Trick or Cheat

Here at Beat Theory Fitness HQ, It only seems appropriate that at this time of year I have a little discussion on cheating. The temptation is literally at the door. As of Nov. 1st most houses (especially those with kids) and workplaces are overflowing with chocolatey noughaty goodness. There is no holiday quite like Halloween. It is essentially authorized, organized and otherwise socially acceptable begging – but we call it trick or treating.


We dress our kids up and say “look how cute they are – NOW GIVE US SWEETS!” By nights’ end the children can take home their bodyweight in sugar. After the kids go to bed (if they go to bed) it is time for the parents to exact the “candy tax”- one for you two for me…

By the next morning the kids’ booty has shrunken considerably due to parental ”inspection”. It’s all in the kids’ best interest of course – candy is not good for them. Even if you don’t have kids you have to stock up on feedbags of snack sized this and that for potential beggars trick or treaters.

Heaven help you if you hand out something healthy. I know of one house that actually gave out whole walnuts (in the shell) one year. Needless to say most of them were returned at high velocity within moments of them shutting the door.

Halloween is crazy.

It is a Reese’s filled wonder of a day.

But on to the point of it all :CHEATINGbefore-after-pumpkin_

On all the fat loss nutrition programs I design for clients, “cheating” is as mandatory as any other aspect. Every 7 days, I usually recommend one cheat day. It can be a full day, or sometimes a cheat night, or just a cheat meal.

My personal cheat day is Saturday.

This is not just simply for fun,there is a good reason for intermittently splurging.  There are two main benefits to cheating to be aware of: psychological and physiological. Let’s tackle psychological first.

Psychological Benefit of Cheating: In my opinion this is the more important reason of the two. The psychology of training and nutrition cannot be understated. Now let’s say you come to me and say you need to lose a decent amount of fat. The bottom line is you do not get to eat the way you eat now, and look the way you want. The way you look now is a direct result of the way you eat now. That should make sense: regardless of training programming, the nutrition has to change.

burpee_pumpkin_ Let’s also assume that you love Snickers bars (you could substitute anything, sugar sodas, vats of pasta etc.) and you have one every day. Guess what- I’m going to tell you to knock it off. No more Snickers. Well for you that just sucks. But there is light at the end of the tunnel: Your cheat day.

Go ahead and have 2 Snickers that day. The Cheat Day allows you a day when you don’t have to worry about carbs or even fat intake. You have a sanctioned day off. So during the week you can more easily forgo the crap you would normally eat because come cheat day it is all yours.

You are not depriving yourself as technically there is nothing that is not allowed. This improves nutritional compliance and keeps fat loss clients relatively sane.

The Physiological Benefit of Cheating: Your body is teaming with hormones. Some hormones want to keep you fat, some want to make you thin. They are constantly doing battle, and guess which one is winning? The deal is that your body is wonderful at adapting. From an evolutionary stand point that is great – from a fat loss perspective it is a giant pain in the ass. Your body wants to keep fat on for many reasons – not the least of which is the famine that is right around the corner.

Silly body – there is no famine around the corner.

Well I wish it were as easy as just telling your body that, but it isn’t. Your body’s main purpose is to ensure survival, and stored body fat ensures survival during times of restricted consumption.

When we alter our nutrition to promote fat loss, we will need to create a caloric deficit. That means we will be eating less calories then we did before. But your body is not stupid, it will see that the calories are dropping, and do whatever it can to slow and even halt fat loss.

Again, body fat ensures survival, and your body thinks it is doing you a favor. Silly body. The body will alter levels of key hormones that will essentially slow metabolism and blunt fat loss.

This is why many traditional diets stall and ultimately fail.(Side note: intense exercise can combat the metabolic slow down, but that is a different article). One of these key hormones is leptin. When calories are low, leptin levels fall. It is actually a very complicated system, but in a nut shell if the body’s levels of leptin fall below a certain level, fat loss will cease.

High levels of leptin tell the body it is ok to give up stored body fat for fuel. That is where the cheat comes in. When you cheat you are essentially creating a short term caloric spike. The body responds very quickly to this spike (thankfully) and leptin output is increased.

The increased leptin levels will allow for continued fat loss on non-cheat days. You can think of it as taking a half step back to carbspumpkinallow you to take 2 steps forward. With this approach continued fat loss is achievable.

There is a fair amount of research going on about what makes for the best cheat foods. Currently it is believed that high carb foods work best. Yeah, I know – that is really cool. Fat should usually be kept in check, but don’t stress over it.

Alternatively you  just take leptin injections.  That should only run you about 2 grand a week.  Hmmm, 2 grand a week or eat whatever I want for a day…..hmmmm……

Conclusion: So now here we are, Halloween with all that sweet goodness. Mmmmmm…. This article was not meant to give you license to gorge yourself on sweets, sugar and delicious Reeses Bites, but it was meant to give you some ammunition in your war on fat. Used strategically cheating can improve your fat loss program. Now go raid your kids’ candy sack.

From everyone here at Beat Theory Fitness, have a fantastic day!

Riccardo Scala

Founder & CEO