Cheat meal, cheat day, refeed day, refeed week - we’ve all heard the terms in the fitness world, some maybe more than others, but what do they actually mean? Are we using them correctly?
Even though they may look and sound similar, there are some major differences between them and how they work within your body. First, let’s take a look at their meaning and then we can go over each one of them.
Cheat meal: As the name implies, a cheat meal is a single meal that veers from your planned diet pattern. According to lifestyle fitness, “A weekly cheat meal has been proven to boost your metabolism and ward off any feelings of deprivation, improving not only your ability to lose weight but also the ability to stick to your diet plan too” (2018). How they are implemented may look very different for different people, depending on an individual’s diet preferences and goals.
Cheat day: As the name implies, a cheat day is a day full of your favorite meals that veers from your planned diet pattern. How they are implemented may look very different for different people, depending on an individual’s diet preferences and goals.
High days/Refeed days (Not a “Sunday Funday” thing): As mentioned in my post “create hyperlink” High days or refeed days are used mostly on a carb cycling diet and typically on days where you are training your larger muscle groups such as, legs, back and chest to help the body maximize muscle gain and glycogen storage. However, this is not a cheat day!! A refeed day is used every other 2 or 3 days bringing your clean carb intake up to about 1.5-2 times the amount of what you would normally need to eat. As a result, glycogen will refuel your muscles and help repair damage tissue.
Refeed week: The refeed week is very important in order to break plateaus. After 8-12 weeks of caloric deficit (eating less than what you burn), your body will adapt, and your metabolism will slow down. This is the point in which we reach plateaus and that’s the complete opposite of what we want when we are looking to achieve our goal. This is when a refeed week comes into play. You would add a week of clean carbs in order to boost your metabolism again. One week will be enough to reboot your system and speed up the fat burning process. Once your metabolism is back up and running at full speed, you could go back into a caloric deficit again if your goal is to keep losing weight or you can just go to your maintenance calories if you have achieved your goal. Think of it almost like a reset button – your body will suddenly have to work harder due to the higher amount of calories from carbs from the refeed week, and once you bring your calories down again you will be able to get into that fat burning zone once again.
Now that we’ve broken down the terms. I will express my opinion in each of them from the least popular to the most popular. Yes, I am evil, I know it. I know you want to see the cheat meal part first, but be patient, it will be worth it (maybe). Let’s start:
Refeed week: A must, most people feel that they will lose their results if they even increase their carbohydrates level even by 1 gram. That’s completely wrong, this will help you keep the results coming and break plateaus. However, do not get me wrong, in order for you to enjoy a week with a high amount of carbs, you have to work and sweat for it. It’s not like, “oh I have been in a caloric deficit for 3 weeks I must need a refeed week” No. You would have to have at least 8-10 weeks of committed “dieting” in order to really need it and benefit from it, otherwise it can be a double edged sword if not used correctly.
Refeed day: Oh boy, even though the “refeed day” term has become more popular in the recent years, it still isn’t as popular as it should be, due to its benefits. Most people are missing out on this, the amount of benefits that a refeed day can give you is unbelievable. Going into a caloric deficit for an extended period of time is not an easy task and whoever says the opposite is lying. However, during this time, refeed days will become your best friend and will make your dieting process more pleasant. To make a long story short, you would feel a lot better, because you would control those intense craving feelings, you would stop counting the days for your next “cheat meal”, leptin levels will increase, get an energy boost and overall you will not feel guilty (as long as you consume clean carbs) as most of us would normally do on a cheat meal/day.
Cheat day: I would never encourage a cheat day during any “diet”, it is too much temptation and most of the time it leads to binge eating and trust me, it will harm your progress. However, like everything else, there is a special time for it, NEVER. No, I am joking (probably the bad joke of the day) the best time to do a cheat day is after you have finished your “diet.” Why? If you have stuck to the plan, then you most likely have reached your goal, so there is no “harming your progress” and because you deserve it. After you have worked so hard for something, allow yourself a reward and enjoy it. A friendly reminder just make sure to go back and implement the habits that you developed during your journey to avoid regressing.
Oh baby, here we go!!
Cheat meal: The most common term in the fitness and food industry. A cheat meal is a single (one, uno, 1) meal that would satisfy your cravings. Pretty simple right? Even though it is so popular it is not used effectively most of the time. Why? First, because it either ends up being a food feast: “It is only one meal so I am going to as much as I can for this one meal” (I have done this plenty of times) and end up packing 5000 extra calories. Or secondly, it is often confused with a cheat day and once again you end up packing in 5000 extra calories. While you are on a meal program you should do no more than one cheat meal a week, maybe even increasing that to one every ten days. Also, even though there is no right or wrong, just efficient and not very efficient ways to have cheat meals, it should be a single meal, not a feast. The logic behind a cheat meal is to add SOME extra calories to boost your metabolism and create psychological pleasure. Let me show an example of the results between a cheat meal and feast:
Cheat meal: 5 guys Bacon cheeseburger 920 calories, Medium fries 953 calories, 360 ml coke 140 calories. Total: 2013 Calories.
Feast: Pizza nova medium cheddar supreme pizza 1904 calories, wings 760 calories, fries 600 calories, coke 140 calories, dessert 1 small slice of cheesecake 274 calories. Total 3678 Calories
On average, adults should be consuming 2500 calories a day, so if you are in a caloric deficit you should be consuming 500 calories less, which is 2000 calories a day.
So, if you stick to your plan and follow your plan for 10 days you should be at a caloric deficit of 5000 calories, if we take away 2000 calories from your cheat meal then you should be at a deficit of 3000 calories which is almost a pound of fat that you have lost. Not bad eh?
On the other hand, if you stick to your plan and follow your plan for 10 days you should be at a caloric deficit of 5000 calories, if we take away 3678 calories from your cheat meal then you should be at a deficit of 1322 calories which is not even half a pound of fat that you have lost. Pretty disappointing results after all that hard work, don’t you think?
Even though everyone is different and not everyone responds the same way to different stimulus, this is a pretty good example of the outcome that could happen if you are not efficient and mindful with what you do.
A few tips that you can use:
- Seek for advice and inform yourself, guessing will be your worst enemy.
- Look for ways to make the journey more enjoyable, that will prevent you from binge eating and going crazy counting the days for your next cheat meal.
- Focus more on what you need in order to find balance.
- When you are planning your diet do not focus on your cheat meal, even though it should be planned ahead, it should be the last point of emphasis.
Even though sticking to a plan and being committed to achieve results will never be easy, it can definitely be a more enjoyable ride if you have the right tools.
Brenner-Roach, T. (2017, May 15). 3 Reasons You Should Never Eat Cheat Meals-Use 'Refeeds' Instead. Retrieved from https://observer.com/2017/05/cheat-meals-leptin-metabolic-rate-refeeds/
Calorie Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://pizzanova.com/nutrition/nutritional-guide/
Five Guys Burgers and Fries Nutrition Facts & Calorie Information: Carbs, Calories, etc. (2018, June 22). Retrieved from https://www.nutrition-charts.com/five-guys-burgers-and-fries-nutrition-facts-calorie-information/
Free Classes: Flexible Memberships: Lifestyle Fitness. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.lifestylefitness.co.uk/company/news/importance-of-cheat-meals