Diet plays an important role when you want to tone up, build muscles, knock off a few kilos or improve your overall fitness,. And most diets would need you to cut down on carbs and sugar. But about the fat, juicy burger or the sugar coated doughnut that you can’t stop thinking about? Yeah, we hear you, sticking to a diet isn’t easy. It requires serious dedication, willpower and an unwavering commitment to making healthy eating choices. That said, “it’s completely natural to give in to your cravings and indulge in your favourite junk food once in a while,” says Paraj Primlani, Founder of ParaFit, an online collaborative health and nutrition company offering a one-stop-shop for all fitness-based needs. This brings us to the concept of “cheat days”, which is based on the idea that weight watchers and fitness enthusiasts can take a break from their strict diets for one day a week as long as they don’t deviate from their diet plan. Popular fitness influencers and celebrities like Shilpa Shetty and Disha Patani are well known for promoting cheat days through their Instagram posts.
Paraj strongly argues in favour of a cheat day once a week. He says these days can actually help you stay on track with your fitness goals. Research shows that a planned break from your restrictive diet not only boosts your metabolism but also aids in weight loss. Paraj shares five reasons why cheat days are so important for your diet.
While there’s no conclusive evidence on this, cheat days are linked with increased leptin production in the body. Weight management experts believe that higher levels of leptin can boost metabolism, resulting in faster burning of calories and weight loss. When you get on a calorie deficit diet, your body changes your metabolism to your new lower intake, but proponents of cheat days believe eating calorie-dense meals on a scheduled day can prevent this.
Energises your body
If you’ve been on a strict diet regimen for a long period, it is likely that the glycogen stores in your muscles are depleting. This can lead to fatigue and soreness in muscles, impacting your workout performance. Having a cheat day where you can binge on carbs will replenish your glycogen stores and energise you.
Regulates your hormones
Switching to a restrictive, low-calorie diet can disrupt your body’s hormonal balance initially, resulting in hair loss, menstrual irregularities, dizziness and fatigue. Studies show that indulging in high-calorie food once a week can help regulate the hormones responsible for metabolism and insulin production. This not only allows your body to easily adapt to the new diet but also reduces the side effects associated with that specific diet.
Breaks the monotony
Adhering to stringent low-carb diets like Keto or Paleo is monotonous and can take a toll on your mental health. Cheat days provide you psychological relief from this monotony by giving you the freedom to eat to your heart’s content without having to feel guilty about the extra calories. As you get a much-needed break from your otherwise restrictive eating options, you are less likely to experience overwhelming cravings on other days.
Most of us fail to stick to a diet beyond a certain time frame. More often than not, we end up lapsing into an unhealthy binge eating state just days after starting a new diet. This happens due to extreme food restrictions we impose on ourselves. Taking cheat days at regular intervals – preferably once a week – can help us avoid the feeling of deprivation and make us enjoy the journey towards a healthier life. When you allow yourself to occasional treats, it becomes easier to stay consistent with a healthy diet.
"As long as you are not overindulging, having a cheat day should not have an adverse effect on your health," says Paraj. Maintaining a balance is the key and we all need to have that break from our regular diet and indulge in a scoop of ice cream, a bar of milk chocolate or a big, juicy burger to satiate our cravings in a healthy, planned way.