Whether you're trying out a new plan or you're a perpetual dieter, a "cheat day" is a highly anticipated event. It's a the one day per week when you can stray from a diet plan and enjoy the favorite foods that you've been forgoing. If you execute this cheat day -- or even a single cheat meal -- with planning and care, it may help boost your metabolism.
Increase Leptin Levels
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Diets often mean a significant decrease in daily calories. When you do this, you also lower levels of leptin, a hormone that influences hunger and body fat levels. This drop in leptin often causes hunger signals, which your body reacts to by storing fat. According to the journal "Metabolism," intermittently consuming a greater number of calories signals leptin levels to rise; this leads to increased metabolism after overeating and pre-weight-loss energy expenditure.
Of course, it's not a free-for-all when it comes to your cheat day and increasing leptin levels. But giving your metabolism this occasional boost works because, according to MayoClinic.com, leptin signals to your body that you're not in starvation mode. This gives your body the green light to shed some of its fat reserves and means you can burn more calories without worry of depleting your body of all its energy sources.
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Gorging yourself on ice cream and pizza pie may sound delicious, but doesn't make for an ideal metabolism-boosting cheat day. Instead, plan food choices strategically. According to LeanGains.com, carbohydrates and protein-rich foods increase leptin the most, calorie for calorie, while fat and alcohol don't incite much of a change. And CoachCalorie.com's recommends increasing your calorie count anywhere from 500 to 1,000 calories above your normal daily amount to maintain your current weight.
The Bottom Line
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The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that ultimately, sustained weight loss is achieved through a moderate calorie deficit, regular physical activity and small dietary indulgences versus full-blown cheat days. So, if you think a cheat day is a euphemism for binge eating, think again. However, carefully strategizing your cheat day to reap the increased leptin levels can mean a welcome boost in metabolism.
- Eatright.org: The Cheat to Lose Diet
- ScienceDirect.com: Metabolism
- Coachcalorie.com: Cheat Day, the Best Day of the Week
- Greatist.com: Cheat Days Explained
- Journal of Clinical Investigation: Low-dose Leptin Reverses Skeletal Muscle, Autonomic, and Neuroendocrine Adaptations to Maintenance of Reduced Weight
- LeanGains.com: Cheat Day Strategies For A Hedonist
- Mayo Clinic: Feast or Famine
Alexandra Vairo is a writer and editor with experience working for magazines and websites including Weight Watchers, Shape.com, Greatist.com and more. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and communication from Boston College and is pursuing a master's in clinical nutrition at New York University.