New Year’s has come and gone, and this year, you’re set on keeping your resolution. You’ve got a realistic weight loss plan. You’ve picked out a diet that suits you, and now, you’re a few weeks into it. You enjoy your diet, but, man, that pizza looks tasty. One cheat day couldn’t hurt that much, could it?

Before you binge a bit to reward your hard dieting-work, you may want to think again. While dietary science is somewhat split on how bad cheat days can be for you, it seems there’s definitely a right way and wrong way to go about them.

Why Cheat Days Are Bad

The negatives of a cheat day are right there in the name. You’re cheating on your diet by taking one day in a specific period (usually a week) and eating whatever you want. The issue is that it’s incredibly easy to overindulge. Overindulging can completely ruin the weight loss and healthy gains you’ve made. If a cheat day becomes a regular part of your week, you risk completely counteracting your dieting efforts. One study found that overeating after a period of dieting can lead to further binge eating, since it sets off a cycle of feast and famine. When you consider a cheat day as an all-out snackfest, this can exacerbate the problem.

One study found that overeating after a period of dieting can lead to further binge eating, since it sets off a cycle of feast and famine.

These diet setbacks can have lasting effects beyond just counteracting your healthy eating. For example, obesity-prone people tend to be less likely to move in the aftermath of overeating, which can wreak havoc their weight loss plans. Other short- and long-term effects of regular cheat days are more serious. For one, there’s evidence that binge eating can raise your risk of cardiovascular disease for weeks. Other studies have found that one day of binge eating lowers insulin sensitivity, which can eventually lead to diabetes.

How Cheat Meals Can Be Good

A cheat meal isn’t always bad for your diet, if you do it right (more on that later). In fact, you can use the occasional indulgence to maintain a healthy diet. A planned cheat meal can help you resist the temptation of snacking during dieting days. If you know you have that indulgence coming up, it could be easier to maintain self-control. Allowing yourself to indulge in the occasional craving can also prevent your diet from getting stale or boring. There’s even some scientific evidence that the occasional cheat meal may help boost weight loss through the creation of leptin, though there isn’t a ton of firm science on this subject yet.

Allowing yourself to indulge in the occasional craving can also prevent your diet from getting stale or boring.

Changing the way you brand cheat meals may also help you stick to your goals. “Cheat” carries a negative connotation with it, since it implies something you should feel guilty for. One study found that people who associated eating chocolate cake with a celebration were more successful with their weight loss goals than people who associated it with guilt. So, to make a cheat meal more positive for your diet, try viewing it as a reward for your dieting, instead of as a slip up.

How to Enjoy a Healthy Cheat Day

If there’s a way to occasionally indulge in your favorites without risking the downsides of a cheat day, you’d do it, right? Luckily, there is a way, and it’s has to do with scaling. See, many people talk about a singular cheat day where you don’t worry about dieting and eat what you want. Instead of taking an entire day, you could pick a single meal during which you allow yourself some wiggle room. This may sound a lot like the 80/20 diet, and that’s because it basically is that diet. The 80/20 diet is more of a healthy eating lifestyle where you eat healthily 80 percent of the time, allowing yourself a little healthy indulgence for the other 20 percent.

Instead of taking an entire day, you could pick a single meal during which you allow yourself some wiggle room.

What’s important is that your 20 percent can’t be a massive binge. You can be a little flexible, and eat a burger, but don’t make it a double bacon cheeseburger with a large fry, wings, and a few sodas. Remember, you want to indulge, not overindulge. For this reason, it’s important to maintain healthy portion sizes. You can also help yourself by making healthier alternatives to the foods you’re craving. Check out the “Further Reading” section below for examples of ways you can improve some of your favorite indulgences.

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When you start a new diet, it’s important to remember to allow for some flexibility (unless you’re trying a strict diet like Keto). This means allowing yourself the occasional cheat or reward. Luckily, as long as you don’t go overboard when you’re giving yourself this reward — and try eating healthier treats — you won’t derail all the weight loss and health progress you’ve made so far.

Further Reading

Medicareful Living — Healthy Hacks for Your Favorite Snacks: Healthy Hot Wings
Medicareful Living — Healthy Hacks for Your Favorite Snacks: Burgers
Medicareful Living — Healthy Hacks for Your Favorite Snacks: Pizza
Medicareful Living — Healthy Hacks for Your Favorite Snacks: French Fries
Medicareful Living — Getting Creative with Comfort Food: Chicken Parmesan
Medicareful Living — Getting Creative with Comfort Food: Healthy Chicken Pot Pie
Medicareful Living — Getting Creative with Comfort Food: Healthy Fish and Chips
Medicareful Living — Getting Creative with Comfort Food: Healthy Gnocchi