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Cheat Weekends Ruin Your Diet, Don’t They?

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a girl with curly hair is eating a dessert with a lot of food in front of her, cheat weekend
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Melissa Mitri post Reviewer Melissa Mitri post Reviewer
Verified by Melissa Mitri
MS, Registered Dietitian, Former President of CT Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Can cheat weekend affect your hard-earned results? Learn why cheat days shouldn’t be demonized and how they can support weight loss.

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Weekends can be a time to unwind and relax. However, this often also means that people are less likely to keep active and more prone to indulge in calorie-rich foods and drinks with their friends and family.

Cheat weekends, as they are called, are common, but can they affect your fat loss journey? 

We will discuss everything there is to know about diet, cheat meals, and weight loss in this article so that you can learn the best way to get results while still enjoying your favorite foods. 

Can I Diet All Week and Cheat On Weekends?

In fitness and nutrition jargon, cheat meal refers to meals where you can eat anything you want without considering the nutritional value of the foods consumed. 

In contrast, cheat days refer to when an individual eats freely at every meal without following their meal plan or sticking to their calorie or macronutrient targets.

Cheat meals and cheat days are usually put in place when individuals follow a rather strict diet or maintain a calorie deficit on most days to achieve fat loss. 

Persistently eating fewer calories than their requirements can lead an individual to develop more cravings and make poor food choices dictated by chronic hunger. [1] 

This is an expected physiological reaction, and therefore cheat meals or cheat days can be a good way to help people to sustain their diet for longer by enabling some flexibility around these programmed unrestricted meals. 

You can read 20 easy tips to make your diet healthier today to learn more about healthy eating.

Effects of Having a Cheat Weekend

While occasionally having a cheat weekend can be beneficial in some aspects when you are trying to lose weight, it can have negative effects too. This is particularly the case when it occurs regularly.

In this section, we provide unbiased information that will enable you to make the most appropriate choices for your goals. 

Occasional Cheat Weekends

Occasional cheat weekends are unlikely to negatively affect your weight loss journey. They could even result in some positive outcomes. 

Cheat meals can stimulate the secretion of leptin, the hormone that signals to your brain that you’re full and improves thyroid function. [2] However, if you eat a high volume of food, you may end up feeling bloated at the end of the two days. 

Regular Cheat Weekends

On another note, having 2 cheat days a week regularly may not be the best approach if you want to lose fat and get healthier.

Even if you have been strict with your diet all week, eating freely for a whole weekend could result in calorie maintenance or a surplus.

This means that despite eating less than you burn for five days a week, all your efforts may be wiped out by eating too much on Saturdays and Sundays. 

Furthermore, overconsumption of calorie-dense foods rich in fats and sugars can also represent a risk to your health in addition to affecting your weight. It could still lead to the development of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes if it becomes a weekly occurrence. 

Will a Cheat Weekend Ruin My Weight Loss Progress?

Having a cheat weekend won’t affect your journey as long as you have a calorie deficit at the end of the week.

Calorie targets must be calculated based on weekly consumption rather than daily, to provide more flexibility. 

Let’s see how in the section below.

How Can I Calculate My Calorie Deficit For a Cheat Weekend?

A healthy, sustainable deficit should provide around 10-20% fewer calories than your maintenance energy requirements. [3] 

In essence, if your daily maintenance calories are equal to 2000, you should aim to eat between 1600-1800 calories a day. This will result in a total weekly deficit of 1400-2800 calories, assuming you stay within this target every day of the week, including weekends. 

However, if you have a cheat weekend planned, you can still avoid slowing down your weight loss progress. To do this, you need to follow a low-calorie diet on weekdays and a high-calorie one on weekends in order to stay within your weekly nutritional targets. 

Calorie Deficit Calculation Example

Referring back to the example provided above, if you further lower your intake by another 100 calories from Monday to Friday, you would end up with 500 spare calories that you can consume at the weekend on top of your nutritional allowance. 

In essence, you could eat 1500-1700 calories from Monday to Friday and increase them up to 1850-2050 for both Saturday and Sunday. 

In the end, you would still meet the required calorie deficit to sustain a fat loss, as you simply redistributed the intake unevenly across the week to better suit your needs. 

Alternatively, you could decide to aim for an even bigger calorie deficit on1 or 2 days during the week, so you have even more wiggle room on your cheat days. 

Below you can find an example table to make you understand how you can manage a calorie deficit across the week. This will minimize the effect on your fat loss progress when you have a cheat weekend planned:

Maintenance calories: 2000/day, 14000/week

Calories at 20% deficit: 1600/day, 11200/week

Total Daily Deficit: 400 calories

Total Weekly Deficit: 2800 calories

👉 Approach 1: equal daily calorie intakes from Monday to Friday

  • Daily calories Monday to Friday: 1500

1500 x 5 = 7500 total calories consumed Monday to Friday 

  • Weekly deficit

Total calories Monday to Friday: 11200 – 7500 = 3700 calories available for Saturday and Sunday 

3700 : 2 = 1850 Daily calories for both Saturday and Sunday

7500 + 3700 = 11200 weekly consumed calories

👉 Approach 2: different daily calorie intakes from Monday to Friday 

  • Daily calories Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday: 1500

1500 x 3 = 4500 total calories consumed Monday to Wednesday

  • Daily calories on Thursday and Friday: 1300

1300 x 2 = 2600 total calories consumed across Thursday and Friday

Total calories Monday to Friday: 4500 + 2600 = 7100

  • Weekly deficit

Total calories Monday to Friday: 11200 – 7100 = 4100 calories available for Saturday and Sunday

4100 : 2 = 2050 daily calories for both Saturday and Sunday

7100 + 4100 = 11200 weekly consumed calories

As you can see from the examples above, there are actually a few ways you can diet all week to cheat on weekends without affecting your weight, as long as your overall weekly calorie intake remains unvaried. 

