One of the biggest errors of the ‘diet mentality‘ is that it doesn’t leave any room for time off from your eating plan.
You quickly get tired of following a set plan, and start to feel like you’ve been restricting yourself too much.
You’ve been there, right?
Well, it usually ends with a feeling of falling off the wagon once again, as you inevitability indulge in so-called non-diet foods, and the guilt starts to build from there.
In an ideal world we would all eat healthy, fresh foods most of the time, and rarely feel the need to ‘break’ from our eating plan.
However, there are always going to be those times when you want to eat some foods you don’t normally eat.
In my weight loss program, I feel so strongly about the need to do this that I’ve incorporated a day off each week, where members are encouraged to schedule a weekly break from their diet plan.
This dedicated time off, allows for a mental break from the dieting mindset, and gives the opportunity to eat specific things, which you would normally avoid.
A major plus from this, is that you accept this cheating is a natural part of your fitness journey, and therefore it removes the guilt of not eating well, which can be a huge barrier to success.
Physical Benefits of Having a Day Off
I think it’s important to cover some of the reasons why taking a day off may be helpful.
In theory, the benefits of a day off are;
1. Increased thyroid hormone
When calorie intake is low, we produce less T3 and T4 (thyroid hormones which help to regulate metabolism).
But, having a strategic overfeed on your day off will, theoretically, boost the level of these important hormones.
See this study for details.
2. Increased metabolism
When you cut your calorie intake, studies suggest this can cause the hormone leptin (maintains energy balance and causes weight loss) to decrease.
However, temporarily upping your calorie intake can boost leptin production again by almost 30 percent (for up to 24 hours).
This boost in leptin after overeating is thought to increase energy expenditure and basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Whether you can eat whatever you want on your day off remains to be seen, however.
One study actually found that overeating on a high protein diet increased metabolism, while overeating on a low protein diet did not.
This suggests that even on your day off, it is wise to be careful with your choices, rather than going totally away from how you normally eat.
That said, there is also the physiological benefit of taking a day off from your dieting, which is by far the most significant reason why taking one day off will help you reach your fitness goals.
Psychological Benefits of Having a Day Off
“Psychologically a day off each week can help you to stay on track with your eating plan long-term.” – Click to Tweet
After all, it’s easier to avoid treats during the rest of the week, if you tell yourself you can have them later, rather than never.
For most people, the idea of never being able to eat their favorite foods again is unrealistic, and thoughts of food can become an obsession.
Having a treat meal allows you to follow a healthy meal plan most of the time, then take some time off once per week to relax and eat whatever foods you miss most.
What I like most about the idea of taking a day off each week, is that you build this into your eating plan, rather than randomly giving in to treats.
That’s a great way to keep things under control, increasing your adherence to your eating plan, and teaching you how to be more flexible with food.
Long-term this will help you reach and maintain your fitness goals.
4 Tips For a Successful Day Off
As with most things, there are a few caveats for making it work for you week after week.
So, let me explain those.
1. Use positive language
You may think there’s no difference if you say ‘cheat’ day or ‘treat’ day.
However, individual words have a big influence on your brain and the actions you take.
It’s entirely possible that by calling your day off a ‘cheat’ day it could lead you to cheat more than you scheduled.
Instead, it’s better to use positive language to reinforce your behaviors.
That’s why using the term treat day or day off is much better, because it helps your brain appreciates the award system.
In other words, the idea that your day off must be earned and awarded, rather than being a sneaky cheat from your diet plan.
2. Have treat meals
Some diets recommend a whole day off from dieting.
However, another alternative is to have treat meals rather than taking all day off.
Personally I use a mixture of both, depending on my circumstances and health goals at that time.
Most commonly I’ll have a treat meal once each week. That is the day I have some kind of food I don’t normally eat, usually higher carb foods and a little dessert.
At the rest of my meals, however, I eat normally. So eggs for breakfast, healthy snacks like nuts and fruits etc etc.
In essence it is a treat day, but without going too much off the rails.
3. No guilt
The term ‘cheat’ brings with it a sense of guilt.
I find dieters spend far too much of their time feeling guilty about their ability (or lack of ability) to stick with the plan they are trying to follow.
Planning a strategic day off, or treat meal, helps remove that feeling as long as the rest of your diet is pretty much healthy.
Remember, if you are eating five times each day, that is 35 meals per week. So, if at least 30 of them (90% compliancy) are super healthy, then one or even two treat meals are not going to damage your progress.
4. Workout strategically
Taking time off from your diet plan can feel unsettling if you normally stick to things pretty rigorously, or you have a tight goal you really want to reach.
But, let me share another strategy with you.
If you want to overeat some particularly bad foods, you should do so after a hard workout.
When you train extremely hard before your treat meal, you prime your muscles for maximum muscle growth, and this helps flip the anabolic switch which equals muscle growth.
So, want to enjoy your treat meal and grow your muscles at the same time? Workout really hard, then enjoy your treat meal afterwards.
This is also a great way to make sure you are pushing yourself through your workout, since you know your reward will be good.
Think of that steak, pepper sauce and french fries, followed by sticky toffee pudding.
If you are only eating like that 1 time out of 35 per week, there’s no need to freak out about it.
Post workout window benefits:
- This increase in your calorie intake above normal, along with eating some foods you don’t normally, gives your metabolism a kick start.
- It also helps to replenish your glycogen levels, which makes your muscles look fuller.
- And, it gives your mind a break, too.
Make the most of your post workout window, by combining some carby foods with a lean animal protein. Think white rice and potatoes, over wheat-based products, though.
Do keep in mind, however, I am recommending this for those of you who workout to a high intensity.
If you are sedentary the rules change.
If you don’t workout, you need to limit your intake of starchy carbs. Your metabolism simply doesn’t need as much glucose.
So that’s it, everything you need to know for getting the most out of your day off.