How to Jumpstart Your Progress After a Cheat Weekend

Written by Stefanie Lisa, CPT, CFN

Cheat Weekend

Maybe it was a wedding, birthday, reunion, or just because… And you indulged in an epic cheat weekend. Sure, it seemed well worth it at the time, but now that all the good times in junk food heaven are over and Monday morning is looming, you need to find a way to jumpstart your progress again after all that fun. What can you do?

You might be feeling really worried that you completely ruined all your hard work. Well, as long as you didn’t eat as much as you could, all day every day, there’s probably still hope. (And even if you did… you can still get back on track.)

Rest assured, all is not lost. We’ve got a few handy tricks up our sleeves, and we’re about to share them with you.

What is the Purpose of a Cheat Meal?

The idea of a “cheat” sounds kind of fun, doesn’t it? And, that’s actually part of the reason you include some unhealthier foods in your diet plan now and then.

What happens when you have a cheat meal is that your metabolism gets fired up, and you can actually burn more calories. It increases to accommodate all the extra calories coming in, not knowing that this is only a temporary situation. It can be a great way to trick your body into keeping your metabolism high, so you can resume dieting after your cheat day without suffering from a suppressed metabolism.

The Science Behind Cheat Meals

The science behind a cheat meal shows that as you diet throughout the week, your levels of leptin and ghrelin (your fat burning and hunger hormones) are affected. When you eat a cheat meal, those levels are restored to normal.

Cheat meals help you get your levels of the fat-burning hormone leptin back up to where they should be. After long periods of dieting, those levels drop because they read a signal from your body that you may be going into starvation. This “starvation mode” can start to occur after as few as four days of reduced caloric intake. Having a refeed (a higher calorie, higher carbohydrate meal) or a cheat meal (usually an unhealthier version of a refeed meal) can reset your leptin levels and get you back to maximum fat burning.

You also benefit from a revved-up metabolism and increased thyroid levels, your insulin levels normalize, you replenish your depleted glycogen levels (which provide you energy), and you burn off extra calories.

Plus, having a delicious cheat meal or two allows you to get any food cravings out of your system as well. This tends to help people adhere to their diet programs, knowing they’ll soon be eating whatever they’d like.

What Is the Difference Between a Cheat Meal and a Cheat Weekend?

You may have heard the terms “cheat weekend”, “cheat day”, and “cheat meal,” but what does all that really mean? Think of these phrases in terms of good, better, and best. A cheat meal is good, a cheat day is most likely okay, but an entire cheat weekend is going to leave you needing to press the reset button. That’s okay. We’ve all been there.

Here are our emergency reset tricks to use after a cheat weekend:

Trick #1: Fast the day after cheating.

Why is this effective? It’s helpful because when you eat higher calorie foods, you automatically stoke your metabolism. So, what happens the next day when your metabolism is still cranked up in order to burn all those calories, but then… you don’t take in food?

You start burning off some serious body fat, that’s what happens!

Now, that does not mean you continue fasting past the next day. In fact, even if you do a partial day of fasting (like skipping breakfast and maybe lunch), it’s still a very effective way to shed the pounds. Since your metabolism is still fired up, it won’t realize what’s going on, and when it does, you’ll already have taken in food again (meaning you won’t risk lowering your metabolism by excessive fasting).

Trick #2: Get in some heavy weightlifting.

This technique is all about the hormonal environment you create both when you indulge in high-calorie foods and the potent one-two punch you get when you combine a cheat day, intermittent fasting, and training with heavy weights.

We already discussed how your metabolism is on fire the day after a cheat day, so this is also a great time to burn off even more calories with a heavy lifting session. Why heavy lifting? Because when you lift heavy weights with less repetitions, you spike your levels of growth hormone (and for men, testosterone). That translates into more fat burning for you.

So yes, it’s true. As crazy as it sounds, adding a cheat day (or two) to your weekly diet plan can actually help you speed up your fat loss and muscle gains.

Trick #3: Get right back on track.

A little bit of cheat can help alleviate the stress that can come with restrictive dieting. But, if you cheated a lot (like a solid cheat weekend), then don’t beat yourself up over it. Simply get back on track as soon as possible. Many fitness enthusiasts live by the 80/20 rule which says that you should ensure that 80% of your meals are on point and then don’t worry so much about the other 20%.

Again, the secret here is getting back to the 80% clean-eating regimen as quickly as possible after your cheat meals.

Trick #4: Get hydrated.

You may tend to skimp on drinking water when you’re indulging in your favorite foods (or alcohol), but now that you’re back in gear, it’s time to drink up and rehydrate. The extra water will help you feel full, give you back your energy, and assist in flushing out extra fat and toxins you may have in your system from your wild weekend.

Trick #5: Practice intermittent fasting the rest of the week.

As opposed to the day immediately after your cheat day, where you may choose to fast the entire day, this version of fasting may be a little easier to do. It simply involves pushing your first meal back to around noon or later. This daily practice of skipping breakfast and then “breaking your fast” with healthy whole food meals including lots of protein and fibrous veggies is a surefire way to get you back on track quickly.

Cheat Weekend Recap

So, now you know how to jumpstart your progress after a cheat weekend. Remember, there is strategy behind the cheat meal, so you’re still on track provided you get back in the saddle. Enjoy the process now that you can have your cake and eat it too!

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References

  • Kolaczynski JW, Considine RV, Ohannesian J, Marco C, Opentanova I, Nyce MR, Myint M, Caro JF. Responses of leptin to short-term fasting and refeeding in humans: a link with ketogenesis but not ketones themselves. Diabetes. 1996 Nov 1;45(11):1511-5.
  • Coelho do Vale R, Pieters R, Zeelenberg M. The benefits of behaving badly on occasion: Successful regulation by planned hedonic deviations. Journal of Consumer Psychology. 2016 Jan 1;26(1):17-28.