When done correctly, intermittent fasting (IF) should feel less like a diet and more like a new way of life. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard sometimes – especially in the beginning. It also doesn’t mean there won’t be times when your life doesn’t fit into your fasting schedule.
So, can you have a cheat day on intermittent fasting? In short, yes, you can have an intermittent fasting cheat day now and again. In fact, it might even benefit you!
In this blog, I’m sharing everything you need to know about intermittent fasting cheat days, including what they are, their benefits, and my top tips for making sure your cheat day helps move you toward your goals and not away from them.
What is an Intermittent Fasting Cheat Day?
So, what exactly is an intermittent fasting cheat day? In short, a “cheat day” is when you intentionally deviate from a specific diet. So, with intermittent fasting, a cheat day is any day you eat outside your normal eating windows.
For example, if you’re on the 5/2 fasting plan, you eat normally five days a week and fast the two remaining days. If you were to take an intermittent fasting cheat day, you would eat on one of your two fasting days.
Alternatively, if you’re on a schedule, like the 16/8 intermittent fasting plan, you eat normally during those eight hours and fast during the remaining 16 hours. If you had a cheat day, you might eat during your 16-hour fasting window as well.
It’s important to note that whether you eat throughout your entire fasting period or simply have a snack somewhere in the middle of it – it technically still counts as a cheat day in intermittent fasting.
But, just because you’ve deviated from your plan doesn’t mean you’ve failed. In fact, there are several benefits to having the occasional cheat day while intermittent fasting.
5 Benefits of Having a Cheat Day While Intermittent Fasting
My clients often feel like taking a cheat day while intermittent fasting means they’ve failed completely. Yet, sometimes taking a day off is exactly what your body needs to stay motivated and get the results you want.
Here are five benefits of having an intermittent fasting cheat day that might surprise you.
1. Greater Flexibility
Approximately 95% of diets fail. Part of the reason is that diets are often too restrictive and don’t account for people’s lives. For example, when you do very low-calorie diets or eliminate entire food groups, it can feel like you can’t really live your life anymore. Simple things like going out or attending parties feel impossible. That’s where intermittent fasting is different.
I always talk about how intermittent fasting is a lifestyle that works around you. It’s highly flexible and adaptable to your goals, needs, and life.
For example, with intermittent fasting, you can take a cheat day for your friend’s wedding or go on an impromptu dinner date with your spouse without worrying that it will ruin your progress. Cheat days (and the ability to take them) allow you more flexibility and spontaneity, which helps keep things exciting.
2. Makes it Easier to Stay Motivated Long Term
This might surprise you, but recent scientific research shows that planning to have cheat days can actually help you regain your self-control, maintain your motivation, and help you stick to your long-term goals. And that’s super important.
Too often, we feel like we have to be perfect to reach our goals, but that’s just not the case. In fact, the biggest indicator of long-term success isn’t perfection at all. Instead, it’s consistency and persistence. So, it’s better to be imperfect and keep moving forward than stop your progress because you can’t be perfect.
3. Temporarily Reduces Stress and Boosts Morale
One of the most significant benefits of intermittent fasting cheat days is that they can temporarily reduce your stress and boost your mood. Here’s the truth. Doing any new eating regimen can make you feel deprived, which can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety.
When you cut out bad foods or change your eating habits, you often battle really tough things like underlining sugar addictions and dopamine dependency. So, it can be really tough emotionally. That’s why taking a cheat day could be what you need for a quick pick-me-up. Having a planned cheat day can also give you something to look forward to, which can help break up the monotony of your IF plan.
4. Can Boost Your Metabolism
Recent research suggests that having a cheat meal can help increase your metabolism, which allows you to burn calories faster. This can be especially helpful if you’re doing IF to lose weight and you’ve hit a plateau.
Sometimes, your metabolism needs a reset, and a cheat day can quickly get things jumpstarted and moving again.
5. It Can Help Reset Leptin and Ghrelin
If you struggle with weight loss, the hormones leptin and ghrelin probably have something to do with it. Here’s a brief introduction to these two hormones.
- Ghrelin – is a hormone that stimulates hunger and alerts your body to increase food intake. It’s involved in regulating energy and plays a crucial role in fat storage, metabolism, and the release of other hormones. High levels of ghrelin are generally associated with increased appetite and eating.
