A cheat day is typically considered a day off from your diet. On a cheat day, you can eat whatever and whenever you want, then you’ll return to your regular menu the following day.
With intermittent fasting, cheat days are more complicated but more flexible. A cheat day during your fast means you either veer from your diet plan regarding what you eat or when you eat.
If you have a cheat day during your intermittent fast, it may or may not affect your long term results. Here’s why:
The Benefits of Cheat Days
It can be challenging to stick to a new routine. Especially when it deprives you of social situations that involve food like brunch and dinner, or requires you to give up your favorite decadent foods.
Total deprivation may not be the most effective way to reach your long term goals. A 2016 study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found when participants included planned deviations along the path to their purpose; they were more likely to reach their goal.
Allowing yourself a cheat day can offer you a much-needed reset when it comes to your motivation and self-control. Also, the positive feeling you get from your cheat meal can help you feel better about intermittent fasting and your diet plan. If you’re enthusiastic about your diet plan, you’ll stick with it longer.
The study found cheat days were only successful when pre-planned. If you cheat mindlessly, it can become a habit that quickly spirals out of control. When cheating is intentional, you can enjoy the benefits without deviating too far from your intermittent fasting plan.
If you feel satisfied with your fasting plan, there’s no need to cheat. If your body and mind need a break, you’ll want to learn more about the following cheat day options.
Cheating on Your Intermittent Fasting Schedule
To cheat day during intermittent fasting, you can extend your eating window or skip a fasting period altogether. Let’s use the 16:8 plan as an example. In this scenario, you typically eat between the hours of 11 am and 7 pm. If your friend invites you to a 9 am brunch, you’d be cheating by accepting the invite, because you ate before 11 am. In this scenario, it’s possible to minimize the impact of cheating if you’ve planned
You could compensate for the early breakfast by having the last meal of your day earlier. That way, you would maintain your 8-hour eating window, but shift it towards the morning. You might choose to enjoy the early breakfast, but eat less during your lunchtime and evening meals. In this case, you ate outside your eating window, but you kept your total daily caloric intake low.
If weight loss is your goal, meals outside your eating window are risky because they add calories to your day. You can quickly mitigate as in the above scenario. If you’re fasting to induce ketosis, increase insulin sensitivity, or to improve blood glucose, enjoying a meal outside of your eating window may be more of a concern.
For example, it can take 12 hours or more to reach a state of ketosis. If you eat within your 16-hour fasting window, the clock on ketosis will reset. If you’re fasting to increase insulin sensitivity or decrease blood glucose, any meal or snack that triggers an increase in your blood sugar will negate the effects of your fast.
Cheating on Your Healthy Eating Plan
On your intermittent fasting cheat day, what you eat is often as important as when your cheat meal occurs. For example, if you’re fasting to lower your blood glucose, and your cheat meal consists of high glycemic foods such as donuts, cupcakes, or pie, your overall goal will be negatively affected.
If you’re craving specific foods, it’s best to listen to your body and ask what’s driving you to cheat. Are you missing your mom’s apple pie? If so, have a small slice during your eating window alongside a slightly smaller meal, and your plan won’t skip a beat.
If hunger is compelling you to cheat, but you choose a chocolate bar over water and a handful of nuts, the benefit is questionable. The high sugar content in the chocolate will spike your blood glucose, and you’ll soon feel hungry again. Next time you’re hungry, try to choose a healthy option. The fat content in the nuts will satiate you at a lower caloric cost.
Some intermittent fasting participants chose to increase the benefits of their fast by following a specific diet plan like paleo, keto, gluten-free, or a whole food diet. If you’re on any of these popular diets, cheating could mean you break away from your diet plan, albeit within your eating window.
Some of these diets require strict compliance for an extended period to receive the metabolic benefit. Strict compliance is especially true for the ketogenic diet. If you’re following a gluten-free or paleo diet, you may find that a cheat meal isn’t worth it as it may upset your stomach and digestive tract. It’s up to you to decide if a calculated deviation from your diet plan is worth it.
How Often You Can Cheat while Fasting
You can enjoy a cheat day with intermittent fasting. Some fasting schedules, such as alternate day fasting, are considered alternating between cheat days and fasting days. Eat whatever you want (and a lot of it) when you’re eating, and then follow your “cheat day” with a day off. While this approach will get you somewhere if you’re new to IF, it’s not ideal in the long run.
The benefit of intermittent fasting over daily caloric restriction is you can eat cake and enjoy unrestricted calories within your eating window. However, if you’re choosing cake more often than nutritious food, you’ll receive far fewer benefits. And if you eat outside of your fasting window more days than you care to admit, are you even fasting?
If you want your cheat day to be about when you eat, track the number of times you allow yourself food outside of your fasting window. Results will vary for everyone, but once weekly is likely ok. If your cheat days become a habit, reassess your fasting schedule, especially if you find it tempting to cheat at the same time each day, or each week.
If you’re going to cheat on what you eat, track this as well. For example, there’s an enormous difference in potential outcomes if you stick to a gluten-free diet but have a small dinner roll once a day versus once a week.
Is It Ok To Have A Cheat Day While Intermittent Fasting?
A cheat day can offer a much-needed respite from the challenge of intermittent fasting. When done in a calculated, planned, and mindful way, a cheat meal or cheat day can make a positive difference in your desire to return to the diet plan and your intermittent fasting schedule.
When cheating becomes a habit, it may prevent you from reaching your goals. If that happens, reassess your goals and motivation, and evaluate what tools you need to stick with your intermittent fasting plan.
A cheat day may be a motivation, but if you manage to create a healthy eating pattern that perfectly suits your own needs and preferences, you probably won’t need to cheat at all.