What Do I Think About “Cheat DAys”?

Posted: March 4, 2011 at 12:06 pm

“Free” day. “Cheat” day. “Treat” day. “Refeed” day. No matter what it’s called, you’ve likely heard of this phenomenon where you pick one day each week with no limitation or restriction. A day to eat whatever you want. You may expect me to sit here and tell you my disbelief in such an approach to eating. You know what though? I think many of us practice one ourselves. And that’s okay to me! The key lies in how we approach it.

I personally find myself managing my eating with such a day each week. During the week, when in my regular routines, I eat numerous healthy meals.

Oats for breakfast…

cranapple granola oats

…fruits, nuts, yogurt, etc for snacks…


…and a variety of meals that include veggies, whole grains, and quality proteins.

IMGP9893 tortellinisoup spice chicken 6 pasta 6 mexican casserole 5IMGP0095 veggie burger   hummus IMGP0041

On the weekend, typically Saturdays, I find myself indulging a lot more readily though.

We have dinners out…

cheeky three tacos

…hit up dessert as a way to relax together…

sydneyparty6 yogli mogli

…attend social events with lots of food…

fettuccine IMGP8564

…and sneak in little extra treats that somehow appear in our shopping carts. *cough*


Recently, Katy posted about the “refeed” days included in the 4 Hour Body eating plan she reviewed. It got me really considering the pros and cons of eating more openly a particular time each week. Right now, this style fits into my balanced relationship with food because it comes as my natural eating routine. I have also experienced the detrimental side when I allowed the following to happen:

  • No wiggle room. If something happened, like a dinner with friends, on a night that wasn’t my specified day, I would get anxious and end up going overboard because I didn’t “stick with the plan”.
  • Too restrictive at other times. When it wasn’t my “treat day” I did not allow a single thing to pass my lips that you could consider a treat in any sense of the word. This only led to intense cravings that I would tally up in my mind to get my grubby hands on every Saturday. As you can imagine, this always led to a binge and eating way, way too much junk from morning until night .
  • Not enjoying food. This turned the food I ate regularly during the week into things I '”had to” eat and not that I wanted to eat. I lost pleasure in eating. I also lost my understanding of my body, because I would be either hungry during the week or stuffed on my treat day.

These three issues caused numerous binges and a very messed up relationship with food. So, how can I say I still view a “free” day each week as reasonable?

It’s about not labeling it so and it coming as part of balance and moderation. It’s about not feeling guilty when I have times during the week that I find myself in situations where I don’t eat optimally health-wise. I strive to eat healthfully 80% of the time. For my life, this ends up with eating balanced meals during the week when I cook and being okay with splurging a bit when we go out to eat or get together with friends. I still allow small treats basically every day. For example, I love my coffee and square of dark chocolate during the kiddos’ naps. I no longer label days or food as cheats or treats. They are food and I can enjoy them as I wish any day, but will have to keep in mind how they affect my body, my energy, my goals, etc. I go with cravings and take the time to savor them so I end up more satisfied eating one cream egg than five.

All in all, I think the negative connotation that comes with “treat/free/cheat/off/refeed/willy nilly/etc” days is unnecessary. I would say the majority of us do it. We just have to step with caution in our view of eating at different times.

Question of the Day – Do you eat differently some days during the week? Have you ever actively deemed a day as a “treat day”?

Reminder - Atlanta Blogger Meet-Up NEXT SATURDAY for dinner. Email me [tina @ faithfitnessfun dot com] if interested.

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68 Comments to “What Do I Think About “Cheat DAys”?”
  1. My cheat days used to be binge days in disguise. I told myself it was okay, but deep down I knew it was not. I don’t remember particularly enjoying my cheat food and if I had listened to myself, I probably only choose it because I could, not because I really wanted it. I’d crash diet on Monday because of a “bad” weekend and the cycle would never end.

    But I’m happy that I’m over that. I enjoyed a huge salad last night that I really wanted to eat, chicken, brussel sprouts, and even a slice of pepperoni pizza. And I enjoyed it without guilt or without raiding the kitchen for more.

  2. I definitely tend to eat a little looser on the weekends (more than I probably should). I don’t really deem any particular day a cheat day though. I think I tend to eat differently on the weekends b/c I’m not on a schedule quite like I am at work. So on the weekends breakfast is the same, but I may end up eating snacks and meals at really off times.

