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How to Recover from Your Cheat Day
The big game calls for big snacks with some equally big numbers on their nutrition label. We all allow ourselves a little room for our favorite foods sometimes, and major events usually take credit for this. However, there’s no need to forfeit your goals if you’ve strayed from the path.
There is a way to recover from your splurge, and it’s not a crash diet. Here are 5 healthy ways to get yourself back on track:
1. Don’t Panic
Food cravings are natural and there are a lot of reasons for them. Often, they are linked to common physical and emotional triggers like a lack of sleep, PMS, stress, nutrient deficiencies, and more.1 So, even if your cheat day wasn’t game day, it’s good to understand that our bodies often fight with our brains when it comes to cravings.
The good news? There is evidence to indicate that the occasional cheat day can help you stay on track for long-term goals.1 True, the excess calories or getting kicked out of ketosis can make your progress slow-going, but, having an outlet to occasionally enjoy your guilty pleasures can make the mental battle a bit more bearable.
The other tips come in no particular order but it’s a good idea to check-in with yourself first to make sure you’re not beating yourself up for the cheat. It’s healthy to acknowledge that cheat days are a good thing in moderation, and if you really overdid it, that you are capable of making a comeback.
2. Drink Water
Water helps your body do what it’s already doing, better. Drink water to help your liver and kidneys do what they do best, which is to help process and flush out toxins.2 It’ll also benefit your digestive tract and help move things along. If you ate something your body was no longer accustomed to receiving, you may start to feel a little “backed up.” Water will help get things back to normal.
In addition to helping your bodily processes, drinking water can help you eat less. Cheat days usually involve sugar and carbs, the food items most people are cutting from their daily diets. Sugar and carbs do a great job of lighting up your craving for more! Chances are, the day after your cheat day, you’ll be craving just a few more nibbles. Drinking water can help you feel more satiated which helps fight additional cravings.
3. Stay Off the Scale
You might be tempted to weigh yourself to assess the damage but doing so will not help you at all. The scale will almost certainly tell you that you’ve gained weight. Seeing a higher-than-normal number can be really discouraging, but the good news is that the weight you gained is not fat. It takes much longer to gain fat than you might think. The extra weight is most likely water.3
Here’s the thing: carbohydrates are a good source of glycogen, an easy-to-process energy source. Glycogen happens to bond very well with water,3 a readily available molecule in your body. This is why the scale says you are heavier, because for every gram of carbohydrates, you have 3 or 4 molecules of water bonded to it.3 Your body retains this water and the scale reflects the added weight. Keep your sanity by staying off the scale and take comfort in the fact that you can still bounce back from water-weight.
You might think, “well, #2 was to drink water; won’t that add to water-weight?” It really won’t. Drinking water is actually cited as a method to help lose water weight.4 When your body feels dehydrated, it will cling to the water it has. Conversely, if you over-hydrate, your body will retain water as well. Just keep a balance.
4. Take Advantage of Your Refueled Glycogen Stores
Speaking of glycogen, if your body has some fresh stores, use them! When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose. That glucose is either used up for immediate energy or converted into glycogen and saved for later.5 Your body has limited glycogen storage and unlimited fat storage, so if your glycogen stores get full, your body converts glycogen into triglycerides (a type of fat). Triglycerides can be used for energy or get stored in your body fat.5
Get a solid workout in to help use up the stored energy and limit your carb intake to help your body use what you put in on your cheat day.
5. Resume Your Healthy Eating Habits
Make sure your cheat day doesn’t turn into a cheat week. Remember that a single day or meal isn’t going to undo weeks or months of hard work, that the scale is most likely reflecting water-weight, and that you can help your body get back to healthy habits. Look back fondly on how delicious your cheat meal was and then zero back in on healthy eating.
For information on how train your taste buds to love the taste of health foods, read our article: It’s an Acquired Taste. If you’re still thinking about how the body uses glycogen and when it starts burning fat, read our article about Exercising on an Empty Stomach.
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- Penney, Stacey. “Do Cheat Meals Make Diet Sense?” NASM Blog, 11 Oct. 2018, https://blog.nasm.org/nutrition/cheat-meals-make-diet-sense/.
- Chandler, Brynne. “The Best Way to Clean Out Your Body Naturally.” Healthfully, 24 Dec. 2019, https://healthfully.com/the-best-way-to-clean-out-your-body-naturally-5350801.html.
- “Does A Cheat Day Undo A Week at the Gym?” InBody USA, 21 Sept. 2018, https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/88406017-does-a-cheat-day-undo-a-week-at-the-gym/.
- Mawer, Rudy. “13 Ways to Lose Water Weight (Fast and Safely).” Healthline, 9 Aug. 2018, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/13-ways-to-lose-water-weight#section8.
- Boyers, Lindsay. “Burning Fat Vs. Glycogen.” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 16 May 2019, https://www.livestrong.com/article/331651-burning-fat-vs-glycogen/.