It is something we have all experienced at one point or another. Keeping a healthy diet and hitting the gym regularly is part of your daily routine. However, some events can derail your plans- a birthday party, a vacation, or even an unfavorable day at work.
Overeating and skipping workouts suddenly become your norm. It doesn’t take long before you’re back at square one- or worse off- because a cheat meal turned into a cheat day, then a week. You get the idea. For most of us, this is the point where we throw in the towel. We give up. We go back to our old habits, and we swear that we’ll start again next Monday…next month…next year.
What can you do to break this yo-yo dieting cycle? What if there was a better way? What if, instead of quitting, you could get back on track, even when you’re busy or stressed out? That’s where cheat meals and refeed days come into play. While some people like them, others consider them a waste of time.
In this article, we’ll explain what they are, when they work best, and how you can use them to help you lose weight faster.
What Are Cheat Meals?
A cheat meal sometimes referred to as a ‘cheat day,’ is a planned deviation from your healthy eating plan. Cheat meals are often built into diet plans, giving dieters a structured way to relax the rules and indulge in their favorite foods. People trying to lose weight or maintain their weight can benefit from cheat meals and cheat days since they can prevent feelings of deprivation and allow people to stick to their diets over the long term.
But it is important to keep in mind that cheat meals are different from binges so they should not be used as an excuse for eating unhealthy foods at will. It is better to see them as a way to enjoy bad foods in moderation, rather than as an unhealthy food substitute.
You can still limit your cheat meals to one or two days a week (or even just one). This makes them more effective for weight loss, both short-term and long-term.
Refeed Days: What Are They?
Refeed days differ from cheat meals/days because they are designed to be functional instead of a psychological break from dieting. A ‘refeed day’ is a day when people on a weight loss diet consume significantly more calories, typically through carbohydrate consumption.
We aim to get a break from dieting and not let the metabolism bog down too much as it usually does during a diet.
Refeeds are meant to be used on a dietary/caloric deficit (aka cutting) to promote a healthy metabolism. In fact, refeeds have been shown to increase fat loss, promote healthy hormone levels, improve mood, and enhance performance.
When done correctly, refeeds will NOT cause fat gain, but will promote leanness.
When Should You Refeed?
How often you refeed is relative to your goals. Refeeds have been shown to improve body composition whether it’s fat loss or muscle gain. Refeed strategy is dependent on:
- Your current body composition
- Your set macros
- Your training regimen.
Refeeds may be used weekly, biweekly, monthly, or as needed to maintain body composition changes. Refeeds are also ideal for those who aren’t seeing the results they want. If you’re dieting and not seeing progress, a refeed can help kickstart fat loss. Some people prefer to refeed every 7-10 days, others prefer once a week.
The Fundamentals of Refeeding
Refeeds involve eating more calories than your body expends in order to stimulate fat loss and muscle growth. There are two main reasons why refeeds work so well:
- Calories = Energy
- Calories = Hormones
When calories are restricted, your body makes adjustments to conserve energy. When calories are increased, your body responds by increasing various hormones like thyroid, leptin, and testosterone. Refeeds help optimize your hormone levels and increase your energy levels.
What’s a Healthy Refeed? Most refeeds involve eating 400-600 more calories than your body expends. Having 600 extra calories on a refeed day doesn’t mean you’re stuffing your face with pizza and ice cream.
What’s The Difference?
Cheat meals and refeed days may sound similar at first glance, but only to some extent. Each provides a little extra food to help you break the rut of dieting, but they also differ a lot.
Why? Generally, cheat meals are just one or two meals and do not really have to be planned ahead of time. Consequently, as we have already pointed out, cheat meals can easily become cheat days.
However, refeed days are much more deliberate and calculated since you aim to eat at a slight surplus of calories, but not too much, to prevent gaining excess weight.
How to Use Cheat Meals and Refeed Days for Muscle Gain
If you’re trying to build muscle, cheat meals and refeed days can be even more powerful. That’s because cheat meals and refeed days are an important part of muscle-building diets. There’s a scientific reason that cheat meals and refeed days work so well for muscle gain.
When you restrict calories, your body releases a hormone called ‘cortisol.’ Cortisol levels are also elevated when you’re stressed, and when you’re exhausted. Studies have shown that stress and elevated cortisol make you put on weight, but it also breaks down muscle.
This is part of why cutting diets cause muscle loss. This is why cheat meals and refeed days can be so important for bodybuilders. They’re a way to take a break from the stress of your diet, and they help your body recover.
If you’ve spent the past two weeks pushing yourself in the gym, it’s ok to have a refeed day. In other words, cheat meals and refeed days are just as important for muscle gain as they are for fat loss.
Cheat Meals Vs. Refeed Days: Which is Better?
What is the best practice – cheat meals on occasion or refeed days in the present scenario? We think that it doesn’t have to be that binary, in our opinion.
Why not have both?
It is a well-known fact that the only thing necessary for weight loss to occur is to be in a caloric deficit. The good news is that this means you can have a mini cheat meal every day without negatively impacting your progress.
In other words, as long as you find an appropriate balance between nutrient-dense foods and ‘cheat’ food types, rather than the opposite, these ways of eating can be beneficial. We recommend you enjoy some of your favorite cheat foods on a more frequent basis as long as you maintain a caloric deficit!
This way, you will become less attached to those foods in the future, thus having less cravings for them. If you implement refeed days each week, you won’t even feel like you’re on a diet anymore, and you won’t even miss it!
And now you know. Both sides have their benefits and drawbacks, but ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what is best for your body and what will reach your goals the most. Choosing to indulge in a cheat meal from time to time is perfectly fine, but you should be sure that the majority of your diet continues to be healthy and balanced and take the cheat meal in moderation.
Also, if you prefer to stick with the refeed days method, be sure that you plan them out carefully not to derail your entire diet plan. Both methods can be viable choices; it just comes down to finding the alternative that is more reliable and long-lasting for your lifestyle.