  3. Jess says:

    Seriously – your eating style/approach is SO similar to mine. I find it easy to eat intuitively and healthfully when I allow myself to “indulge” here and there, and mostly on the weekends when there’s more time for socializing and doing things that are out of the “norm” from the weekly routine. I try hard not to overdo it on the weekends (though I won’t lie and say that’s never happened) but by allowing myself leeway, to your point, I eat healthfully and happily and it suits me. I don’t feel deprived. I don’t feel overly obsessed with food. I just feel good about it. And centered.

  4. I don’t do “cheat days” because I feel like I “cheat” a little on many days. Therefore, I don’t feel a need to have one.

  5. I have a very similar opinion as you do Tina.

    I used to have cheat days, refeed days, high carb days, high sugar days…you name it. I would be “perfect” X days of the week and then chill out for that one day. But my chilled out behavior was always out of control and began to lead to binge after binge after binge. You see- if I wasn’t “perfect” the very next day, I might as well eat like it’s a cheat day and start again “tomorrow.” That led to a very very long path of disordered eating.

    The separate issue that I find with cheat days is sets the tone that what you eat and how you eat other days of the week isn’t something you enjoy and could do long term. What is the point of eating a particular way if all you look forward to is Saturday when you can have what you really want?

    My experience has been that all foods can fit in our life. If we give ourselves and our body the chance to ask for what it needs- you will notice how much you can thrive on a little bit of it all!

  6. I tend to be a lot more relaxed about things over the weekend in general but usually by Sunday wish I hadn’t been so relaxed about my eating!

  7. Hallie says:

    I just started Body for Life and it includes one free day a week. I think my metabolism will need the boost, but I’m also using it as a chance to teach myself that I can indulge in “treats” and take a “day of dieting” without binging. I also need it to maintain a social life, which is a huge problem in my last time on a program like this. I do plan on being flexible with it, like usually Saturday is my free day but next week I’m going out with my girls on Thursday, so I’ll take free day then. If I’m not progressing in the program then I’ll re-evaluate, but it sounds good in theory!

  8. Amanda Perry says:

    Love this! You have to do what works for you, but I have to agree that sometimes just having a cheat day leads to binging and overdoing it on that day. It’s not worth beating yourself up if you decide to meet friends on a Wednesday and have something you wouldn’t normally have. Just get back into a normal routine starting at the next meal and all will be okay. 🙂

    This is absolutely how I eat…aim for 80%-90% great and the rest whatever I want. Life is too short! This is also what I am trying to tell clients and friends who come to me for advice.

    What works for us may not work for everyone, but somehow learning to find a balance is key!

  9. I’m not a big fan of cheat days because if I only reserve it for one day I go WAY overboard.

    Instead if I want a brownie today I know I have to balance it with the rest of my food. That way I can enjoy a treat when I want it and I don’t feel restricted or on a diet. I have enough restrictions with allergies.

  10. YES! I always relax my eating on the weekend. We try to only eat out once (sometimes twice) per week, and it’s usually on the weekend. I try to order healthy at restaurants, but if there is something I want that’s not necessarily the greatest, I still let myself have it! I know it’s okay because I don’t do this every day and I eat very healthfully all through the week. It’s all about finding balance.

  11. Courtney F says:

    I don’t have cheat days but I do try to eat clean throughout the week, so I can allow more wiggle room on the weekends.

  12. I find that idi tend to indulge more on the weekends.. And I like that it gives me something to really look forward to food-wise. It’s typically enjoyed with great friends, which makes it all worth it!

  13. Lauren says:

    I don’t think I ever have a full cheat day. I’d rather eat healthy everyday but still have a treat each day. I’ll always enjoy a good meal & dessert when I go to dinner, which is indulgent, but it’s only once in a while.

  14. I loved this post! I used to have “cheat days” which were usually the weekends when I would go out and party with my friends in college. Now, I kind of just eat what I want, which I am totally proud of. 95% of the time my diet is super clean, so I feel like I can when I want to. My idea of a “splurge” would probably make others laugh though. 🙂

  15. This is an awesome post! I have done the “cheat day”, but I’m like you…if I feel deprived all week, I am miserable when I am eating the whole, healthy foods that I normally love and on cheat day I not only eat a creme egg, but I also go for fast food, chips and wine!! Then my body feels like crap and I feel guilty for all the damage I did.

    Balance is the way to go. I think eating healthfully 80% of the time is a great, easy to achieve goal.

