You may have heard the saying that goes like this: “The fitness results you get depend 20% on what you do in the gym and 80% on your diet.”
What do you think when you hear this statement? It sure makes it sound as if eating a healthy diet is really important. It also might be a little demotivating since most people enjoy indulging with an occasional (or frequent) treat. Are these people doomed to fitness failure if they can’t resist temptation and keep a super-clean diet? Not so fast.
Yes, it is accurate that a healthy diet is crucial for losing weight and developing a lean body, there is actually good evidence that shows a perfectly clean or restrictive diet isn’t required. In fact, science shows that your body could even benefit from a regular cheat day.
Yes, eating a burger and French fries could help you get leaner! Here are the physiological reasons why you don’t need to feel guilty when you take a planned cheat day:
Burn More Calories
Your body’s main goal in life is to survive. It doesn’t know if you’re trying to lose weight, bulk up, or get a 6-pack. It has one focus: Don’t die.
Oftentimes people who want to lose weight take the simplistic approach of cutting back on their calorie intake. This can be a good starting place for those who tend to eat much more than their body needs, but it’s not an effective strategy for everyone or for the long-term.
If your body senses that it’s not getting enough calories, it will begin to monitor the situation: When is the next meal coming? Why are these signs of hunger appearing? Eventually it will take action to help remedy the situation – It will slow down your metabolism.
Metabolism-controlling hormones (called T3 and T4) are shut off. These hormones normally stimulate the thyroid to increase cellular activity (your metabolism), so when they stop being present in sufficient quantity your thyroid slows and your body begins burning fewer and fewer calories. This is the exact opposite of what was intended!
Planning to have one cheat day per week helps solve this problem. A burst of calories on your cheat day reassures your body that food isn’t limited. You are not starving!This is all it takes to keep those hormones moving to the thyroid gland and will give your metabolism a strong boost. More calories will be burned, and this means weight-loss increases.
Burn The Right Calories
When your body determines that calories are being restricted, it plays one more unfortunate trick. It begins storing fat and burning off muscle tissue. Yikes – this is not good!
Why would it do this?
Fat is basically a battery for your body. It’s full of energy but doesn’t do much on its own. If your body is worried about survival it’s going to store as many batteries as possible.
Muscle is the opposite – It’s like a toy remote-controlled car that can drive really fast but uses up tons of battery power. When your body goes into survival mode it aims to shut down energy-hogging muscles. This is achieved by burning muscle as fuel, instead of using up stored fat.
Put this together and you end up with major metabolism issues again. Calorie-burning muscle is gone, and fat, which doesn’t use up any calories, remains in its place. This is the worst-case scenario.
As before, a cheat day can help prevent this scenario by giving your body an influx of calories to use as fuel, therefore it won’t even consider shedding muscle and storing fat because there is no immediate threat on its survival.
So let’s go order an extra large pizza and a super-sized Coke?
Not exactly. It’s important that cheat days are planned and set for a specific period of time. Cheating whenever you feel like it will provide far too many calories and your body will have no choice but to start storing fat. There is nothing healthy about this type of eating.
Instead, your goal could be to eat a healthy diet for most of the week, say six days. Eat lots of vegetables, lean meats, some fruit and whole grains. This helps establish healthy eating habits and provides the nutrition your body needs. After clean eating like this, you can enjoy a day of indulgence without any guilt because you know that you earned it and that your metabolism will benefit from a few treats.