The meaning behind the term "cheat day"
What is actually behind the term Cheat Day? The word "cheat" and is often used in the context of partnerships, when the one person has "cheated" or "deceived" the other…
However, in the context of nutrition and dieting, and in the context of the article described here, it means a different kind of "cheating":
It's basically about cheating yourself by taking a day off from your healthy eating routine or diet. You can also think of it as cheating on the diet itself. So like in a relationship where one day you can do whatever you want with other partners. Then the next day, the relationship routinely continues as before. You can hear from this - admittedly slightly exaggerated - comparison that the whole thing can entail some problems.
One cheat day per week? How frequently should it take place?
How often a Cheat Day takes place and how many calories are consumed on a Cheat Day is determined very differently. First, some related terms should be differentiated at this point: There is the Cheat Day mentioned here where cheating is done freely on an entire day. Then there is also the option of introducing only a cheat meal, i.e., a single meal, into the diet. The latter can also be called Freemeal because this term does not seem so negative. Other diets allow you to indulge in a "treat" now and then, which still meets some requirements of the nutritional routine.
There are also variants of Cheat Days, in which nevertheless the total calories of the day are considered so that everything does not run completely out of control. How many calories one takes on the Cheat Day, can have namely - depending upon frequency of these days - an influence on the success of the diet or nourishing way, which is not to be underestimated. Who restricts itself 6 days during the week completely and daily 2000 Kcal with the correct macro distribution to itself takes, but then each Saturday on the Cheat Day in such a way over the rails that it lies with 5000Kcal, has on the average then approximately 2430 Kcal to itself taken, which is then nevertheless clearly more, than that, which was planned.
Is a Cheat Day useful for you?
Whether the Cheat Day makes sense, is very individual. What speaks for a Cheat Day? What speaks against it?
Motivation and anticipation
Especially for people who follow a very strict diet (often for athletic goals), the cheat day is a motivation to persevere: You can look forward to it all week to the day you don't have to restrict yourself, and also "save up" for things you would otherwise deny yourself. This can often help you stick with it.
However, it can also be problematic for some people to give free rein to their cravings: Especially, who then ingests immoderately unhealthy and very sugary foods without listening to a feeling of satiety, just because you have the opportunity, can mess up his blood sugar level for one to two days first. This may trigger sleep problems, food cravings and a disbalance of the nucleus suprachiasmaticus.
So if you always go extremely overboard with Cheadays, experience abnormalities with sleep and energy levels, or experience uncharacteristic cravings or brain fog the next morning, it's better to incorporate a little conscious treat into your daily routine occasionally instead, making sure your blood sugar doesn't get too messed up. Simple hacks like taking a walk while eating ice cream or eating some vegetables and protein before a cheat day can help.
A Workout for the immune system instead of keeping everything sterile
With long-term iron discipline, an intestine-friendly diet, where you leave out the potential lectin-containing allergens such as cow's milk, gluten-containing cereals, soy and sugar, regular cheat meals (every one to two weeks) can train the immune system: If you have been eating an extremely clean diet for many months or even years, it is also possible that your body reacts very sensitively to many things because it simply no longer knows anything that triggers small stimuli. Basically, an intestine-friendly diet is important and for many people, after years of poor nutrition, a reset is needed, in which the above-mentioned foods are strictly avoided for at least three months, so that the intestinal mucosa can form anew, and the body can react to the stimuli in the first place.
For the intestine, every food is a foreign substance, to which there is always a minimal immune response (1).
This is no big deal because a healthy body can easily inhibit these small inflammations. It is a misconception that inflammation is a bad thing. However, some foods can be extremely stressful to the intestinal mucosa and in some cases destroy it. One consequence of this can be leaky gut syndrome. Which of the potential food allergens are more problematic for whom and which are less so depends on individual genetics (including blood group), epigenetics and the personal microbiome.(2).
However, especially in the case of newly cultivated wheat, it is now certain that it is not tolerable for any human intestine in large quantities - except when fermented, as in sourdough bread (2).
If you eat a diet high in lectine for years, low in fiber, low in protein, and high in omega-6 fatty acids, you damage your intestines to the point where they become chronically inflamed rather than short-term. So, you don't get stomach aches anymore, but you have problems internally with the formation of a lot of body fat, fatigue, skin irritation and many other non-specific symptoms. A healthy intestine reacts much more specifically and quickly to foods that are not good for us: bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, brain fog or nervousness can occur shortly afterwards.
