Cheat Days Suck: Just Stuffing Your Face Only Makes It Worse

Mega Hamburger Seven - Tilted Treasure With Homemade Fries
Creative Commons License photo credit: Marshall Astor – Food Pornographer

Can I ask you something? How did you feel half-way through your last cheat day? Terrible, right? Me too. So why are we planning to do it again?!

It’s Friday. Many of us have already started planning our cheat day. Some of us (*raises hand*) have been buying some of the Easter candy that’s on sale specifically because cheat is coming soon, and I really can’t help myself when it comes to peanut butter covered in chocolate

The biggest problem I’m having, though, is that I’ve completely lost the point of cheat day. I don’t think I’m alone either. I keep hearing lots of conversation that suggests to me that most of us don’t do the “binge day” the way The 4-Hour Body tells us to.

What the book says about binge days

I had to know what I was doing wrong, so I went back to the book. One of the first things Tim says about the binge day is that he was trying to prove that simple calories in – calories out was a myth. In one day he ate over 6,000 calories (most of it was crap) while only burning maybe 200 calories in workouts.

The kicker? He lost 4 lbs and .3% bodyfat in 2 days. He said the point is to “have as much of the crap ingested either go into muscle tissue or out of the body unabsorbed.” (p104)

He goes into detail, that I won’t here, highlighting 3 principles:

  • minimize insulin spike
  • poo more often
  • do resistance exercises throughout

After I reread the chapter, I realized something very important:

I don’t do any of that stuff.

How most of us do it

I remember reading that I could lose 20 lbs of fat in 30 days and eat a whole pizza once a week. At that point, I couldn’t see much else. A whole pizza and still lose weight? I’m in.

My first cheat day was a disaster. I planned it out. All week when I wanted something at the store, I bought it knowing I’d be able to eat it on Saturday. I bought a roll of sausage, shredded cheese, cookies, texas toast, and ice cream. By 11:30 am, I was feeling sick. I wondered why I was eating so much, and I reminded myself that it was because I could. But I vowed not to do it again.

The following weekend, I did the same thing.

Until last weekend, I’ve been making myself more or less sick once a week. I’ve decided to change how I handle my binge days, but I’ll get to that. My biggest problem with the cheat days was that I couldn’t stop. I’d usually plan for Saturday, but Friday night I’d find reason to start eating crap. I’d eat crap all Saturday. Then Sunday would get me too. For several weeks in a row, I didn’t have just a cheat day but a whole cheat weekend. That had to change.

Never once did I do anything found in the damage control chapter. I never did air squats. I never drank grapefruit juice. I didn’t start with a solid 4HB breakfast. I did poo, but it wasn’t much until the next day.

So what’s the point of binge days?

Based on much of what I see, and definitely the way I’ve been handling things, it seems like we use the binge day just to eat whatever we want and don’t worry too much about damage control. In the back of our minds, we know we’ve read that “refeeding” on the weekend will trigger our metabolisms. We want to shake things up because we’ve been eating so well during the week.

We love the idea of the cheat day more than actually using it for what it’s for.

It’s definitely true that the cheat day helps keep us sane. Especially when I can tell myself that if I want something, I can have it, just not yet. That’s helped keep me from cheating more often than I can count. But like most of us, that’s about where I stop.

If we do the cheat day right, our muscles will be obligated to use more of the calories we eat specifically so that they don’t turn to fat like they normally would. It’ll be true that the binge will help lose fat and build muscle. IF we do it right.

Doing it right

To do the cheat day correctly is NOT to eat an entire cake. It’s not to stuff as much food in your pie hole as you can so that you feel sick. I have to keep reminding myself of that. It doesn’t feel good at all. Without fail I feel like puking most of the day, and I always have acid problems at night. It’s not worth it to me. At least that’s what I thought until I reread the chapter.

Sure, we can eat all kinds of crap, but how many of us eat a bunch of protein as our first meal, drink strategically placed grapefruit juice, do air squats before and after eating, and employ bowel-emptying strategies as well? Those are the more important things than eating that pizza.

My Damage Control

I’ve decided to tone things down a lot. Last week, for example, I had a bowl of vietnamese noodle soup on Thursday, had a full-on cheat dinner on Saturday, and ate some potatoes and half a (small) piece of cake on Sunday night. Not only did I feel much better each day, but I also got rid of the weight in one day instead of in three.

I am not going to spread the cheating so far and wide anymore, but I do have some damage control strategies of my own as well. First, I’ll make sure I get a correct breakfast, and I’ll try to remember to do the squats. I will snack on some kimchi and drink a lot of mate to help with digestion. Grapefruit juice will help with the insulin spiking.

I also realized I have a problem drinking enough water on the weekends. I have a giant bottle at work I use, but at home I don’t drink as much. A strategy I’m going to pay attention to is to drink more water. That will help flush things out quicker as well as keep me from eating entirely too much.

