Dieting? 6 Best (and Worst) Foods to Eat on Cheat Days

a man on a diet

Eat this, not that | Source: iStock

A majority of dieters will read this headline and get excited about the idea of a cheat day, but some die-hard dieters may scoff at the idea of interjecting fat, carb, and calorie-heavy foods into their pristine diets. Don’t worry, all of you pizza-craving people win this one, because it turns out that cheat days may actually be just what your diet needs. When you’re dieting for fat and weight loss, your intake of carbohydrates and calories tends to be low. Over time, your body realizes that it’s taking in fewer calories than it’s burning and in response, it will adjust to become more efficient. This translates to a drop in your metabolism in order to balance the calories that come in with the calories that are expended. Cheat days are more than an excuse to eat everything you’ve been told to avoid, they work by tricking the body into thinking its getting enough calories, which in turn, ignites your fat burning metabolism.

Before you hit the store to load up on Taco Bell’s chalupas, keep in mind that not all cheat foods are created equally. There’s a fine line between indulging in something your body’s craving and binging on junk, and it really can make a difference. Here’s a guide to the best and worst foods you can eat on a cheat day.

The worst: processed foods

chocolate sandwich cookies in a box

Chocolate sandwich cookies | Source: iStock

If you want cookies, don’t buy Double Stuff Oreos. Go to your favorite bakery and load up on salted chocolate chip cookies (Oreos, what?), croissants, muffins, or whatever else your heart desires. The key here is to steer clear of processed foods, which have been chemically processed and are made from refined ingredients and artificial substances. Because they’re made in huge factories a million miles away, they’re pumped full of preservatives, coloring agents, and scary amounts of sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Indulge the smart way by eating homemade goodies instead.

The best: carbs, carbs, carbs

The best cheat meals are high in carbohydrates and relatively low in dietary fat. A high-carb meal causes less body fat storage than a high-fat meal. In addition, carbs are the most effective way to increase leptin levels, which will have decreased over the course of your diet and forced your metabolism to slow. All of this translates into baked potatoes, pasta, breads, and sugars. Just make sure to keep an eye on the fat content of all that starchy-goodness you consume.

The worst: alcohol

beer and snacks

Beer and food | Source: iStock

Go ahead and splurge on a cheeseburger and fries, but leave the booze for another day. Not only does alcohol lower your ability to resist the temptation to over-indulge, but it blocks fat oxidation, which then accelerates the rate at which your body stores dietary fat. Something about a few beers makes you crave all things fat-filled and greasy. When combined with a cheat day, it can easily take your binge to a whole other level.

The best: big flavor

A cheat day is all about following your stomach. If you’re craving sweets, don’t binge on cheap candy bars. Instead, buy the most intense, tasty form of sweets you can find. Indulge in a dense truffle, a slice of dense chocolate cake, or a piece of fudge. If you’re craving salty, buy gourmet sea salt and sprinkle it on everything your heart desires. By going for big flavor you’ll be more satisfied and less likely to overeat.

The best: protein-packed

bowl filled with rosemary popcorn

Home-popped popcorn | Source: iStock

If you’re not a carb guy, don’t spend your cheat day eating bread just because you want to increase your leptin levels and in turn, your metabolism. If you crave steak, burgers, and bacon, give into the urge. One study found that overeating on a high protein diet increased the resting metabolism, while overeating on a low protein diet did not. This same study determined that protein affected energy expenditure and storage of lean body mass, but not body fat storage.

The best: quantity

If you’re the sort of person who loves to mindlessly snack, foods that have a low energy density like popcorn, cereal, soups, fruits, and vegetables will allow you to eat higher quantities of food without the burden of excess calories. For example, instead of enjoying a few, calorie-dense potato chips, you can snack on multiple cups of popcorn. The quantity method is great at tricking your mind into thinking you consumed more than you actually did.

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