The idea of eating whatever you want all day sounds absolutely fabulous and measured “time outs” could be the key to your diet success.
If you’ve ever followed a strict diet plan, you’ll be familiar with “cheat days” or “cheat meals”.
These planned lapses mean throwing your food rules out the window and gorging in whatever you like.
It may sound counterintuitive to your weight loss goals, but measured diet time-outs could actually be the key to long-term success.
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology supports the morale boosting potential of diet deviations.
We know being vegetarian is healthy, but it’s boring! We’ve found the solution and it’s called “Flexitarianism”.
Researchers tested the psychological benefits of cheating by asking participants to imagine a 1500-calorie diet or a 1300-calorie diet with a 2700-calorie cheat at the end of the week.
Participants who imagined the end-of-week splurge were more determined to resist temptation, despite being on a stricter diet plan.
The same researchers then asked another set of participants to follow the above diets.
Again, those who had the cheat were better able to sustain motivation.Perhaps the most surprising outcome was that both groups lost the same amount of weight.
HOW TO MASTER THE CHEAT DAY
The golden rule of diet time-outs: have a plan.
Rather than see cheat days as an invitation to binge, organise it around a meal, or view it in a positive light, such as saying “I’ll be more relaxed about my dinner”.
A good strategy is to set yourself some predefined limits — like a small bowl of ice cream after dinner — and stick to it.
Caveat: Just started a new weight loss plan? It may be best to avoid planned lapses until you’re a few weeks in.
Why? When you’re just getting started, you tend to be driven by the results you’re seeing and the renewed energy you’re feeling.
However, at the three-four week mark, it’s easy to lose a bit of steam. Consequently, your diet and motivation can come unstuck. So, gradually introduce cheating to renew your focus.
Rewarding your hard work helps, too. Say you nailed your exercise plan one week, allow yourself a cheat meal at the end of the week.
Alternatively, if you’re someone who likes structure, consider allocating one day a week to a measured diet hiatus.
WHAT IF I GO OVERBOARD?
They say you ‘can’t outrun a bad diet’, and going overboard with cheating can quickly undo all of your hard work.
It’ll require a bit of self-control, but setting strict guidelines around your ‘cheat treat’ will ensure you keep things in measure.
If you’re worried about your willpower, make sure you keep your kitchen free of tempting food and only buy what’s within your cheating guidelines.
There’s no such thing as diet perfection, which is why there may be merit to the 80/20 rule.
Not one diet fits all and what works for some, may not work for another.
So, stop putting pressure on yourself and letting guilt settle in every time you stray from your food plan. Instead, use planned lapses to kick cravings and keep you on track for the long haul.
Kathleen Alleaume is an exercise and nutrition scientist and author of What’s Eating You?