If you are wondering how the occasional deviation from your plate of chicken and broccoli could benefit you, this article is for you. Let me clarify one thing first, though: Cheat days, or what I call “refeed” days, shouldn’t be a green light for an all out sloth, but rather a strategically planned aspect of a well implemented fat loss diet. Over the years, I have had many clients reap the physiological and psychological benefits of enjoying their favorite foods. And when you look at it from a scientific perspective, it’s hard to deny that the effectiveness of refeed days is eventually rooted within our basic physiology and psychology.
Understand how leptin works and you’ll understand why cheating works
Leptin is a hormone that is secreted by fat cells, and, to a certain extent, by the cells lining the stomach, as well. You can think of leptin as a messenger who gives a real-time play-by-play on what’s going on down there in your adipose tissue to a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus for all intents and purposes controls metabolism and hunger.
In healthy individuals there is a direct relationship between the amount of body fat you have and leptin signaling – a “metabolic thermostat” with direct effects on your appetite and energy expenditure. Theoretically, this means that as we are getting fatter, our leptin levels will rise, our metabolism will accelerate and our hunger hormones will drop (see figure below).
↓ Fat = ↓ Leptin = ↑ Hunger Hormones + ↓ Metabolism
↑ Fat = ↑ Leptin = ↓ Hunger Hormones + ↑ Metabolism
There are unfortunately exceptions to this rule; exceptions, which are increasingly common and, at least partly, explain the current diabesity pandemic – but this would be a topic for a whole new article.
Cheat your way to six-pack abs!? Are you serious?
So that leaves us with the questions, “What do cheating on your diet and leptin have to do with each other, and how can their relationship help you to finally get rid of the thin(?) layer of body fat that is still covering your impressive set of six-pack abs?” It’s actually pretty simple once you understand the underlying mechanisms.
Whenever you partake in modern-day famine, which is nothing but what people usually refer to as “dieting”, your body’s natural defense mechanisms tries to preserve each joule of energy it has. With leptin being a central regulator of energy expenditure, it should be obvious that one way to do that is to simply decrease leptin signaling to the brain so that the hypothalamus will dial your metabolism down to a level it deems appropriate for your current energy intake. It seems pretty intuitive doesn’t it?
Much like our ancestors, whose bodies evolved to preserve as much energy as possible, when they hadn’t stumbled upon a water buffalo or a bushel of berries (bear with me, think chicken breasts and sweet potatoes) in quite some time, your body still has this outstanding(ly annoying) ability to maintain his insulating and energy storing layer of fat, by decreasing your metabolism, whenever your eating habits signal starvation. Don’t fret, though, there is a trick that allows you to prevent total metabolic shutdown: An occasional, well-planned dietary sidetrack.
Dietary sidetracks signal abundance and will bring your metabolism back up
Leptin is sensitive to acute, or short-term, increases in carbohydrate consumption (Romon, 1999). That is to say, if you have been dieting on both a calorically and carbohydrate restricted diet, occasional periods of high carbohydrate consumption will increase leptin levels and prevent metabolic shutdown. This is the physiological reason, why high(er) carbohydrate “refeed” work; and it is the principle on which the notion of carbohydrate cycling is built:
- increase leptin during caloric restriction via high(er) carbohydrate days,
- keeping insulin in check on lower carbohydrate days,
- shed fat and keep the metabolism humming
Of course the organization and implementation of a carbohydrate cycling diet is individual, and dynamic, yet still: I would be remised to leave you with out a plan to implement all this information into your nutritional regimen. After all, you are reading this with the aspirations of building the total physique, and the luster of a cheat day to help you do so.
Carbohydrate cycling: A template to build on
As promised, below is a basic protocol to implement a higher carbohydrate cheat, or “refeed,” day into your diet. Keep in mind that this is, just as the subheading says, “a template” that is intended to give you a general idea of what the macronutrient composition on your next diet could look like. It is neither a “one size fits it all” regimen, nor does it look like a typical carbohydrate cycling protocol, and will require some tinkering on your part to yield the “results not typical” Myotropics and Physique 2.0 stand for:
- Day 1: .5 grams of carbohydrates per lb bodyweight
- Day 2: .5 grams/lb bw
- Day 3: 1.5 g/lb bw
- Day 4: 0.5 g/lb bw
- Day 5: 0.5 g/lb bw
- Day 6: 0.5 g/lb bw
- Day 7 (Cheat Day) :2.5-3 g/lb bw
On the lowest carbohydrate days, on which you will ingest 0.5g of carbs per lbs body weight, your main carbohydrate sources should be non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and green beans (note: due to the non-insulinogenic nature of ThermiCarb(TM), the carbohydrate source in Physique 2.0 you can safely use Physique 2.0 on each and every day of the week). Proteins and healthier fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, and almonds should make up the lion share of your calories.
On the medium day (1.5g/lb bw), starchy carbohydrates such as oatmeal, brown rice, and sweet potatoes can be incorporated in your post-workout meal.
And finally, what you have been waiting for, on your cheat day (2.5-3g/lb bw) you may select whatever you want as your source of carbohydrates. However, if your intention is to get lean and mean, I would recommend an abundance of healthy starchy carbs, like the ones mentioned above and to remember that you are aiming to increase carbohydrate not fat consumption.
It’s easy, it’s proven, it’s effective and it does not have to be more complicated
Personally, my cheat day involves a trip to my favorite Mexican restaurant for corn chips and salsa, as well as fajitas with corn tortillas, as I am gluten intolerant. For more insight on how to implement your fat loss protocol see Shifting the Fat Loss Paradigm by Myotropics Author Erik Minor. Erik gives a great holistic approach to fat loss, covering more topics.
That’s it. The how and why to cheat on your diet. Try it and I guarantee: It won’t take too long until you see the results in the mirror.
Romon M, Lebel P, Velly C, Marecaux N, Fruchart JC, Dallongeville J. Leptin response to carbohydrate or fat meal and association with subsequent satiety and energy intake. Am J Physiol. 1999 Nov;277(5 Pt 1):E855-61.