  16. Well, I don’t believe restricting all week and then eating whatever you want one day a week is healthy. While I definitely eat out or have more dessert on certain days than others, I just look at it as living balanced. I;m a bit confused by this post because you seem to be saying you agree with a cheat day but that you don’t look at those foods you would be “cheating” with as “cheating?” If you mean that you feel eating balanced and nutritious 80% of time is a great way to eat, then I don’t really think you believe in cheat days either. Sorry I was just confused by what you were ultimately trying to say.

    • Tina says:

      I guess I was trying to say that having a labeled cheat day – where you restrict or limit foods unless its that one particular day is NOT okay. What is okay is naturally having some times where we eat a bit more off our healthy games. I see/hear too many people beating themselves up for eating more sweets over the weekend when in my mind it’s probably natural for many of us to be more indulgent then…and thats okay.

      Sorry the post was confusing! I guess I was getting at balance. That I’m okay eating more desserts or dinner out on the weekend because I know during the week I naturally keep things healthy. But I still don’t limit myself to that one day either and enjoy all my food. I’m confusing myself now! LOL

  17. I appreciate what you said about such days falling into your natural routine. To me, that’s key. If we try to impose a cheat day from the outside, we’re bound to end up struggling in the ways you used to. But if it just flows with the ways our lives are going anyway, then it makes sense!

    • Tina says:

      Okay…THAT is what I was trying to get at. That if we NATURALLY have a day where we eat a bit more “indulgently” it’s okay. We just shouldn’t restrict with the idea of “Oh on Saturday I can eat that” and then gorge.

      I’m thinking I diidn’t make that too clear in the post to some. Oops.

  18. Stephanie says:

    My only issue with cheat days FOR ME is a tendency to over do it. If I don’t restrict treats daily if I so choose to have one I end up making better choices than going overboard on weekends. That said…I am generally much more lax about the choices I make on the weekends to keep some sanity. 🙂

  19. No, I pretty much eat the same or similar all the time and just allow myself to have the good stuff in moderation whenever it presents itself. I would go crazy if I could only have cheese or a cookie or a beer one day a week, I know I would just end up overdoing it on that day. So, when I want a cookie I eat a cookie, but just ONE!

  20. I used to use cheat days in an extreme way- eat super healthy and low calorie during the week and then on sunday eat anything and everything. I always felt sick by the end of the day and even on Monday I wouldn’t feel good. However, I do agree with you that it can work when used as less of an extreme. I think that when people are trying to lose weight, it helps to know that at the end of the week they can relax a little or skip counting calories for one meal. Having to be perfect all the time is just too hard and unrealistic.

  21. I’ve never experimented with the “cheat day” thing, but I remember reading an article or book at some point that actually recommended spreading the “cheat day” concept out into three meals and one non-meal “treat” snack (aka ice cream or a cupcake or whatever). To me that seems much more reasonable, because knowing that you can eat several more indulgent meals instead of cramming them all into the day helps prevent a feeling of failure for eating “out of plan,” and keeps you from binging on one day!

  22. I did Body for Life a looooong time ago and that plan advocates having Sunday be “free day”, so I did that for a while. Now I don’t really think that way. I just try to eat well as much as I can and if I’m craving a treat, I eat a treat. I try to listen to my body and not overdo it.

  23. Kacy says:

    I never really restrict myself so a “cheat day” or a more indulgent day never really happens. Sometimes, I’m really into a certain meal or food or something and I overeat, then my body responds and I usually cut back because I’m too full or feel lethargic from too much sugar. It all evens out. I definitely agree with you that we shouldn’t label it as such, even if we do technically have those times.

  24. I indulge way more on the weekends, but I don’t usually mind because after indulging on sweet treats over the weekend, my body is ready for healthy meals throughout the week. On Monday mornings I actually wake up craving a healthy and satisfying breakfast and an intense workout!

  25. I definitely eat more treats on the weekend, but I don’t view it as restricting during the week- it’s just how it happens.

    • Tina says:

      Ditto to this. I love eating healthy. Just more opportunities come for treats on the weekend. And I’m okay with that because it balances out.

  26. Emily says:

    I dated a guy who lost a ton of weight and used cheat days. He ate SO WELL during the week (too well if you ask me) and then went all out on cheat days. I don’t think I could do that. I need flexibility on a daily basis for my balance of healthy eating and indulgences.

  27. I couldn’t agree more with your “too restrictive and no woogle room” comment. I use to (well I kind of still do) become incredible anxious if I didn’t get the workout I wanted in or I over indulged a little. I would completely beat myself up about it. You just have to learn that it’s life. It’s unpredictable sometimes and you got to roll with it.

