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Here’s how a ‘cheat day’ during dieting can boost weight loss

Experts have revealed taking a break from your diet actually boosts motivation, as does losing weight in small amounts

Eve Dugdale

Published: Updated:

If your attitude towards dieting involves clearing your cupboards of all manner of treat food, think again.

Experts have revealed taking a break from your diet actually boosts motivation, as does losing weight in small amounts.

Writing for theconversation.com, Sydney University research fellow Nick Fuller said ‘break days’ from calorie counting could be the best way to shed the kilos – and keep them off.

The ‘Caloric Titration Method’ involves losing weight slowly by challenging the body to redefine its baseline weight by having frequent breaks along the way.

Boosting metabolism

It’s something Clinical Dietician Mitun De Sarkar from Dubai’s North West Clinic completely understands. She always encourages her clients to take a cheat day and says having a bar of chocolate does far more than make a person smile.

She says “Physiologically and hormonally one cheat day a week actually boosts the metabolism by upping leptin production - the hormone responsible for maintaining our energy balance and causing dip in weight loss. Higher leptin production in turn helps burn off the excess calories consumed. And in addition to regulating hunger and metabolism, this hormone may contribute to increased motivation and dopamine. So after a cheat day, dieters might actually be happier and more motivated.”

Healthy fusion food
Healthy fusion food

This isn’t carte blanche to consume nothing but cake on that day, explains Mitun. Have fun, but don’t be silly.

“It’s not OK to binge the whole day on only sugars. Sugar can be a part of the cheat day meal plan but can’t be the sole choice of food. Especially for people with health conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, blood pressure and PCOS as even small indulgences can have larger effects on health. An overall balance of macronutrients is necessary even on a cheat day. So, enjoy chocolates on the cheat day but in moderation and consume some proteins, fibres, carbohydrates and fats as well.”

Monitoring

The Caloric Titration Method is about more than just cheating though. As well as frequent breaks from your diet, it also involves recording your weight daily and monitoring the trajectory over time.

It encourages individuals to lose one per cent of their body weight and maintain their new weight for a week with the intention of challenging the body to redefine its baseline weight by having frequent breaks.

Infographic: Do you deserve the treat?
Infographic: Do you deserve the treat?

And someone who has changed her body weight is Stephanie Squire.

The UK-based finance manager and mum-of-one has lost 12 kilograms since the beginning of the year but has only just managed to allow herself the occasional treat.

She says: “I didn’t have cheat days at first as I was determined to lose weight and I felt that if I did, it would take me off track. Three months in and I have allowed myself a few cheat meals rather than full days. I’ve realised you need it to satisfy any cravings you have and it can give you a boost for the week ahead.

“My cheat meal usually includes a take away of some sort or a meal out. I still try and pick as best I can health-wise from the menu but also pick something I enjoy.”

Stephanie has the right attitude to cheating says Mitun as cravings can be a problem for dieters.

Mitun adds: “Having a cheat day helps curb your week-long cravings for some of your favourite foods which you were avoiding. It also allows you to re- focus on your coming week plan of weight loss. Allowing a cheat meal or day to satisfy a craving allows people to stick to otherwise restrictive diets.”

While he appreciates the benefits of having a break from nutritious food, there’s one man who disagrees with the term ‘cheat day’.

Clinical Dietician Ryan Penny is one half of the Dubai-based partnership ‘The Wellness Brothers’ who focus on helping residents find long-term solutions to their weight issues. He believes cheat days are a ‘ridiculous notion’ that imply doing something against the rules. He says a diet should make provision for occasionally enjoying foods and drinks that aren’t necessarily nutritious – which mean you don’t have to ‘cheat’.

He explains: “The idea that there should be freedom to enjoy things that are not good for you is a good one. However, the concept is better described in terms of rewards. Rewards allow for relief from strictness.

“In other words, the good part of the eating plan has been accomplished and benefited from and now the ‘break’ - one that has been earned rather than stolen - is to do its part in refreshing the motivation to get back on track with the kind of eating that brings further health and weight benefit.

“In practice, let it be in the form of a prize rather than a cheat. In terms of how big and how often should the reward be given? That depends on the ultimate goal and how well it’s been worked for. It’s not rocket science.”