So if you really want to put your gut to the test for at least three months by abstaining from all potential food allergens, you can use a cheat day for this. Everyone, which is in this intestine Reset, should keep itself really completely clean to the defaults and if then a healthy Treat prepare itself. If one does not feel so good after certain foods then, the immune system has a little work, but is also strengthened afterwards - this applies, however, only if not exaggerated. Who suffers from an autoimmune disease, should in no case carry out Cheat Days because there one stimulus is already often one too much because the body reacts much more extreme than intended innately.
The Refeed Day for muscle building
For many so-called hard gainers it is difficult to gain muscle; they have to eat extremely much to put more weight on the scale and due to wrong macronutrient timing it is often also the body fat that goes up at the same time. That's why ordinary cheat days are typically only partially effective.
A Refeed Day once or twice a week - on the other hand - is a useful tool for people who want to gain muscle. This day is used to refuel properly carbohydrates - fats and proteins should be supplied nevertheless in the otherwise usual quantity. However, the carbohydrates should be well-timed and so that they reach the muscles, there should not be too much body fat on the hips and abdomen because this is a sign of hormonally poor blood sugar management.
So breakfast should be low in carbohydrates in any case, but over the day and especially around the training can then be consumed properly Carbs. Thus, on Refeed Day, the increased carbohydrate intake automatically leads to more calories.
The Refeed Day can be carried out clean without any food allergens: Oatmeal, rice, potatoes, maple syrup, fruits, sweet potatoes, millet, or quinoa are well suited.
Der perfekte Cheat Day als Sportler – was kann man essen?
Depending on what you follow, in theory you can eat whatever you feel like on a cheat day.
However, it depends on how often cheat days take place and how well the body copes with them. Optimally, the clean breakfast (low-carb, high protein, with fiber and good fats) is still eaten on this day within an hour of getting up. This sets the stage for more stable blood sugar and can inhibit the potential problems mentioned further above. It should be generally noted that enough protein is eaten because protein contains the most important building blocks for the body and the building of muscle. Depending on whether the Cheat Day should be calorie rich, can be resorted to more fats and Kohlenyhdraten, but it is best not to eat the lowest quality foods:
A good stone oven pizza from the Italian, a huge organic beef burger and for dessert a delicious ice cream are very suitable. Homemade treats such as bars with nut purée and maple syrup and pancakes are also great Cheat Day ideas.
Delicious Cheat Day ideas that won't take you off your path
If you have the above-mentioned dangers of a cheat day upsetting your body's hormonal balance, want to lose body fat around your midsection, or are currently in the gut regeneration phase, you'd better treat yourself to a healthy conscious treat every now and then in your daily diet. Here are some great recipe ideas that may feel like a cheat, but really aren't - as long as the calorie count is factored into the daily routine:
1. hazelnut chocolate bar
2. chocolate with cacao nibs and raspberries
3. salty peanut bars
4. banana muffins with blueberry vanilla filling
5. vanilla raspberry bowl
6. almond chip chocolate pralines
7. mediterranean pizza muffins
8. banana chocolate muffins
9. low-carb coconut cookies
10. low-carb French Toast
More Treat recipe ideas can be found in the book FIT@HOME.
Intermittent fasting & cheat day - how does it match?
Intermittent fasting exists in numerous variants. Whether it is a sensible dietary method at all depends on various factors. However, those who manage it well can use it to keep their intestines healthy and support their hormones. However, the basis for this is always a healthy, low-allergen diet and stable blood sugar.
No interval fasting can compensate for a cheat day if the gut is not healthy! So: Basics first! However, if you have a good foundation, you may even be doing your body some good if your intestines have at least 16 hours of rest after the cheat day.
Conclusion: cheat day yes or no?
Whether a Cheat Day is good or not depends on many individual factors: Genetics, epigenetics, gut health, blood sugar management, personal goals, and current physical condition (body fat to muscle ratio) all need to be considered. If you have an occasional cheat day, but have a healthy diet high in protein and fiber as a base, you can do yourself some mental good. However, a healthy intestine is a prerequisite for this.
(1) Ursinus, Lothar (2022): Labor ganzheitlich – Basisseminar. Seminarunterlagen aus Würzburg 2022.
(2) Koch, Dr. Simone (2020): Autoimmunhilfe: Beschwerdefrei leben durch lektinarme Ernährung – 80 Rezepte gegen Hashimoto, Reizdarm & Co. München: Südwest Verlag.