Last updated on September 19th, 2022 at 11:00 am
So, you want to know, “Can I Have a Cheat Day on Intermittent Fasting?”
Intermittent fasting can be tough, especially if you don’t have something to look forward to.
Plus, you’ve no doubt heard about the potential benefits of enjoying the occasional cheat day.
That being said, cheat days are usually restricted to “normal” diets.
So, is it even possible to have a cheat day while intermittent fasting?
Will this completely wreck your weight loss goals?
Or will it actually do you some good?
Let’s find out.
Can I Have a Cheat Day on Intermittent Fasting?
You can have a cheat day on Intermittent Fasting, although I wouldn’t recommend it. It is far better to have a single cheat meal, approximately 3 times a month. This way you are more in control of your total weekly calorie intake. Plus, an entire day of “cheating” will typically leave you feeling sick, tired, and lethargic, especially if everything you’ve eaten is highly-processed foods and lots of sugar. One single cheat meal is likely to leave you feeling satisfied, without having consumed a huge number of calories throughout the day.
1. Will One Cheat Day Make You Gain Weight?
One day will never make a huge difference to intermittent fasting, or any other diet for that matter.
What I mean by this is that changes to your body never really happen on a day-to-day basis, but rather over a prolonged period.
So, in effect, if you mainly eat sensibly, and let’s say over the period of a week your total calories are below maintenance levels, then you’ll lose weight.
By the same token, if you spend most of the week eating crap, which is over your maintenance calorie levels, then you’ll put on weight.
Essentially, if you can tie in a cheat day to your total weekly calories, then you shouldn’t face any issues.
Now, this is the simple way of looking at it.
However, I’ve personally never been a fan of “cheat days”, but rather cheat meals.
The reason I say this is because of the way most people tend to treat an entire cheat day.
Furthermore, an entire cheat day can have a psychological effect on you.
The Mental & Physical Factors to a Cheat Day
If you’ve got a history of eating processed carbs, especially sugar, you then take a break from it before returning to eating this type of food, it can play havoc with you mentally and emotionally.
Firstly, there’s the feeling of missing out on your favourite foods, and you literally rekindle the flame the first time a morsel of “bad” food passes your lips.
Additionally, this is likely to cause increased hunger, as well as affecting your blood sugar levels.
So, when you go back to eating “normally”, you’re likely to feel even hungrier than before, plus you may find that your motivation is severely affected.
You may find that you’re constantly hankering for that cheat day again, looking to gorge on pizza, burgers, fries, and ice cream.
And eventually, this could lead you to simply giving up.
Something else to be aware of is that an entire cheat day, especially when entirely focused around the “wrong types of food” will probably leave you feeling terrible.
You know the feeling yourself, and for as much pleasure as we get from eating highly processed foods, the comedown afterwards can feel awful.
Once again, this typically comes down to your fluctuating blood sugar levels.
So, it could be a case that one cheat day leads to more-and-more, and therefore you eventually gain weight.
2. How Often Can I Have a Cheat Day on Intermittent Fasting?
I’ve mentioned in passing that I much prefer a cheat meal to a cheat day.
Personally, I just think an entire cheat day is too much for most people to cope with, especially when they are practicing some type of restriction.
And in truth, this is why so many diets fail.
Basically, you spend a while completely restricting the number of calories you eat, before gorging on anything and everything every once in a while.
In principle, it sounds great, but you need to be wary of just how many calories you’re consuming on a weekly basis.
As I’ve said, even if you’re literally starving yourself for most of the week, and then eating whatever you like for a day, you can still put on weight.
So, for me, intermittent fasting should involve your specific fasting window where you don’t eat anything, followed by a period of “sensible eating”.
Not only is this the correct way to lose weight through intermittent fasting, it’s unlikely you’ll go through the mental torture of missing out on all your favourite foods.
Plus, let’s not forget that an entire day of eating crap will leave you feeling like crap.
I’ve actually found that having up to three cheat MEALS a month works perfectly.
The main reason for this is that one single meal will typically satisfy your urge for processed foods, but it won’t leave you feeling as bad as an entire day.
So, as an example, during my eating window my main meals will be sensible and healthy choices, and I’ll have that one cheat meal, say once every 10 days.
This helps with motivation too, as you have something to look forward to, plus as I say, one cheat meal won’t affect your weight loss, as long as you’re eating sensibly the rest of the time.
3. What Should I Eat For a Cheat Meal?
Obviously, the actual food you eat for a cheat meal will largely depend on your personal preferences.
However, what I personally like to do is to try to make my cheat meal a little healthier.
A prime example of this would be that I enjoy a burger and fries.
But, I only eat one half of the bun on the burger and replace the fries with sweet potato fries.
So, I still get to enjoy one of my favourite meals ever, but I’ve just managed to chop 300 calories off without any real effort.
Some other things that I often do include:
- Eating an entire mixed grill from an Indian restaurant, but without any rice or bread.
- Enjoying a very healthy, but small, main meal, and then having a large dessert.
- Ordering an individual THIN CRUST pizza either loaded with meat, lots of vegetables, or both.
- Having my cheat meal immediately after my workout when my metabolism is firing on all cylinders.
- Sharing a BIG cheat meal with a spouse, partner, family member, or friend.
- Up my walking levels for the day, typically aiming for around 20,000 steps (I generally walk 10,000 steps a day)
So, as I say, the choice for a cheat meal is entirely up to you, but you should also be aware that there are ways to make your cheat meals slightly “healthier”.
Healthy Versions of Your Favourite Cheat Meals
So, I hope you understand that you can have a cheat day while on intermittent fasting, although it isn’t something I’d recommend.
In fact, you would be much better off simply having one single cheat meal.
Plus, you can typically do this up to 3 times per month.
By having an entire cheat day you may end up consuming a huge amount of calories, which then goes against everything you’ve tried to achieve through intermittent fasting.
Plus, a whole day of eating crap is likely to leave you feeling like crap.
And this is typically when our motivation is at its worst.
So, you may even be tempted to enjoy another cheat day, and then another, until you’ve basically stopped eating sensibly altogether.
So, stick with the occasional cheat meal, while trying to make it as healthy as possible, and then eat sensibly for the rest of your eating window.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.