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What Are Cheat Days and Cheat Meals?
Cheating within a diet plan involves giving yourself calculated, planned permission to temporarily break strict diet rules.
The theory behind this reward-based diet strategy is that by allowing yourself brief periods of indulgence, you’ll be more likely to stick to your prescribed diet the majority of the time.
When using the cheat strategy, people will typically employ either a cheat meal or cheat day approach. As the names imply, a cheat meal is a single meal that veers from your planned diet pattern, while a cheat day allows for free food choices for an entire day.
Cheat diet methods are highly variable. How they’re implemented may look very different for different people, depending on an individual’s diet preferences and goals.
The foods you eat as cheat meals will also vary from person to person due to individual tastes, but they often consist of high-calorie foods that wouldn’t otherwise be permitted on a typical diet plan.
There is no specific guideline for when or how frequently your cheat meal or day should occur. Often people will include one cheat per week, but this can change depending on what the person’s health or weight loss goals are.
In this way, the cheat strategy is adaptable and can be implemented alongside many different diet patterns.
Note that the cheat meal approach is not appropriate for all diet styles. Some diets, such as the ketogenic diet, require very strict adherence with no room for cheating. Therefore, the cheat strategy is best utilized in diets that allow for some flexibility.
Cheat meals are scheduled meals that include indulgent foods that wouldn’t ordinarily be permitted on your diet. A cheat day is when you allow yourself to consume any foods you want over an entire day.
Does Cheating Really Work?
Weight management and body composition changes are complex processes. Not everyone will respond the same way to the same strategies — the best diet plan is the one you can stick to.
It’s well known that if you eat fewer calories than you burn, weight loss is likely to occur. In this way, the reward-based cheat meal or cheat day strategy may be effective if you’re able to execute a well-planned diet and maintain overall reduced calorie intake.
Weight Loss and Metabolic Changes
It’s frequently claimed that using cheat meals will lead to measurable changes in body composition and improved metabolic function due to fluctuations in the hunger hormone leptin.
Leptin is a hormone responsible for suppressing feelings of hunger. Some research indicates that when someone experiences significant weight loss, leptin levels may decrease. However, this result is inconsistent with other studies (1Trusted Source).
A common weight management theory is that with lower levels of circulating leptin, you’re more likely to overeat because you don’t have enough of the hormone sending you signals that you’re satisfied and full. This may lead to rebound weight gain.
Proponents of the cheat meal strategy for weight loss further theorize that intermittent periods of higher-calorie foods will trick your hormone cycle into producing more leptin temporarily and prevent the desire for rebound overeating.
Unfortunately, there is little rigorous scientific research to support this theory.
It’s still unclear how fluctuations in leptin levels associated with weight changes affect someone’s ability to control their eating behaviors and maintain weight loss. As a result, more research is needed.
At this stage, it’s more likely that weight loss occurs for some people with the cheat method because of a reduction in overall calorie intake that is achieved by sticking to a well-planned diet most of the time and limiting high-calorie junk foods.
Using Planned Indulgence as a Motivator
Another component of the cheating diet strategy is the theory that by occasionally allowing yourself to indulge in foods not permitted on your diet, you’ll then have the motivation to stick to your planned diet most of the time.
This is where the cheat meal strategy is tied to the psychology of weight loss.
Some people can effectively resist temptation knowing that their cheat day is coming up, but not everyone can regulate their own eating behaviors in the same way. Thus, the same results cannot be guaranteed for every person (2Trusted Source).
Furthermore, if you’re unable to maintain some degree of self-control within your cheat meals or days, you run the risk of undoing your prior weight loss efforts if you end up eating more calories than you should.