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Is Fasting After a Cheat Day a Good Idea? We’ve Investigated

9 min read
Fasting After a Cheat Day, a girl is sitting in front of a plate with broccoli on it
Melissa Mitri post Reviewer Melissa Mitri post Reviewer
Verified by Melissa Mitri
MS, Registered Dietitian, Former President of CT Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Can fasting after a cheat day reverse the effects of cheating? Learn how long should you fast to help your body recover from a cheat day.

Table of Contents

Cheat days are inevitable—sometimes you might plan them, and other times, you might just lose control and let your taste buds take over.

Before going any further, you need to understand that idea of cheat days while intermittent fasting (IF) does not necessarily lead to the same outcomes as general ‘cheating.’ 

The Concept of ‘Cheating’ While Intermittent Fasting

If you’re following an IF regimen, a cheat day is when you disregard your eating and fasting schedules and eat whenever you want—as opposed to whatever you want

This, however, can lead to higher consumption of calories than you normally take in. On top of that, you’re most likely to sneak in a few unhealthy meals throughout the day. To counter that, your first instinct will probably be to go on an extreme fast the following day. 

After all, fasting the next day will drastically reduce the calorie intake and reverse the effects of over-eating, won’t it? If that’s your hope, think again. 

How will fasting after a cheat day affect your metabolism? Will it reverse the effects of cheating, or will it just exert further stress on your body? You need to carefully plan how to recover from a cheat day, and that’s exactly what we intend to help you with through this post.

What Your Body Needs to Recover After a Cheat Day

On your cheat day, you’d probably load your meals with an assortment of foods that is most likely unhealthy. No judgment here: after all, that’s the very definition of a cheat day. 

Science says that these high-fat, high-carb meals will wreak havoc on your metabolism—even if it’s just for one day.

One study found that eating an excessively high-fat diet for a single day can lead to metabolic dysfunction [1]. It was revealed that even this brief period of overfeeding reduced insulin sensitivity and negatively affected blood sugar control. 

Another study that confirmed this phenomenon reported that eating high-fat meals, even for a short period of time, can increase fasting glucose levels and insulin secretion [2]. It also revealed that this high-fat overfeeding increased insulin resistance as well as fasting leptin levels.

Over-eating high-carb meals also results in metabolic dysfunction. According to one research study, a short-term, high-carbohydrate diet damaged metabolism by interfering with insulin secretion and regulation [3]

This diet also increased oxidative stress, which is internal stress caused by harmful toxins [3].

There is also evidence to say that a cheat day will mess up your lipid metabolism [4].

These pieces of evidence prove that your body goes through metabolic and oxidative stress during and immediately after a cheat day.

A cheat day will also alter hormone levels like leptin and ghrelin which will ultimately determine how hungry you are. For example, it was found that short-term overfeeding significantly increases serum ghrelin concentrations, which is the hunger hormone [5]

Fasting After a Cheat Day: Will It Reverse the Cheating?

When you think about all the changes your body goes through after a day of over-eating, it will seem that going without food the next day is the best answer, but is it? 

Is fasting after a cheat day a good idea? Well, yes and no. The exact answer depends on the type of fasting you are thinking of doing. Let us explain further.

High Cortisol & Recovery

If you’re tempted to do a 24-hour fast after your cheat day (or even a 36-hour fast or a terrible-sounding 48-hour fast), it’s probably not a good idea.

Research studies have confirmed that fasting elevates plasma cortisol levels [6]. As you might know, cortisol is your body’s primary stress hormone, and increased cortisol levels translate into increased stress. 

As we described in the previous section, a cheat day will put your body through a lot of stress. An extreme fast that lasts 24 hours or more will further increase the stress, thus making it hard for your body to recover.

You May Feel Hungrier the Day After Cheating

It can also be mentally and physically challenging to go without food for a whole day (or even more) after a day of indulging in tasty, nutrient-poor food. And as we explained earlier, overfeeding increases ghrelin levels, which means you will feel hungrier the day after. 

So even though you recently ate a ton of calories on your cheat day, they were not of the nutritious kind and still left you feeling hungry the next day.