  28. I indulge when the time is right… I can’t limit it to weekends because my friends tend to do weekday dinners. What I DO strive to do is limit it to a “treat” per day. It can be something little like your coffee + chocolate break, or a decadent meal out. the important thing it not feel like “every one is doing it” and I can’t because of some “diet.” that’s when I get frustrated and throw it out the window!

  29. Angela says:

    I don’t have a designated day, but if there’s a function with friends or family where I know ‘treats’ will be around, I don’t restrict myself. I used to feel a bit guilty, like I was falling off track when I did this, but now I whole-heartedly enjoy every bite of my treats! 🙂

  30. I eat the same everyday. I have treats when I want them, but really, since I had to give up on my faves (like yogurt and occasional chocolate) I fell out of love with them. So, I don’t really crave them.

  31. lindsay says:

    I really just try to go with what my body craves/needs. That usually leads to a balanced diet. Although, on the weekend, I usually enjoy an extra glass of wine. Good for the heart, eh?
    Great post Tina. I think its a topic a lot of can get bogged down on.

  32. Danica says:

    I agree with most of what you said. I don’t ever title a day a “treat day” though because I feel like that’s giving myself the go-ahead to over do it, and I don’t like the idea of letting myself do that. BUT I definitely enjoy treats and tend to be more lenient with my healthy eating plans during the weekends

  33. For me, I feel like I don’t need a cheat day because I’m regularly having treats and snacks throughout the week that aren’t great for me (like the 5 girl scout cookies and scoops of chocolate nut butter i had yest). I do enjoy one or two drinks on the weekend that I wouldn’t other wise and occasionally find us going out to eat to fun places, but i’d say my weeks are pretty balanced. I think a cheat day for me would just get outta control. Every.single.day. I have thoughts like “what if I stopped by the donut shop to get my coworkers some goodies? or, man I could go for a pizza today.” Seriously, every day I want that crap so a cheat day would be just too much indulging for me. All the same, I love a good cheat meal or snack, but I don’t call it cheating!! 🙂

  34. I’m not a big fan of cheat days. I’m also not a big fan of putting anything “off limits”. I’ve done that to myself before and it has never worked otu well.
    I think a healthy lifestyle (and intuitive eating) lends itself to all good things in moderation.

  35. Katie says:

    I dont let that word enter my life, I used to when I was modeling , when I put so much pressure to stay thin on myself, now I just listen to m body and if I want something like ice cream that I dont typically eat daily, i have it, my body doesnt crave stuff like that, its used to healthy and whole foods, so I just listen to whatever it wants and what makes me feel good! But I do like you find myself eating a little more on the weekends too and thats when my treats and sweets come in ; )

    Love the new blog look!!!

    • Tina says:

      Yea I don’t really care for the label of it. In this post I just wanted to show that I think its natural for many of us to eat a bit more specific times during the week. And that’s okay. 🙂

  36. I know everyone is sort of different in this, but I don’t really like (for myself) the “cheat day”. I regulary sneak in sweets… I think me waiting for one day to have them would probably make everyone else just as miserable as I would be. Plus, I think waiting for that one day to come up would make the actual day a huge binge. And I’m not even about to try and combat that one…

  37. I don’t have cheat days either….if I want a treat during the week, I will have a treat. But I tend to eat better during the week because I pack all of my lunches and cook dinners but there is always one day out of the weekend that I give myself a break and I don’t cook (which is much needed) and sometimes its something really healthy from a restaurant but other times I do indulge.

  38. I feel like weekends tend to include more social outings and gatherings, often including food that may not otherwise be had at home. But food is a social experience, it brings people together, and therefore should be explored, tried and loved together. I love going out to a new restaurant and trying new/different dishes with friends– probably because we’re such food critics haha

    Have a great Friday 🙂

  39. Mellissa says:

    I tend to be a lot more relaxed on the weekend about what and when I eat on the weekends. But my theory was I eat what I want but most of it is filled with real, healthy food.

  40. jobo says:

    GREAT topic. I too eat very similarly to this. I don’t label them cheat days or anything, but I do eat a bit looser on weekends, with the rule of thumb being trying to only eat a little ‘looser’ on one of two weekend days, vs. both. Some weekends are harder than others, depending on the plans I have, but I think it helps not feel too restrictive the other days, ya know?

    • Tina says:

      Yep. Ditto to this. I just naturally do things this way and don’t label it as cheats. I do try to keep it within reason as well too.

