cheat day,(cheet/day) n.
A day on which you are allowed to break your diet, as complete abstinence is impossible for most people.
It also provides a reward for the sticking to your nutrition plan over the rest of the week. The "cheat" can be small (e.g. a chocolate muffin with lunch), large (e.g. a fast food meal), or systemic (e.g. Full Fat Friday).
Carol: Oh my god, Jenny! I can't believe you're eating cheese!
Jenny: It's ok, Carol. Today is my cheat day.
It intuitively makes sense:
- “If you are a good boy today, you can play X-Box later”
- “If you get an ‘A’ on your math test, you get ice cream”
- “If you get a high client satisfaction rating, you get a bonus”
- “If you eat well Monday - Friday, you can have as much pizza as you want on Saturday”
Getting rewarded for good work with a treat, money, or something we enjoy as an inherent part of human nature. It’s the way we reward our children, employees, and ourselves.
But it sets a dangerous precedent. If you reward someone for good work, they will work for a reward. Not the same reward, it’s a steep slope in which the reward has to grow to keep someone incentivized to work as hard.
- 30 minutes of X-Box becomes 45 minutes
- Ice cream becomes ice cream & a toy
- A $500 bonus becomes a $1,000 bonus
- 2 slices of pizza becomes 3 slices becomes a full day of destruction
That’s also part of human nature.
The Original Intention
For the greater part of the past 20 years, the nutrition industry has been dominated by bodybuilders. Bodybuilders, although extremely intelligent and knowledge about how to achieve incredible results, have a very specific goals: to get on stage and be the biggest and most shredded.
So their methods match their goals.
If I told you Kobe Bryant used to make 400 jump shots per practice (yea, that's right 400!) would you be surprised? His job was to score points for 82 games every year.
His methods matched his goals.
If you wanted to step up your pick up game, would you go shoot 400 jumpshots? You couldn’t.
Bodybuilders use cheat days for very specific reasons that include:
- Leptin production
- Psychological break from extreme dieting, but still calculated
- Replenish glycogen storage
What it has come to mean
The reasons why someone “eating clean” Monday -Friday uses a cheat day:
- Reward for eating healthy Monday-Friday
- An excuse to eat what you want
- An excuse to go overboard
- Avoid learning control
It's a Double Edged Sword
Eating clean, aka eating whole foods like vegetables, fruits and whole grains, plus healthy proteins and fats, is absolutely wonderful on paper and highly effective for weight loss.
BUT, it's not sustainable. Believe me I’ve tried it 1,000 times.
On Sunday, I would prep my Tupperware and take it with me to work everyday. I could do this for about 4 weeks at most before I would fall off.
I did it because I thought it was the “best” way to lose weight. But I HATED it. I despised:
- The meal prep
- The lack of options
- Feeling great during the week and like crap on Saturday and Sunday
- Not being able to control myself when eating foods I liked
- The extreme cravings
- The guilt if I cheated during the week
This was unmanageable and, for me, unsustainable.
Time for a Change
When I gained 50 pounds and I decided to take it off, I wanted to find something sustainable. I didn’t want to lose weight, only put it back on in 6 months. More importantly, I need to face the real issues that were causing my battle with my weight:
- My relationship with food
- My control issues
- My inability to put the fork down when I was full
- My tendency starve myself when I felt guilty
I was over the “yo-yo” style of dieting, which I never succeeded on for long periods of time. So I developed my own system with my own rules.
Rule #1 - If you won’t eat it on Monday, don’t eat it on Saturday
If my body doesn’t react well to a certain food, I don’t eat it. Period.
If I like a particular food, I will eat it and enjoy the hell out of it. BUT ALSO CONTROL IT. It doesn’t matter if it is Tuesday or Sunday. If I want to eat something, I will eat it. Restricting certain foods at certain times was causing me to have a bad relationship with food traditionally known as “junk food”.
In previous diets, I was eating certain foods out of spite, rather than out of enjoyment. If it was a cheat day, I would grab food I didn’t even like, but because it was prohibited on Monday - Friday, I felt like NEEDED to eat it.
Even worse was the psychological connection I was making in my brain:
- “If I worked out ‘X’ days, I would get to eat ‘Y’ food.”
- “If I eat clean ‘X’ days, I would get to eat as many doughnuts as I wanted.”
- “If I eat clean ‘X’ day on a Tuesday, I would ruin my diet.”
How is this any bit sustainable or healthy?
Now, I subscribe to different methodology. There is no such thing as junk food. There is no such thing as healthy food. Instead, there are foods that are nutrient dense and foods that are calorically dense. There are foods rich in carbohydrates, there are foods rich in protein.
No matter what, to lead a truly healthy lifestyle, food can not be viewed as “good” or “bad”, but instead viewed by its composition and if it fits in your individual eating plan. Food is just food.
