Who Are You Cheating Anyway?

A “cheat day” once a week is a common trait shared by most bodybuilders. The problem is it usually turns out to be more than just one day. Here’s how you can constructively use a cheat day to solidify your focus.

First off, don’t schedule a “cheat day” if you already “cheat” every day. And second, don’t use the scheduled cheat day as a wholesale invitation to eat as much of anything and everything you want. You’ll be amazed at how many calories you can pack in when you let yourself go. Most people will do this. In fact, even 1999 Team Universe light-heavy champ Jeff Willet was doing this very thing.

Jeff has a scheduled cheat day – Sunday – when he eats whatever he wants. The other 6 days he is so precise with his eating and supplementation it’s incredible. This precision is why he’s added about 20 pounds of muscle over the last 4 months. But that’s another story. Because of this incredible devotion to his perfect diet and to-the-minute supplementation each day, Sunday is a welcomed “mental reliever.” Not only does this strategy allow Jeff to live a little, but it also reinforces his commitment for the coming week. This works well for Jeff and can for you too.

But hold on, there’s more to this story and more to learn. One morning, pretty early (I get here about 4:30AM and Jeff usually gets here around 6:30AM), Jeff and I were in the gym talking and I was reviewing his training and diet. We started talking about his cheat day and I asked what exactly did he eat on that day. Jeff told me that he eats whatever he wants and as much as he wants. I immediately stopped him and defined a “cheat day” a little more clearly.

I define a cheat day as eating normal food. Normal food being pizza, a Whopper, french fries, eggs and bacon, pancakes (chocolate chip pancakes from IHop – yum!), grilled chicken with barbecue sauce, etc. Food average people eat every day. It’s almost hard to believe but these are food choices of the average American.

I started asking Jeff more specific questions about his cheat day and I shed a little reality on just what he was doing. Jeff was using this cheat day to literally gorge himself, and he was doing so for one simple reason – because he could. It was his designated cheat day and by God he was going to cheat. A swing by Burger King and it was 2 Double Whoppers with cheese and Biggie Fries – with a diet Pepsi of course. That was typical for a cheat day. Not to mention the other 5 or so meals to equal caloric excess.

I quickly steered the conversation to the purpose of a cheat day and how to use it to the greatest benefit. First off, forget the bullshit that your body “needs” to have this junk to keep your metabolism running high. This is a bunch of bunk. This is an excuse to eat crap and convince yourself you are benefiting from it. That’s pure garbage. Junk food does not jack your metabolism, training does. Junk slows it down.

The benefits of a cheat day are simply to satisfy your mental starvation for tasty food. And the bottom line is, the tastier the food the higher up the “junk” ladder it is. This is one of those unfortunate “facts of life.” Eating junk has no positive physical benefit. Its benefits are purely psychological.

Once you clearly understand why it’s useful to incorporate a cheat day then you can do so with the least amount of damage and greatest amount of benefit. Because make no mistake about it, all those empty calories that you consume on this day that are not burned will most likely be stored as fat. However, the mental boost you obtain from breaking the reigns of the bodybuilder diet for a day will propel you to more strict eating habits on all the other days and reinforce your mental focus and physical intensity levels while you train. Your net result will be better workouts, more lean muscle, and less body fat.

A cheat day is simply to feed your psychological cravings for what is truly one of life’s most pleasurable experiences – eating melt-in-your-mouth, delicious, no holds bared, kick-ass food.

Now here is where discipline needs to come in. Use this cheat day constructively and do not use it destructively. Eat enough “normal” food to quench your psychological craving and reinforce your commitment. Do not use this cheat day to gorge on everything in sight. Jeff was doing just that and didn’t even realize it, so I devised a plan to help him maximize the benefits of this important cheat day and minimize the damage.

We first talked about why he ate to excess on this day and the answer was because he could. Dammit he was allowed to. That’s his day. I reigned Jeff in and explained to him what I am explaining now. Jeff is such a neat guy because you can just about see the light go on inside his head as the pieces come together. We put together a simple plan to let him enjoy a cheat day every week without going to the extreme.

So now what Jeff does is he keeps a journal on his cheat days of exactly what and how much he eats. This keeps him keenly aware of what he is doing and just how much “normal” food he eats. Instead of 2 Double Whoppers with cheese it’s just 1 Whopper without cheese. Same psychological benefit with one third of the calories and fat. He still cheats, but it’s just a misdemeanor and not a felony.

So use a cheat day to constructively enhance your training, diet and mental focus. Remember, “All work and no play made Jack a dull boy.” The same goes for clean eating and strict supplementation. A little “play” can help you get the work done even better.

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