However, it is important to say that you should avoid eating below your basal metabolic rate (or BMR), which is the number of calories that your body needs to sustain all its vital functions. 

A weight loss app can be a beneficial tool to calculate your calorie targets accurately based on your activity levels and goals so that you can still get good results without cutting your calories too much. 

4 Tips to Approach Cheat Weekends Wisely

It is very easy to overconsume food when you restrict yourself for a long period, as it becomes not only a physical brawl but also psychological. 

Furthermore, constant food restrictions may also lead to eating disorders or disordered eating behaviors, as well as deficiencies from a lack of essential nutrients. Below you can find some top tips to manage your cheat days’ calories and make your weight loss journey as enjoyable and sustainable as possible.

Don’t Eliminate All Your Favorite Foods From Your Daily Diet

If you think you have to remove ice cream or chocolate forever from your diet to be skinny, you couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

The quality of the food you eat is essential to sustain health, but the most important thing to do to lose weight is to maintain a calorie deficit.

You can still include some of your favorite foods in your diet, as long as you stay within your calorie requirements for your goal. 

A great way to achieve the perfect balance is to follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of your calories should come from lightly processed, nutrient-dense foods (such as lean proteins, vegetables, fruit, grains, and nuts), and 20% from calorie-dense, processed foods (i.e., chocolate or crisps).

For instance, if your daily calorie requirements are equal to 2000, then you should aim to eat 1600 calories from nutrient-dense foods and no more than 400 calories from anything else.

This approach has been proven to help people sustain their diet for longer as regularly eating some of your favorite foods in moderation not only prevents you from having unbearable food cravings but also makes the diet more enjoyable. [4]

Limit Your Calorie Intake On Cheat Days

Having diet-free weekends where you can eat anything you want sounds appealing, but it is also important to remember that your calorie consumption should still be within reason.

If your calorie consumption on cheat days is not well calculated, it can still cause a problem with your health and hinder your results. 

It is, therefore, important to try and make some mindful choices — even on Saturdays and Sundays. An easy way to do so is to still consume lightly processed and nutritious foods on weekends, as suggested by the Healthy Eating Plate. It’s also best to consume small amounts of indulgent foods while still remaining within your calorie targets. [5]

Switch to a More Nutrient-Dense Diet

As mentioned above, the consumption of nutrient-dense foods should still be the priority, even on the weekends. This lessens the risk of hindering your results and affecting your health. These nutrient-dense foods include lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, and grains. A great example of a balanced yet not restrictive dietary regimen is the Mediterranean diet. This dietary lifestyle prioritizes delicious whole foods over processed ones but doesn’t eliminate them completely.

You may also like: Dash Diet vs. Mediterranean Diet

Compared to highly processed, energy-dense foods (fast foods, packaged snacks, etc.), you can eat these items in higher volumes as they are lower in calories but high in nutrients. These nutrients are essential for the body to function properly. 

Also, eating higher volumes of nutrient-dense foods can help you feel more satisfied after a meal, allowing you to sustain a weight-loss diet for longer periods. 

Basing your diet on nutrient-dense and voluminous foods is indispensable for maintaining health and supporting a healthy weight. It can also be a great weight loss tool even for those that prefer not to count calories. [6]

Stay Active to Create a Calorie Deficit

Physical activity is a great way to stay healthy, as it makes your bones, muscles, lungs, and heart stronger. However, keeping active can also be a way to balance out excessive calorie consumption or create a calorie deficit when required.

It is important to emphasize that exercise should be a regular component of a well-structured weight loss plan. It should be used to create a small and sustainable calorie deficit whilst keeping you strong and healthy, rather than as a tool to merely burn off calories just to enable the free consumption of highly calorific foods. [7] [8]

Try Omo as an all-inclusive weight loss app

Final Words

Even when on a diet, we may sometimes end up having cheat weekends, so knowing how to manage them is important to prevent setbacks in a weight loss journey. Below we’ve listed the key points from this article and the main tips for managing these occasions to the best of your capabilities:

  • Occasional cheat weekends may help you stimulate thyroid activity and improve your sense of satiety when on a weight-loss diet.
  • Regular cheat weekends can still represent a risk of developing cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes if the consumption of calorific foods rich in sugars and fats is not moderated.
  • Calculate what your weekly calorie deficit would be before calculating your daily intake. If you have a cheat meal planned, this will help you manage your calories from Monday to Friday so that you can consume more at the weekend.  
  • Follow an 80/20 approach to limit cravings: 80% of your calories should come from nutrient-dense foods, and the remaining 20% should come from processed, calorie-dense foods. 
  • Eat more nutrient-dense, high-volume foods to keep your body healthy and manage hunger.
  • Aim to still eat within your calorie targets on your cheat day or cheat weekends, to prevent hindering your results.
  • Stay active to keep your body healthy and strong whilst also creating a calorie deficit.

When it comes to cheat meals, cheat days, or cheat weekends, everyone is an individual. Working with a nutritionist or registered dietitian is recommended to determine what is best for your weight loss needs.

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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