Rule #2 - Have something you enjoy everyday
Whether it’s chips, ice cream, or pizza, today I have something I enjoy. I simply account for it. The Clean Week/Cheat Weekend syndrome is psychologically grueling, unsustainable, and not conducive to a social life.
- What if you go out to dinner on a Tuesday night? Can you only have a salad?
- What if you have a work function with drinks? Is your world over?
- What if you want to take your kid out for ice cream? You’re gonna just watch them eat it?
Again, this is not a sustainable method of eating. At some point, deprivation of a certain food or certain group of foods will push you to go overboard the first time you have it.
This is not my opinion, this is the way our subconscious brain works. Our subconscious brain exists in a state of balance. And whether we like it or not, our subconscious is much, much stronger than our conscious brain. Therefore, overtime, our subconscious will act upon our conscious brain in order to achieve balance.
That might be confusing, but bare with me for a second. Here’s what this looks like in action:
- Someone who loses a lot of weight really quick, tends to regain it just as fast
- Someone who stops smoking cigarettes cold turkey, starts smoking again shortly thereafter, but now they smoke even more
- Someone who stops drinking for a month and the first night out they get blackout drunk
This is our subconscious finding balance. Therefore, any diet that deprives any food, is a setup for eventual failure.
Rule #3 - Stop dieting and instead learn to eat
This might be a bit repetitive, but I only learn when I hear the same things over and over again to help me stay focused.
Listen up: You can’t lose weight, improve your performance, or be healthy unless you EAT.
Manipulating your diet to eat “only XYZ” is a recipe for failure. You will have to deal with foods of all kinds and varieties. Every diet places you in a box where your choices are limited. Unfortunately, life does not work like that. Putting your job, children, and social calendar on a temporary pause when you are dieting is just not an option for most of us.
So instead, of going through the cycle of dieting (pictured above), you need to learn how to eat properly for your own, individual body. Not the way your brother or sister eats, not the way some guy at the gym eats, not the way a book tells you, but what is right for your body.
A diet is nothing more than temporary solution and should be treated as such. I use diets when I am training for a competition, but for no longer than 2-3 weeks at a time.
Otherwise, I don’t restrict foods.
Rule #4 - Learn Moderation
The extreme versions of diets I had done in the past had to stop. It was either 0 cookies or 100 cookies. No pizza or all the pizza. There had to be a middle ground.
Deep down, I knew you could lose weight and feel great, while enjoying the stuff I liked. The problem was that I was always in a rush. Maybe it was youthful ignorance, or maybe I did not want to spend 6 months losing weight. Either way, my shortcuts served me very poorly. I had to learn control both mentally and with my fork.
If you are looking to lose weight, slow down. Time will continue to pass and being in a rush and using shortcuts will not help. It is a recipe for failure. You know it. I know it. We all know it.
Take your time. Build habits. Find the middle ground.
Rule #5 - It’s not all about the scale
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about called “It’s time to say it: F*ck the scale.” When I wrote it, it was just what I was feeling at that very moment. I never expected so many people to reach out and explain how much it hit home for them. What shocked me was how many men reached out.
This article clearly resonated with many of our readers because as a society we place so much emphasis on the scale. But truthfully, who gives a shit? Unless you are competing in a certain weight class, the number on the scale should be only a single metric. It shouldn’t be emphasized anymore or any less than your cholesterol, blood pressure, or HDL/LDL.
The scale does not tell the entire story. How you look, feel, and fit in your clothes are far more important than the scale. Is it important? Yes. Is it more important than anything else? No.
This is one of my clients, Laila. Which version of Laila do you think is healthier? Left or Right?
Of course the right! She has clear definition and muscular development. From left to right, she gained 10 pounds. GAINED! Once again, the scale is a single metric, not the only metric.
The key to long term weight loss or living a healthy life is not found in only a specific group of foods, but rather it's about learning control, discipline, and having a sustainable relationship with food. My five rules that got me there were:
- If you won’t eat it on Monday, don’t eat it on Saturday
- Have something you enjoy everyday
- Stop dieting and instead learn to eat
- Learn moderation
- It’s not all about the scale
Some of you may read this list and think “I already know all that.” But how often do you apply it? Are you looking for a magic pill or some pseudo science that is going to help you lose 50 pounds?
Let’s not beat around the bush, food is emotional. The longer you focus on what you are eating versus how you are eating, the longer food will control you. I built Nutribuild like no other system: To address the problem at its source: in between your ears.
If you believe that restricting certain foods will solve your weight problems, you are only fooling yourself. You need to address the real issue at some point. With the exception of sex and money, food is the most intimate relationship we have. How we eat is a reflection of our past, our present, and our future. That’s the power of nutrition.
If I can change the way you interact with food, I can change your life.
To learn more about my anti-diet approach to weight loss, start with my workshop below.