Is it possible I’m just misunderstanding everyone?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe everyone but me is doing it right. If so, I look forward to hearing your strategies for maximizing calorie absorption and getting rid of the weight quickly. Now if you’ll pardon me, I have to go do some air squats.

What are some of the damage control strategies you employ on the weekends? What are your favorite cheat day meals?


The other Cheat Day articles:

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  1. I think you’re right, for the most part, that we aren’t doing our *cheat days* as outlined in the book…that is purely speculative though – but for myself and the people I’ve had the pleasure of being in contact with – we’re not doing it correctly.

    But my bigger thing, and this is how I looked at it from day 1 – was that the cheat day was more of a mental break/hormonal correction day than anything.

    I now don’t normally do a full-on cheat day, and it’s my opinion/theory that the longer you are following an eating plan, the less you need the cheat. Those of us who have transitioned to slow-carb or paleo as our default eating plan – our bodies will be accustomed to this style of eating and the only reason to cheat is the occasional indulgence.

    As for the water – I keep a big (32 oz) mug of ice water by my bed. If I wake through the night I take a swig, and when I wake up I try to finish it before starting my morning routine. It is a great feeling to have that refreshing water first thing. My problem is the rest of the day – I tend to not drink as much water, and I drink WAY TOO MUCH diet coke.

  2. I agree, I stopped doing a full cheat day long time ago. I did eat too much one cheat day recently, 2 birthday parties in one day will do that, and felt like crap the next day.

    I notice everyone on twitter #4hb talks ALOT about cheat day and I don’t get it. I have small cheats throughout the week but it is rare and I keep it under control (most times).

    I also like to do bigger (heavier) workouts on the weekend, because I have way more time.

  3. I’m gonna have to disagree with you on this one. Doing the cheat day *properly* is what keeps me doing air squats and wall presses before and after every meal.

    I’m an extremist, for better or worse. If there’s a six pack of beer, I’m drinking all three. If the Chinese Buffet sign reads “Open”, I’m going in and pushing myself to the brink of a stomach splitting death.

    That’s why I like 4HB so much. It’s unusual. It doesn’t fit any other plan I’ve been on. The cheat day is what keeps me sane the rest of the week. Knowing I’m going to drink that beer, eat that pizza (yes, the whole thing), and eat that cake (again, the whole thing) helps me to eat Chicken and beans and spinach and chicken and beans and spinach, etc.

    I’ve even had a beer or scotch mid-week with no negative repercussions because I do the lemon juice, grapefruit juice, and GLUT4 exercises regularly.

    Tim does write in the book that some will find it better to do a cheat meal instead of a day. I tried that a few weeks ago and it took me longer to lose that extra weight than it does when I kill it all day Saturday. I guess we individually need to look at the suggestions Tim and others like us have and see what works best. I don’t think there’s a true right or wrong, either way.

    Keep it up!

    • Thanks for the comment, Ernie! I think we actually agree in technicality. You said you go all out on your cheat day, BUT you also do it right. Doing it properly, as you mentioned, is key. I think a whole ton of us don’t do it properly and then wonder why it takes 3-4 days to lose the weight.

      This article actually ended up very differently than I had envisioned it. I was going to argue against a cheat day completely (the title was going to be “What Tim Ferriss Didn’t Tell You About Cheat Days” or something like that), but as I researched that chapter in the book I realized I had been ignoring the whole point of cheat days. It’s not JUST a day to eat whatever we want. We have to also make sure our bodies use those calories appropriately.

      I will continue my cheat days. I won’t make myself sick like I have been, but I will enjoy pizza and beer and such. But I will also be doing the rest of the stuff in the Damage Control chapter that I think many, if not most, of the people I talk to about 4HB have been ignoring.

      Great comment!

  4. I’m so glad you wrote this, I’ve been really reevaluating the whole cheat day idea lately. It’s nice to know that other people have being having similar difficulties. Like you it turned into more of a cheat weekend with me. I’ve decided to do away with the cheat day and cheat in moderation every now and again. I wasn’t really losing the weight after cheat days and the cheat days would wreak havoc on my skin.

    Also for drinking more water I suggest adding soup into your diet more often and drinking tea. I could drink earl gray tea with a slice of lemon in it all day long, tastiest drink ever. You are probably getting some benefit from the lemon in it too.

    • You know, I *usually* eat soup especially the two days before my weigh in, but I think it’s more for making sure I don’t have extra food-weight when I get on the scale. πŸ˜‰ I drink tea all the time! I love it. Actually, I drink yerba mate all the time. I was definitely doing it way before TF told us about it, so I was just that much happier when he said we ought to! My wife said, “we Paraguayans have known that ‘secret’ for thousands of years!”