- Leptin – aka the satiety (fullness) hormone, is produced by fat cells and sends signals to the brain to stop eating when you’ve had enough to eat. When leptin levels drop, it triggers hunger and signals your body to consume calories to keep it energized. When leptin levels are high, it tells your body it’s not hungry and not to consume more calories than necessary.
Often, if you struggle to lose weight, you have higher levels of ghrelin and lower levels of leptin. Intermittent fasting can help regulate these hormones over time. However, sometimes your body gets used to your current state, and these hormones (much like your metabolism) need to be stimulated.
According to research published in Obesity Magazine, intermittent fasting cheat day can help regulate these hormones and prevent them from becoming chronically suppressed or elevated.
How Often Can You Have an Intermittent Fasting Cheat Day?
Clearly, there are some reasons to consider having a cheat day occasionally, but how often is too often? Well, everyone’s goals and bodies are different. As a result, there are no hard-and-fast rules about how often you can have a cheat day while intermittent fasting.
In general, having more than one cheat day per week can affect your results. Also, the more often you cheat, the longer it will take for you to reach your goals. So, you’ll want to keep your intermittent fasting cheat days to a minimum. It’s also worth noting that the quality of your cheat days can also affect how frequently you can have them.
For example, suppose your cheat days include going over your recommended daily calorie intake and eating loads of processed foods. In that case, it will impact your results more than having a healthy snack in the middle of your fasting window.
Knowing some best practices can help ensure your cheat days don’t hurt you more than they help you.
6 Tips for Making the Most of Your Cheat Days While Intermittent Fasting (and Not Derailing Your Progress)
Here are a few of my best tips for having a positive intermittent fasting cheat day that moves you closer to your goals – not further from them.
1. Be Proactive with Your Cheat Days.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Failure to plan is planning to fail.” The same is true with having an intermittent fasting cheat day. If you know you have a big social event coming up that will make sticking to your plan tough, go ahead and plan to have a cheat day that day. Doing so allows you to go in with the right mindset and not get carried away in the moment.
2. Consider Adjusting Your Fasting Schedule.
Before you disrupt your IF schedule, consider adjusting it instead. For example, let’s say you’re on the 5/2 plan and usually take Wednesdays and Saturdays to fast – except your friends are hosting a potluck this upcoming Saturday. Instead of just skipping your fasting day on Saturday, consider moving it to Friday.
The same applies to schedules like the 16/8 method. You can always move your fasting window to a more convenient time to work around your life. It’s one of the best parts of intermittent fasting!
3. Try to Choose Healthier Foods.
Rather than going completely off track with unhealthy foods and alcohol, try to make healthy choices during your cheat day. Doing so will make it much easier to get back on track and won’t hurt the progress you’ve already made.
4. Eat Mindfully.
Look, if you’re going to take a cheat day, the last thing you want to do is eat mindlessly. Instead, enjoy the food and take stock of the experience. Intermittent fasting is all about gaining a better appreciation for food, and part of that is increasing your mindfulness and presence while actually indulging.
5. Don’t Let It Snowball.
This is the biggest danger of having a cheat day while intermittent fasting. It can be really easy to let that one meal turn into two meals or that day off turn into a week. So, again, be mindful, and make a plan to get back on track immediately. Don’t let yourself fall into the habit of letting one cheat day derail your progress.
6. Work With Your Intermittent Fasting Coach to Get Back on Track.
The best way to know how often to take a cheat day and how to get back on track once you’ve had a cheat day is to work with a qualified intermittent fasting coach. An IF coach can help you create a plan that works for your lifestyle and goals and hold you accountable throughout the process.
So, Can You Have a Cheat Day on Intermittent Fasting?
So, can you have a cheat day on intermittent fasting? Absolutely! In fact, doing so can help you stay motivated, boost your mood, and even help get your metabolism going again. However, you’ll want to make sure to take advantage of the tips above to ensure your intermittent fasting cheat day doesn’t hurt the progress you’ve made!
If you’d like a little help on your fasting journey or want some one-on-one advice for navigating IF cheat days, I’d love to help. As an experienced intermittent fasting coach, I’ve helped people just like you reach their health and wellness goals with intermittent fasting, and I’d love to help you do the same.
Click the button below to schedule your totally free consultation with me! I’m looking forward to working with you.