The holidays are coming up, and that means endless carbs, sweet treats, and more cookies than Santa Claus himself could consume are coming with it. It’s hard to stick to your diet during the holidays, which is why a lot of people rely on that beloved “cheat day” to indulge in season’s offerings. But this begs the question: Are cheat days hurting us in the long run?
Myth: Cheat days improve your metabolism. When you diet, your metabolism tends to decrease. Some people encourage cheat days due to the belief that increasing your calorie intake periodically will help boost your metabolism. But science says this isn’t exactly what happens.
In a 2016 study, researchers from the Mayo Clinic instructed participants to overeat by 1,000 calories a day. After seven days, the researchers did note an increase in the participants’ metabolism — by just 18 calories. Cheat days can boost your metabolism, but it’s temporary and never enough to make up for overindulging.
The Truth About Cheat Days
Cheat days certainly aren’t helping your body, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily hurting you. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that cheat days might help some people stick to their diet. However, it’s worth noting that in this study, even on their cheat day, participants stuck to their weekly calorie goals.
When you spend just one day overindulging in carbs, sugar, or fat, your body is able to compensate. Unless you have certain health conditions, if your body needs more insulin, your pancreas will produce more insulin. That said, you’re probably not going to feel great after scarfing a plate of chocolate chip pancakes. Bloating and gas are common side effects of a cheat day.
If you like your cheat day and can stick to your diet for the rest of the week, you’re probably alright to keep enjoying it. But keep in mind that rather than slamming down a whole pizza or a tray of brownies on Saturday, health experts recommend giving yourself permission to indulge in small treats a couple of times a week.
Two or three times a week, you can enjoy a treat that makes up 10–20% of your daily calories. This is all to say that you can enjoy one Christmas cookie a week without signing your body up for hours of discomfort.
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