Many diets condemn cheat days as an unforgivable deviation from “what’s right.” Intermittent fasting surprisingly makes cheat days not only possible but also somewhat natural, allowing for “cheats” to happen whenever you’re within your eating window.
It seems unbelievable at first. But, since intermittent fasting has many possible variations like shorter 10:14 or 16:8 and other hourly fasts (there are also alternate day fasts), cheat meals or days can be whenever you have an eating window.
But to answer if intermittent fasting and cheat days are compatible, we must discuss a few things first.
What Is a Cheat Day?
A cheat meal or a cheat day is generally a deviation from your eating plan for that one meal of the day, or it’s a full day of eating without any restrictions.
Respectively having a cheat day means going back to your usual diet the next day.
Although cheating on your diet seems like a bad idea, actually cheat days can positively impact how you approach your new eating regimen and weight loss in general. Having a well-planned cheat meal (or day) can give that boost of motivation to go back to eating right. Also, it’s proven that a planned deviation from the path to your goal is linked to a higher success rate in reaching that same goal(1).
Bear in mind that the cheat day has to be planned. Having impulsive cheat days may become a habit and therefore negatively impact your weight loss results.
Cheating and Intermittent Fasting
For those who fast every day within specific time frames, cheating may simply be eating outside their eating window. If the cheat day is planned ahead and you already know when you’ll be eating (attending a birthday dinner party, maybe?), you can easily adjust by pushing your eating window backward or forward to accommodate your needs.
An alternate day fasting is generally considered as having cheat days and then mixing them with fasting days. If rapid weight loss is not your priority, then having plenty of food within your eating day and fasting the next could be a way to go.
However, if you’re fasting and implementing a specific diet alongside (keto, paleo, or other) and the goal is to manage insulin or blood glucose, then having random cheat meals can negatively impact your results and prevent you from reaching your goals altogether.
How Often Can You Cheat?
There is no specific answer to how often you can cheat and not jeopardize your weight loss results entirely.
And also, “how often” is not the only question you should ask; what your cheat meals consist of matters too.
For example, eating a piece of cake once a month might not have any impact over a more extended period of time, but changing one healthy meal to a piece of pie every day can already have a massive effect on your weight loss and overall well-being.
At the same time, changing your gluten-free tortilla to the one with regular flour will show no signs of difference. (Unless you have gluten intolerance, of course. But we’re not talking about that here.)
There is no concrete answer to how often you can cheat. It only depends on personal features and certain circumstances.
It is, however, best to observe your body and act accordingly. This way, you’ll be able to find the best intermittent fasting protocol and diet that fulfills your needs and does not make you want to cheat.
What Does Science Say About Cheating on Your Diet?
In a 2018 research, overweight men were split into two groups. The first group was given a precise eating plan, whereas the second took short breaks from the diet. After 4 months, the intermittent dieters had lost more weight and had gained fewer pounds after the study (2).
Although this example sounds promising, it’s essential to limit your cheat meals. Mouse research published in 2017 discovered that three cheat days per week had the same effect on gut flora as a constant diet of unhealthy fast food (3).
Also, the research indicates that people with health problems such as high cholesterol, diabetes, or high blood pressure should carefully schedule their cheat days. Apparently, even minor dietary changes can have visible consequences on your health.
It’s especially relevant for those on a keto diet. According to a 2019 study, as little as one serving of simple carbohydrates on a cheat day showed the potential of damaging the blood vessels (4).
Obviously, intermittent fasting is one of the best weight loss options for those who can’t get over their guilty pleasures. Either it’s regular fasting or alternate-day fasting. Fitting a cheat meal into your intermittent fasting protocol is easy and, if planned right, might not even interfere with your weight loss.
However, cheating constantly has its downside, too: from hitting plateaus in your weight loss to the increased risks of causing damage to your blood vessels.
As with everything that’s related to your health, you should look at cheating with caution too. Also, let’s not forget that if the diet is healthy and fulfilling, the cravings for cheat meals should not be present. Therefore, before indulging in a Happy Meal, think about how you could eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet all the time to prevent such cravings in the future.
1. Can cheat days boost your metabolism?
The body’s metabolism improves after a cheat meal, allowing you to burn calories quicker. This is due to elevated amounts of hormones released by fat cells that are important for regulating the body’s energy balance.
2. Why are cheat days good?
Although cheating on your diet seems like a bad idea, cheat days can positively impact how you approach your new eating regimen and weight loss in general. Having a well-planned cheat meal (or day) can give that boost of motivation to go back to eating right. Also, it’s proven that a planned deviation from the path to your goal is linked to a higher success rate in reaching that same goal.