Research has also shown that eating foods with a high glycemic index (such as high-carb foods, sweets, or most fast food) will increase appetite and food intake following these meals [7]. This implies that fasting after eating a lot of sugar the previous day, for example, will be particularly hard, as you will be exceptionally ravenous.

On the other hand, fasting after a cheat day can help you bring down your weekly calorie intake, thus reducing your risk of weight gain.

So, Should You Fast After a Cheat Day?

As we said, it depends. A day full of cheat meals will put your body through a lot of stress, and its effects will continue to the day after your cheat day as well. If you try to fast for 24 hours or longer the following day, the stress will increase, and your body won’t have time to recover.

However, if you do it right, intermittent fasting can help you reduce your weekly calorie intake and help you maintain your weight.

As we know, intermittent fasting can increase insulin sensitivity, lower oxidative stress, and regulate inflammation [8]

It can also improve energy metabolism, thus countering the effects of high-calorie consumption on your cheat day.

An intermittent fast will let your body adjust the blood sugar levels as well as insulin levels. Plus, it will let your body reset after a day of heavy eating. The challenge is to determine the best way to do it without letting your body suffer. 

How to Fast After a Cheat Day

So, what should you do after a cheat day? The ideal way to do an intermittent fast after your cheat day is to go slow. You shouldn’t expect your body, mind, or your taste buds to return to normal immediately after a day of indulgent meals. It will take time, for sure. 

In the meantime, try a not-too-extreme fasting schedule, such as 12/12 or 16/8. This will probably mean skipping breakfast the following morning. 

Your eating schedule will be determined by the time you ate dinner, but make sure to have a balanced meal with generous portions of protein and fiber. These will keep your blood sugar steady and your hunger at bay [9] [10].

Avoid snacking in between meals. If you feel hungry, drink plenty of water and try something like unsweetened tea, bulletproof coffee, or bone broth to curb your hunger. 

The most important thing is to keep your emotions in check. Do not feel like you need to ‘punish’ yourself because you let yourself slip off your routine. Also, don’t treat your ‘post cheat day period’ as a recovery after a disease; it’s okay to ease back into your normal eating routine again without being too drastic.  

Just take it as another day, and try to get back into your schedule as fast as you can. After all, a day (or even two) of cheating will not make you gain weight or wreck your health if you keep yourself responsible in the days to come. 

How to Recover After a Cheat Day Besides Fasting

Having said that, there are a few other things apart from fasting you can do to help your body recover from your binge episode. 

Drink Plenty of Water

Water will help your body detox after your cheat day, and it will also make you feel full. This will help control your appetite and make sure your over-eating doesn’t continue for days. Some people also do water fasting after a cheat day, but this may be a bit too extreme as well. 

Sneak in a Workout

Working out will help you burn a portion of the calories you put into your body the day before. 

It doesn’t have to be an extreme workout session: even a lazy bed workout or a mile walk in the neighborhood will do as long as it makes you sweat. Again, make sure you’re not trying to punish yourself for overeating. It’s all about being positive and helping your body recover and reset to feel like itself again.

Have a Good Sleep

Don’t lose your ZZZs over what happened—make sure you catch a night of good quality sleep. It will make you feel refreshed and ready to face any challenge. Sleep will also help your body recover and boost your decision-making abilities.

Keep Track of Your Nutrients

There is no need for extreme calorie limitations like a 600-calorie diet or ”detoxes’ like the fruit flush diet. However, it’s a good idea to track your nutrients and calories for a few days (or weeks) after a cheat day to make sure you’re sticking to your daily calorie deficit and having balanced meals.

You can use an all-in-one weight loss app for this purpose. How long it takes to recover from a cheat day depends on your metabolism, so make sure you track your calories long enough.

Final Words

In conclusion, it’s only natural to take a break from your dieting—or intermittent fasting—schedule and have a cheat day or two. 

The important part is knowing how to get back on track. While extreme fasts that last 24 hours or more can do more harm than good, 12–18-hour fasts can help you reboot your metabolism and reset your mindset. 

However, if you have certain conditions such as diabetes or if you’re recovering from eating disorders such as binge eating or bulimia, you need to be careful following this approach. The best strategy in such a case is to consult your nutritionist or dietitian for personalized guidance.  

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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