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Can You Have a Cheat Day on Intermittent Fasting?

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a woman is looking at a piece of cake thinking about eating it_intermittent fasting cheat day
Melissa Mitri post Reviewer Melissa Mitri post Reviewer
Verified by Melissa Mitri
MS, Registered Dietitian, Former President of CT Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Table of Contents

When it comes to dieting, cheating has a whole new meaning. 

Cheat days are scheduled days when you take a break from dieting and indulge in otherwise non-permitted foods in your diet.

Here we will try to explain how cheating works with intermittent fasting. We’ll also provide actionable tips on how to incorporate a cheat day into your intermittent fasting schedule without reversing your weight-loss progress.

Can You Have a Cheat Day While You’re Intermittent Fasting?

By definition, on a cheat day, you can break your diet rules and eat anything you like. 

Cheat days in intermittent fasting let you enjoy treats while sticking to your health goals. You can have occasional indulgences without affecting your progress. It’s important to enjoy these days in a smart way, so they help, not hinder, your health and weight plans.

This is because the intermittent fasting guidelines do not restrict what you eat—they simply tell you when to eat and when to fast. That means when it comes to IF, cheating means deviating from your eating and fasting schedules. 

A tantalizing top view of a variety of indulgent foods spread out, suggestive of a 'cheat day' during intermittent fasting. The assortment includes a cheeseburger with a sesame bun, fries, assorted pastries and candies, a slice of cheesecake, fresh fruits like apples and raspberries, and condiments such as ketchup and mayonnaise

So, can you have a cheat day while intermittent fasting? Yes, absolutely. An occasional cheat day will not hinder your weight-loss progress if you do it right. 

In fact, it’s scientifically proven that intentional cheat days can even enhance your metabolism [1]. The key word here is intentional. If you wish to take a day—or two—off from your diet, you should go about it with a plan. 

Before incorporating cheat days into your routine, learn the pros and cons of cheat days and if and how they can ruin your diet. After all, a cheat day, when done right, can do you more good rather than harm.

You Can Cheat While Still Keeping Your Fasting Schedule

As we previously explained, no meals are off-limits when it comes to IF. All food and drinks are allowed within reason—even alcohol.

Cheating on intermittent fasting refers to eating a meal or two after your eating window is over. You can easily resolve this by adjusting your eating/fasting periods. 

The biggest goal with incorporating cheat days into IF is to stick to a similar calorie amount as you usually do. The biggest difference on cheat days is in the timing of when you eat and fast.

If you’re new to intermittent fasting, you’re encouraged to practice flexible fasting schedules, such as the 5:2 method. Here we’ll explain how you can tweak your eating window to incorporate cheat meals or days. 

Time-Restricted Methods (e.g., 16/8, 14/10)

For time-restricted fasting schedules, you can simply restart your fasting window if you accidentally eat past your eating phase.

This will re-adjust your timing, but it won’t matter much if it’s an infrequent occurrence.

If you know beforehand that you’re going to have to eat during your fasting period—say, at a prearranged social occasion—you can plan ahead to fit your eating window within that time. This might mean you’ll have to slightly lengthen or shorten your fasting period. 

You can also try to eat smaller meals during your extended eating window, thus keeping your caloric intake the same.

5:2 Method

Incorporating cheat meals on a 5:2 schedule is even easier. 

In this method, you simply eat a normal diet within the first five days and stick to a calorie-restricted meal (500 calories max) on the other two days.

If you plan your feasting days to fall within the first five days, you don’t have to worry about cheating at all.

Alternate-Day Fasting

On an alternate-day fasting regimen, you will eat a regular diet for one day and limit calories to 500 the next day. 

Like for the 5:2 method, all you have to do is plan your cheat day on an eating day.

This, however, still requires some planning to ensure you don’t completely veer off schedule. 

The 24-Hour Method or Eat-Stop-Eat

In this method, you fast for a full day a couple of days per week.

If you somehow end up having a cheat meal within your regular fasting window, you can fall back on this method by fasting for the following full 24 hours instead.

Can a Cheat Day Ruin Your IF Weight-Loss Progress?

As we’ve already explained, an occasional cheat day won’t make you gain weight. 

It’s actually scientifically supported that a flexible eating schedule induces better and longer-lasting weight loss when compared to strict programs [2]. In fact, these cheat days or meals can last one meal, one day, or even a week if you carefully plan them and stick to the plan [3].

However, if you’re deliberating whether you can take a day off from IF, there are a few things you should keep in mind. You need to understand how intermittent fasting brings about fat loss in the first place. 

Here’s how it works: when you abstain from eating for prolonged periods, your body’s glucose reserves get exhausted. As a result, your body starts to burn fat instead of glucose to produce energy [4]. This process is known as ketosis. [5]

Having a meal or a sugary beverage during the fasting period will introduce calories into your system and interfere with that ketosis, the fat-burning phase. This will not profoundly affect your results if done only once in a while. However, if it takes place too often, it can affect your metabolism and slow down your weight-loss progress.

Thus, you still need to be careful when incorporating a cheat meal or a cheat day into your intermittent fasting schedule, and you shouldn’t necessarily have cheat days every week.

Day After a Cheat Day

Well, it happened: you had a cheat day. 

  • The first thing you need to do is to snip your all-or-nothing mentality that normally comes after breaking any diet rules in the bud. Yes, you succumbed once, but it’s not the end all be all. You can get your act together and get back on the dieting wagon, so to speak. (This might not apply to you if you carefully planned your cheat day.) 
  • The next thing to do is find a way to curb those hunger pangs that will be inevitable following typical high-sugar, high-fat cheat meals [6]. One good option is by drinking bulletproof coffee. The fat content in it will keep you satiated, and it will not break your fast as it won’t raise insulin levels. 
  • You also need to make sure you drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated and make you feel full. This is especially important after a day of not-so-healthy meals that may leave you dehydrated or feeling bloated.
  • Getting sufficient sleep will keep you from feeling fatigued and make it easier for you to better manage the day after your cheat day. You will feel fewer sugar cravings, and you will have more willpower to resume your dieting routine after you’ve had good quality sleep.
  • The most important thing is to choose your meals wisely during your next eating window. Make sure you opt for low-sugar options that will keep your insulin levels down. Vegetables, whole grains, and nuts are a few good ones. 

To make things easier for you, you can use our weight-loss app to track your meals and their nutrient density as you get back to your fasting routine.

Final Words

On the whole, does intermittent fasting allow for cheat days? Yes, but within limits. You can even adjust your eating/fasting windows to fit in cheat meals or days, and you won’t feel like you’re cheating at all. 

However, as with everything in life, this has to be done in moderation, so it does not work against your weight-loss goals.

If you happen to cheat on your IF regimen, you can easily bounce back and catch up with your regular IF schedule without damaging your weight-loss progress. After all, success is not about perfection—it’s all about consistency and the habits you are practicing the majority of the time.

Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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