  5. I have been having trouble with cheat day for a while. If I go all out and eat everything in sight, I gain about. 4 pounds and it takes 5 or 6 days to lose it again. Also, an all out cheat day turns the starch cravings back on, turning one day. Of cheating into three. I admit the only part of Tim’s instructions I followed on chead day was to drink grapefruit juice.

    Now, I try to keep it to a cheat meal and limit the amount of starchy carbs in the meal. I can deal with chocolate better than pasta when it comes to cheating.

    Also, I think the effect of cheat day on weight loss may be different for someone trying to lose 50+ pounds than it is for someone trying to lose 10 pounds. I’m. In the 50+ category and deviation from the diet only make it harder to return to the allowed foods.

    • I am also in the 50+ category (I was in 100+ when I started this thing). I absolutely agree with you. I think what you’re getting at is that we don’t really know how to eat correctly, so allowing ourselves such terrible eating is only reinforcing bad eating habits. I say often that I am not fat because I know what the right foods are or what moderation is like. I’m learning, and my body is much happier with me.

      In fact, if you look in the book, TF’s food list isn’t all that outrageous until you get to the entire pizza. Other than that, his cheat day looks actually pretty healthy. He allowed indulgences, for sure. I do remember reading that he doesn’t go nuts every week, maybe once every few. My problem, and judging by what I’ve seen so far amongst my friends theirs as well, is that I go way overboard every week. More importantly, I haven’t been doing ANY of the damage control.

      I’m about to eat my egg and lentil breakfast, so hopefully that will get me off to the right foot! πŸ™‚


  6. For me, psychologically, the cheat day is invaluable. Not only does it serve as a reward at the end of the week but it helps to reinforce that eating crappy food doesn’t make my body feel good. The contrast between how I feel on cheat days and how I feel when I’m eating during the week actually helps keep me going.

    Not all of my cheat days are huge (although some are whole-pizza days) and some cheat days I just don’t feel like pigging out. But knowing I can if I want kinda of gives me a sense of security.

    I’m only trying to lose at least one pound per week. No matter how much I eat or how much the scale changes after my cheat day, I’ve never had a week where I haven’t lost at least a pound (over and above any cheat day gain). I honestly don’t think I could physically eat enough on a cheat day to derail my diet as long as I am sticking to the plan the rest of the week.

    One pound a week might not be enough for some people, though, so I see the attraction of minimizing cheat day cheating if it helps speed up the weight loss.

  7. I am also have trouble with cheat day, but for different reasons than what ive seen written here. This is actually my first week of 4hb, and so my first cheat day. As i write this a large plate of general tso’s chicken sits next to me, half eaten, and my stomach feels like ive been eating rocks all day long. Like everyone else I had envisioned cheat day as the holy grail of 4hb, and all week was keeping a list of goodies I wanted to destroy, as Tim suggests. However once it came, and I had my stash of favorite junk and starchy foods (ironically, I found myself enjoying the baked potato more than any of the candy/junk food) in the kitchen ready to go, I realized that I didnt actually WANT any of it. This was bizarre to me since these were all things I had craved or eaten practically every day leading up to my diet (which actually started about 2 months ago with a low-carb regimen). Even just last night i was rubbing my hands together greedily dreaming of how awesome tomorrow was going to be, so I couldnt believe it.

    I had been reading the relevant chapters of 4hb almost religiously all week, so i was clear about the rules and didnt consider this to be a simple “eat everything in sight and do nothing else”; i knew there were conditions to go with the binge and ive followed all of them including the squats and wall presses which i have been doing every day as well so i was already used to that. This morning I ate a slow carb breakfast followed by a jog, and when it was time to start bingingII felt the same type of hesitation I used to associate with eating healthy foods! I am however looking forward to the bottle of Samuel Smith’s strawberry cider (if youve never had this holy crap it is *amazing* )

    I am considering trying the cheat meal idea next weekend and just allowing myself alcohol and casual cheats (like potatoes or fructose) on cheat day as well, but im not even through all i had planned on eating today and i dont think i can do this again. Its also kind of irritating to know that Im going to regain after today, whether or not it quickly comes back off. I’ve lost 7lbs so far during this first week and just moved down a size in my wardrobe dammit! πŸ™‚

    I just wanted to share, and ask if anyone else is having the same issue. I found this post after googling “4hb cheat day difficulties”, just fyi. I guess ill go back to choking down what used to be one of my favorite meals. This diet is so strange (but effective!)

    • Bradley, that’s another phenomenon we’ve seen as well. I’m sort of jealous since that doesn’t happen for me that often. πŸ˜‰ You wouldn’t be the only one just doing a cheat meal or just deciding to relax on your cheat day instead of have a real binge. When you have a few under your belt, please let us know how it is working out!

      Thanks for the strawberry cider tip. πŸ˜‰ I’ll have to find it!


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