Saturday (and occasionally Sunday) is referred to under a different name—cheat day. With the invitations flowing in for barbecues, weddings and family reunions (and of course, those year-round lazy days where our couch hosts the real party) cheat days become a weekly expectation. But before you accept defeat and let it derail all your self control from the week before, follow our nutritionist and fitness trainer-approved guide to enjoying some indulging without the weight gain.
“We usually discourage our clients from using the terms cheat [day, weekend, meals, etc.] because it disregards the idea of balance,” says dietitian Willow Jarosh from C&J Nutrition. “Having a small dessert or ‘treat’ (fries, etc.) daily can fit into a weight loss diet as long as they’re portioned. And we find that when clients have ‘cheating’ on a diet on their minds, they tend to adopt an all-or-nothing sort of attitude about healthy eating.”
Celebrity personal trainer and AKT in Motion founder Anna Kaiser (her clients include the svelte Kelly Ripa and Sarah Jessica Parker) recommends indulging in no more than 800 calories on one given day. “And it’s not a lot—it’s one hamburger or one big serving of French toast. But it’s probably so many more calories at one meal that your body isn’t used to it, so you go into a food coma and fall asleep. All of those calories are then stored as fat.”
What she recommends to her clients? Work out right before. “That is when your metabolism is highest and you’re going to burn the most amount of calories. Your body also needs calories at that point, so it’s a good time to cheat. Otherwise you have to work out a lot the rest of the week to make up for all of the added calories.” If time doesn’t allow you to work out before, adding a workout during the week also helps.
It works the same way with your diet. Instead of burning more calories, eat fewer during the week. “We’d say that our primary recommendation would be to factor in 150-200 calories each day to use for desserts and fried foods, allowing banking of those calories for up to 3 days,” says Jarosh. “So, for instance, you could either have a 150-200 calorie treat daily, or you could have a 450-600 calorie treat twice a week.”
The day after a cheat day is also important. Kaiser recommends working out first thing in the morning, skipping breakfast and only drinking a cup of coffee fifteen minutes before. “It’s going to rev up your metabolism and burn off some of those additional calories that you ate the night before. It’s also going to get rid of your hangover because your circulation is going to kick up and you’re going to get the toxins out of your body. It’s going to suck for the first 20 minutes and then you’re going to feel so much better.” Another trick is focusing on whole foods as well. “The fiber, the water, the extra nutrients are really going to help get your metabolism back on track.”
If math’s your thing, think of it this way: One pound is equivalent to about 3,500 calories. To lose one pound in a week, you need to eliminate 500 calories a day seven days a week, whether that be through diet, exercise or a combination of both. Overeating and skipping workouts has the same effect. “It’s not the next day that you gain the pound,” says Kaiser. “It accumulates over time just like if you were trying to lose weight.”
We’ll take a workout with that cheeseburger, thanks.