The chatter about ‘cheat days’


By Pat Brinkman - OSU Extension



My co-workers mentioned something about cheat days and weight loss during lunch today, but I’m not sure what they meant. What were they talking about?

They likely were discussing a new study published this month that says taking a “cheat day” or short break from dieting may help some people lose weight.

In the study published Sept. 19 in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers said that avoiding continuous dieting may aid some people in losing weight and in keeping the weight off.

The study involved a group of 51 obese men who participated in a four-month diet that included restricting their calorie intake by one-third. Half of the participants stayed on the strict diet for the entire four-month period, while the other half maintained the strict diet for two weeks, then took a two-week break from the diet and ate the same amount of calories that they were burning. The latter group did the two weeks on, two weeks off approach to the diet the entire four-month study period.

The result?

The men who followed the two weeks on, two weeks off “cheat days” diet lost more weight than the group of men who maintained the strict diet, according to the study. The study also found that the men who were in the “cheat days” group maintained an average weight loss of 17 pounds more than the strict diet group some six months after the end of the diet.

The study authors attributed the weight loss to “adaptive thermogenesis,” a process which a person reduces their food intake during dieting and their resting metabolism decreases, making weight loss harder to achieve, the lead study researcher said in a statement.

“While further investigations are needed around this intermittent dieting approach, findings from this study provide preliminary support for the model as a superior alternative to continuous dieting for weight loss,” the lead study author said.

In general, restrictive diets don’t work, said Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

“Very few people can maintain any type of restrictive diet over long periods of time,” he said. “In addition, on and off again dieting or yo-yo dieting can play havoc on one’s metabolism leading to weight gain. It would be interesting to know if the ‘cheating’ approach would be something that could be maintained beyond four months.”

In the meantime, for those who are trying to lose weight, most experts agree that eating more fruits, vegetables and lean protein; decreasing your sugar intake; drinking more water; and incorporating some form of exercise into your daily routine can aid in helping you shed a few pounds. (Author: Turner, T. [2017].Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.)

Pat Brinkman is the Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Educator with Ohio State University Extension Fayette County.

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By Pat Brinkman

OSU Extension