When you’ve eaten too much, it can feel disheartening. What do you do after a cheat day?
Today we’re going to discuss why you shouldn’t be worried, what to do after a cheat day, and how to make the most of those extra calories and carbs!
Table of Contents
What are cheat days? What’s the problem?
Cheat days are unplanned days when you eat more than intended, or you’re not in the right ratio of your macros. This is a problem if you’re trying to lose weight and you want to be strict to give yourself the best possible rate of fat loss.
For most people, this isn’t even a huge problem. A cheat day may compromise the speed of your fat loss, but it doesn’t present a major problem to your results, and is only likely to make you stall for the short-term.
Most weight gain from cheat days is transient weight – like water weight, for example, which will “wash out” quickly over the next few days.
Cheat days are a problem when they’re too regular or they start changing your weekly fat loss. They are a simple way to reverse your progress, and a sufficiently over-the-top cheat day can seriously damage your trajectory and momentum.
Step 1: just ignore it
The most effective way to deal with a cheat day is just pretend it never happened. After a good day or bad day on your diet, the next step is the same: a good day.
You don’t need to punish yourself for a cheat day – you just need to make sure it doesn’t’ keep happening. The real risk is that you take it too hard and sabotage your diet with an attitude that says “It’s already ruined, I can just eat whatever I want all the time”.
Step 2: get back to healthy eating
The faster you get back to normal and regain your momentum, the better.
Getting back on the diet is the best move if it was already working before the cheat day. You don’t need to overcompensate for the change, you just need to get back to normal. The goal is to get back on the wagon, and return to your calorie deficit diet with the right balance of macronutrients.
Returning to what you were already doing – that was working and helping you get closer to your goals – is the priority. You can take a small reduction in calories the next day – or specifically eat “cleaner” (lower salt and more protein / vegetables) if you really want to shift the transient weight from a cheat day that’s high in salts, carbs, and low-quality fats.
Step 3: have a great workout
The real benefit of a cheat day is coming into the next few days of workouts with more energy and nutrients available. This is a huge benefit if you’ve been eating at a calorie deficit for a long time.
After a cheat day, you’re likely to be fueled up with extra salts and carbs, which should be put to use with a good, high-intensity workout.
The better your workout goes, the more you’re going to put those nutrients to work as muscle-fuel. Not only that, but a good workout at high intensity and plenty of volume will help you shift any short-term weight gain from water weight or sodium loading.
Turn “cheat days” into refeed days and you’ll find that they don’t have to be your enemy or feel like a defeat. While it’s an unplanned over-eat, it doesn’t have to be a setback if you’re smart about it!
Step 4: just don’t do it again
Cheat days and overeating can be used deliberately to improve your workouts and be fuelled up when you need it most. This is a great habit to be in, and the only real problem with cheat days 9is when they out-weigh your weekly calorie deficit and they keep happening or happen too often.
The most important thing to do is to avoid repeating a cheat day, build a better overall weekly calorie balance, and to put yourself to work in the gym.
Weekly cheat days that are designed to hit a certain refeed calorie content (e.g. 500 calorie surplus after a week of 500 calorie deficits) can be a smart way to control cravings and boost weight-loss quality.
The important thing is to not take a cheat day to heart. It’s not going to ruin your diet to eat more once every so often. You can use them to your advantage, just don’t let them derail your diet, become too regular, or become a binging habit that ruins a whole week’s worth of good dieting!
Step 5: Lose weight with a healthy lifestyle
Once you’re back on track and not so emotionally ‘clsoe’ to the cheat day, ask yourself why it happened. Was it a rare occasion, or did it happen because your approach to dieting is too restrictive and misses out many of the most important food groups?
Discipline in diet is a great thing to develop, but it also needs to be patient and realistic. Many “cold turkey” diets that focus on clean eating with no prior experience of that kind of diet can produce regular cheat days because they’re miserable and ask too much change in too short a time frame.
The goal should be to progressively tidy up your diet and choices. Trying to rush your dietary change will reliably cause cheat days as you feel underfed, cravings go unchecked, and you don’t vent the urges to eat more “luxury” foods.
Make sure you can see yourself dieting like this for the long-term and not just as a short-term solution. Fat loss is a slow process and sticking with it is more important than getting everything perfect and 100% clean to start with.
Cheat meals vs cheat days
Cheat meals are a smarter approach to cheat days. They minimize the effects of ‘cheating’ and allow you to flexibility work a luxury meal into a more restrictive diet. This helps reduce the risk of a huge binge day or over-eat.
Higher-calorie meals can vent cravings in a safe way that won’t ruin your diet – and can be balanced up against the rest of the day’s eating. Consider using a semi-regular cheat meal with an “if it fits your macros” – or IIFYM – approach.
You don’t have to eat clean all the time, and giving yourself a little leeway can be a huge benefit in the long run. It’s also a delicious way to enjoy dieting and build better long-term associations!
After a cheat day, the important thing is to get back on track and focus on the habits you should have been using. It doesn’t have to be an emotional event, and should focus on:
- Managing the emotional impact
- Using those nutrients for great workouts
- Managing the regularity and impact of cheat days and meals in future
If you can make progress on any – or all – of these factors, you’re going to do just fine. This isn’t a huge setback and shouldn’t change any of your long-term goals as long as your cheat days aren’t too common!
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