Do You Need a "Cheat" Day?

Do You Need a "Cheat" Day?

Hey Fit Family!

Is the Rock eating piles of pancakes a good idea for us mere mortals?*

When it comes to “Cheating”, unfortunately, the answer looks to be a hard maybe…

I will say that I am against the ideology of all-out unmonitored cheat days or meals for most people as this mindset can get us into quite a bit of "trouble" and those on a diet with an increased appetite can easily blow through a weekly calorie deficit in one night out of chips and margaritas.

Also, when people “cheat” on a diet it may not actually reduce cravings, but intensify them and lead to an All or Nothing Guilt mentality that can make it hard to right the ship.

“Food evokes dopamine release in hungry individuals of all species, with an added twist in humans. Show a picture of a milkshake to someone after they’ve consumed one, and there’s rarely dopaminergic activation—there’s satiation (or fullness). But with subjects who have been dieting, there’s further activation. If you’re working to restrict your food intake, a milkshake just makes you want another one.
-Dr. Robert Sapolsky – Behave

On the flip side, PLANNED hedonic deviations (or planned ”cheating”) could be helpful for some individuals especially when it involves laughter and social connection [1-3].

The guardrails for success with "planned cheating" seem to be...

1) Can you keep “cheating” completely/mostly planned?

2) Does the “cheating” increase or sustain your motivation and adherence towards the end goal?

3) Does the “cheating” allow for more social flexibility?

And, the major problems with NOT EVAR “cheating” are…

1) If we tell someone they can’t ever have something it seems to automatically bring it to our attention and increase its value. For example, DON'T think about a Pink Elephant. You just thought about a Pink Elephant and now kind of oddly want one.

2) No one is perfect and chasing extreme dietary purity is probably not sustainable and tends to be psychologically exhausting for us and our friends and family.

3) #LYFE

To get a better grasp of how this might work in practice…let’s say that because of #LYFE you have one business trip and four weddings in the next six weekends.

This probably is not the best time for an active fat loss diet phase, but it is pretty cool that you have so many FRANDZZZ.

Diets can be socially isolating especially when they are extremely restrictive so how can we hold the line and still have fun with our FRANDZZZ?

This brings us into the world of what science calls “refeeds” or “diet breaks” and both of these can make a lot of sense if they are planned and allow us to let food take a back seat to #LYFE.

First, let's be clear that Intermittent or discontinuous caloric restriction (2 weeks on a diet and 2 weeks at maintenance) can perform just as well as continuous caloric restriction when everything is structured and planned ahead of time [4-6]. Theoretically, with enough planning someone could even lose body fat in the weekend event gauntlet scenario above and I think most people would be really surprised how easy it can be to actively maintain one's fat loss results in this scenario.

Furthermore, as coaches we ultimately want life to become a semi-diet break for our clients where we can hold onto weight loss maintenance as easily as possible. Thus, in the scenario above we really are just practicing for real #LYFE.

The end goal for me with my clients is to be able to ditch the mindset of "Cheating" entirely and figure out systems that lead to long-term success in a world where pizza parties aren’t going anywhere and our ability to individually navigate these social eating experiences is a skill that is likely directly tied to our long-term success.

To finish, I will explain my biggest beef with the All-Out Cheat Day mindset.

Imagine we told a child that every Friday was All You Can Eat Pizza day.

ALL meals ALL Friday equal PIZZA.

What do you think Thursday would be like?

Is it Pizza day yet!?

I can’t wait for Pizza day, can it start early?

Can we order the Pizzas now so they are ready?

The inherent problem with having a PIZZA day is that every other day is NOT PIZZA day.

AKA we might find it hard to enjoy the present moment because the thought of something better and much more delicious is always on the horizon.

I’m sorry that I can’t give you a hard line on “cheating”.

Each of us has to assess if planned hedonic deviations work for us and if planned “cheating” does help you go get that far-off goal and sustains your motivation…plan it out, execute, and enjoy.

And if it doesn’t work…that is OK too!

The key to long-term success is likely finding systems, strategies, and skills that work for you and we can only find these systems by trying different strategies out in real life!

If you are having trouble figuring what might work best for you on your own our My Fit Life Nutritional Consultants are trained to help you get Sustainable. Personalized. Results.


*The Rock is a really big human with a lot of muscle mass. He very very likely has a lot of calories to work with. My hunch is that his daily maintenance calories are fairly easily above 4,000...maybe even 5,000 calories. So, logistically if the Rock has a couple of "low" days at 3,000 kcals he likely easily just cleared a 7 or 8,000 calorie pancake day. AKA it is going to be a lot easier for the Rock to be successful and even lose body fat with All-Out Cheat Days because he is a big human with a lot of muscle who moves a lot.


1. Coelho do Vale, R., R. Pieters, and M. Zeelenberg, The benefits of behaving badly on occasion: Successful regulation by planned hedonic deviations. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2016. 26(1): p. 17-28.

2. Holt-Lunstad, J., T.F. Robles, and D.A. Sbarra, Advancing social connection as a public health priority in the United States. Am Psychol, 2017. 72(6): p. 517-530.

3. Holt-Lunstad, J., et al., Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspect Psychol Sci, 2015. 10(2): p. 227-37.

4. Byrne, N.M., et al., Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADOR study. Int J Obes (Lond), 2018. 42(2): p. 129-138.

5. Peos, J.J., et al., Continuous versus Intermittent Dieting for Fat Loss and Fat-free Mass Retention in Resistance-trained Adults: The ICECAP Trial. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2021.

6. Peos, J.J., et al., Intermittent Dieting: Theoretical Considerations for the Athlete. Sports (Basel), 2019. 7(1).