We all want to lose weight, but that’s a trickier prospect than it seems. Long term weight loss really involves careful planning, thoughtful meal preparation, and also housing a basket of wings once a week. Wait, what?
Okay, okay, so the research from the International Journal of Obesity isn’t advocating you shut down the local pizza buffet once a week. But they did find some intriguing data about cheat days. What they did was gather fifty-one obese men and put them all on a diet that restricted their caloric intake by one third. One set of participants stuck to the diet for two weeks, and then had two “cheat” weeks, where they simply ate enough calories to maintain their weight, and then went back on the diet, then off again
The results? The men who “cheated” did better, losing more weight and more fat off their bodies. The theory is that because the body “rested,” that is, had enough calories for two weeks to maintain weight instead of having to burn stored calories, the weight loss was easier and more effective. That’s important because with weight loss, often your own body is fighting you, especially when weight loss is dramatic.
That said, there are some questions here. The study was necessarily fairly small, and consisted entirely of men: Women have different weight loss challenges. It also wasn’t long term; any dieter can tell you that short-term gains are easy, but it’s a year or so out where the proof is in the pudding substitute. Finally, the mechanism isn’t clear. We know that metabolic rate is a key to weight loss (and why you put the pounds back on), but what’s notclear is the factors that control metabolic rate. Could this simply be psychological, knowing that in two weeks they could have a cheeseburger, that made the diet easier to stick to? We don’t know yet.
That said, though, unless you’re a religious ascetic, it makes sense to have the occasional cheeseburger. Keep in mind, the study did not unleash these men on the local ice cream parlor: They simply ate enough calories to maintain their current weight. The problem has never been donuts, pizza, or soda, but that we eat too much of these things and eat too much of them every day. The key has always been common sense and balance, so, yeah, if on Saturday you have a healthy breakfast, a healthy lunch, and a Cheesecake Factory dinner, don’t beat yourself up. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.