out and your stomach will be mad at you.
If you take a person who eats unhealthy and have them eat well, they will be just fine. But switch the roles and the healthy individual will have problems.
I will say, if you determine that you need a cheat day, just eat until you feel full and satisfied. DO NOT stuff yourself to the point of being uncomfortable.
Another little trick I have picked up is that I ALWAYS follow a cheat day with a fast day for the hormonal benefits. Since you’ve just boosted your leptin and thyroid hormones with a caloric surge, your body will go back into a fat burning mode. Combine this with the GH (growth hormone) secretion you get from a fast day and you will get the best fat burn of both worlds.
No Cheat Weekends
I had to throw this in because over the course of my time I’ve heard other trainers preach cheat weekends. This makes no sense to me. If your goal is fat loss, there really isn’t a weekend off for that.
Your typical cheat day is about 2.5-3 times the normal caloric amount that you typically consume. So an example of this would be if you are eating 2000 calories a day and have a cheat day of 5000-6000 calories. That seems like a lot, but this is our average cheat day, now imagine two days in a row… you can see this would counter any fat loss that was made for that week.
The purpose of a cheat day is to boost hormone output for fat burn. A cheat weekend will boost hormonal output. BUT then you run into the issue of all the extra calories you consumed that will need to be burned to get yourself back in balance. It’s very similar to taking two steps forward and then two steps back, your right where you started.
How to Start
Its pretty simple to start this. All you need to do is just asses yourself on the steps listed above and determine if you need a cheat day or meal, if you do have fun! Just make sure that if you DO have that day is to plan it on a day your going to workout, might as well use those extra calories as energy to have an epic workout.
Just remember guys, its OK TO CHEAT periodically… on food that is 😉
In Health and Awesomeness,
Travis Merritt, BS, CPT, CES, RBT is the owner of Fitness Revolution in Rowlett, TX.
P.S. – If you enjoyed this post please share it with your friends using the social media buttons below.
P.P.S. – Please ask a question or share a comment with us in the Leave a Comment section at the very bottom of the page. We love your feedback and will use it to develop future blog posts.
PLEASE CLICK THE “LIKE” BUTTON, POST A COMMENT AND SHARE WITH YOUR FRIENDS…