To cheat or not to cheat ... on your diet that is

All Woman

Dear Donovan,
Is it true that it's good to have a “cheat day” on which I can eat whatever I want, once a week? Why is this a good or bad idea?

I relish the idea of being able to have some chocolate or a soda after a week of uninspiring, healthy meals!

As obesity increases around the world the need to find effective diets and weight-loss strategies have become of increasing importance. However, finding the right personal regimen that will give the desired result is often difficult.

For most dieters, the weight-loss challenge is making a change and sticking to the new habits that will result in weight loss and reaching fitness goals, without feeling that you are missing out on the food you love.

Cheat meals or cheat days have been gradually making appearances in mainstream diets. Basically, cheating within a diet plan involves giving yourself a temporary break from the strict dietary rules and incorporating foods that would normally not be allowed. The idea of cheating is that by having brief periods of the foods you love, you are more likely to stick to the diet plan, for the most part.

Using this cheat strategy, a cheat meal or a cheat day is usually a simple meal item, for example chocolate, soda or ice cream, which is not normally allowed in your regular diet.

It should be noted that the foods eaten at cheat meals or on cheat days will vary from person to person. Also, the number of cheat meals or days per week may also vary depending on personal preferences and goals.

Overall, the cheat strategy works best with diets that are more flexible. However, there are some diet plans, for example ketogenic diet, which do not allow room for cheating.

It should be noted that not everyone will respond positively to the same strategy or weight-loss diet. In a nutshell, the best diet for you is the one that fits into your general lifestyle and that you can stick to. Whatever strategy is employed for weight loss, the overall calories must be reduced. So a cheat strategy will only work if the overall calories are reduced.

It should be noted that proponents of the cheat meal strategy for weight loss claim it will lead to change in body composition and metabolic function due to changes in the hunger hormone leptin.

A general school of thought is that with lower levels of leptin, you are more likely to overeat. Leptin is the hormone responsible for the feeling of hunger.

Additionally, there is a common theory that intermittent periods of high-calorie meals will trick the body into producing more leptin, temporarily, and prevent overeating. However, there is little robust scientific evidence to support this theory.

Another part of the cheating strategy is to use foods that are not normally allowed in your diet as a motivation to stay on the strict diet. Therefore, this strategy may have a physiological impact on your weight loss. Also, one might be better able to restrict food temptation if you know you have a cheat day coming up.

That said, cheat days or cheat meals must be planned in order to be effective. It should be noted that maintaining a healthy weight is not just incorporating fewer calories, but also developing a healthy lifestyle that will allow you to resist food temptation and allow for better food choices. Additionally, the word “cheat” may also give a feeling of doing something wrong and suggest foods that you should not be eating, period.

Maybe the cheat day should be termed as “treat” day or treat meals. In fact, studies have shown that individuals who see these forbidden meals as treats, were more likely to be successful with their diet.

It should be noted that a cheat meal strategy is based on a reward strategy that often does not work with people who lack discipline. Even a cheat day should be approached with a plan, it should not be just eating what you want when you want. In some cases, a cheat day may encourage unhealthy behaviour, especially in individuals with food addictions, eating disorders or who may be emotional eaters.

Again, if you are going to incorporate a cheat meal you will have to make sure that your overall calorie intake is less than what you are accustomed to. In other words, you should work for your cheat/treat meals.

That aside, I must tell you that I am not a big believer in cheat meals while on a weight-loss programme. I think that it is better to finish your weight-loss programme first and then give yourself the treat.

Good luck!

We will answer your weight-related questions

Are you struggling to lose weight or just need some advice on living a healthier life? Tell us about your health issues and we'll have nutritionist and wellness coach Donovan Grant answer them for you. Grant has over 12 years' experience in the fitness industry and is the owner of DG's Nutrition and Wellness Centre, 39 Lady Musgrave Road. Call him at 876-286-1363. E-mail questions to clarkep@jamaicaobserver.com.

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