  41. I think I am on the same page with you about “cheat days.” It might work for some people to have specified days where they stick to their plan, and other days where they “cheat”, but for me this does not work at all. As soon as I start thinking of my eating as something that either must be classified as “good” or “bad”, everything goes downhill. What I try to do now is accept that some days will be filled with more veggies and nutritious foods, and other days will be filled with more treats, and just be okay with a self-regulating system like that. I think if I ever got really out of whack and noticed that 5 days in a row I was eating a ton of crap, I would snap myself out of it and try to get back into a better routine, but I cannot be someone who labels each day, especially because I never know what the day will bring, and I would never want to turn down an ice cream date with a friend just because it was the wrong day!

  42. I ‘m on Jenny Craig…..and they let you have 3 small cheats

  43. Thanks for visiting my blog! I just replied to your question–on my blog. I won’t soil your blog by revisiting the subject here, lol!

  44. Interesting post. I don’t think I have ever designated a particular day of the week as a routine treat day, but I do include treats in my life. I am still working on striking the right balance in my food choices.

  45. I naturally eat a bit more lax on the weekend, so I’m in the same boat as you. I would also be anxious if I had something come up a dinner or a party when I wasn’t supposed to be “cheating”.

  46. I used to do Body For Life which gave you a free day and I would go bonkers. I am way more on the intuitive eating kick these days, and if I do have a way off day, I don’t beat myself up for it anymore, I just move on to the next day! A pretty healthy mind set that totally works for me.

  47. Cyclist Kate says:

    Sounds like intuitive eating to me!

    I tried the “cheat day” thing but found 1) I’d binge on my “diet” days because I was so hungry and 2) I’d binge on my “cheat” days because I thought that was what a cheat day was. It was basically a big mess!

    After having gone through the process of learning intuitive eating (and still learning, two years later), I realize that I naturally eat more nutrient dense “healthy” (in quotes because even cake can be healthy in that it can be emotionally and mentally nourishing) food some days and other days–like today–I’ve eaten a little more out of balance. But the wonderful thing is that I can eat two lemon bars in lieu of lunch (just wasn’t feeling anything else) and know that I’ll probably get hungry in the early afternoon and I’ll probably eat something more balancing then. It’s such a great feeling to not have to cram all the foods I used to binge on into one day because I know I can literally have them any time I want. Somehow this knowledge, instead of sending me over the deep end, has made those foods much less appealing on a day-to-day basis, which circles back into me eating the nutrient dense foods that keep me healthy. Whew! A little rambling–not sure if that makes sense!

  48. Melissa says:

    I’m so glad that you wrote this post!! I tried doing the cheat day for awhile and I really found that my relationship with food go downhill. Lots of guilt, binging too much on the cheat day, and just no love for food.
    After reading what you said and the comments… the lightbulb truly went off and I finally feel like I was not alone. So thank you:) I’m still getting used to eating intuitively and not overdoing the sweets but I’ll get there eventually!!

  49. Kendra says:

    Tina, this topic today was a message straight to my heart from God, I’m serious! I have been struggling with bingeing for the last few months, and was trying to get “in CONTROL” of myself again with being strict during the week and letting myself have tomorrow (Saturday) for my cheat day. Hmmm,…guess what I was thinking about all week, and how I felt last night when I ate too much absolutely delicious cinammon bun that friends brought over for dessert? Shame, guilt, self-condemnation…very present companions that I want to kick to the curb! And movie time with Hubby tonight? Well, it’s not Saturday, can’t have popcorn! (my absolute fave treat!) Oh, to live in grace and freedom! Praying for Jesus to empower me to have self-discipline, but also grace to enjoy yummy goodness even if it’s not part of “the plan” of “good food”. Which is funny, because honestly I LOVE healthy food as well!
    Thanks for sharing your heart every day. I look forward to reading your posts each and every day!

    • Tina says:

      I’m glad it came at a good time for you. Hope you’re able to enjoy a small bit of popcorn for movie night if its a favorite. Remember a little bit of anything won’t hurt with food. It’s going overboard that does – emotionally as well as physically. I’m always an email away too if you need to talk about anything. 🙂

  50. Naomi says:

    i think cheats are a tricky thing. It depends on the type of person. For some a cheat could be a MAJOR downhill slide, meaning they go for that ‘cheat’ that they allow themselves and then end up eating everything in sight once they let themselves ‘go’ BUT for people who are dieting for a competition or something else, a cheat can greatly benefit the process, and not make them feel deprvived.

    in general it is good to have a balance of foods, and allow yourself to eat everything in moderation-I think this approach is the best for a lifetime of healthy happy eating!

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