Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cheat days

Summary: If you are dieting in any way or form, it’s useful to take a break once per week, and eat whatever and as much as you like. By doing that, you prevent your body from entering starvation mode (in which it tries to maintain its weight), and you also enjoy psychological benefits.

In a previous article, we have discussed how the body functions in periods larger than one day. In plain English, this means that if once per week you break your diet, the world will not come to an end.

On the contrary, days such as this (which are called “cheat days”) are beneficial! We will explain right away.

The body is designed to be resilient in periods of starvation, or reduced food intake. To achieve this goal, it employs several mechanisms, one of which if fat storage. Another mechanism is the detection of starvation periods, and the subsequent adjustment of all metabolic functions. That is, when the body detects a reduction in food intake, it does its best to become thriftier and maintain its current weight.

The hormone that regulates this mechanism is called leptin. When food intake is high, leptin levels are also high. Whenever a food shortage is detected, leptin falls and the body becomes resilient in weight loss (leptin is well-named: ‘leptos’ means ‘thin’ in Greek).

That’s exactly what happens when we diet for too long. Our body doesn’t know that we are doing it on purpose, and believes that it’s a starvation period.

However, if you stop your diet once per week (let’s say every Sunday), you effectively prevent leptin from falling. This way, when you resume the diet on Monday, your body is again primed to lose weight and fat.

Apart from that, cheat days are obviously good for you psych. Every Sunday then (or whatever day is practical for you), eat to your heart’s content!

In a coming post, we will learn about ways to take advantage of the days before and after a cheat day, in order to maximize results.

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