Best Foods for Cheat Day

There’s been a few questions that have come up about what people eat on cheat days. Though most people go wild, and clear out their closest fast food chains, other people hit some unusual stuff, like delicacies from overseas, or handmade truffle chocolates. I sometimes get the evil eye from Kat when I spoon out a bowlful of natural yogurt and fill it with trail mix, banana, and berries – it doesn’t exactly look like a ‘cheat meal’, but it’s packed with carbs, loads of sugar and hits the spot for me. So that begs the question: are there ‘best foods’ for cheat day, or is everything fair game and equal? Read on to discover things aren’t all on the level.

Cheat day is great for two reasons: 1/ It’s a mental break from the same foods, over and over again. 2/ It’s a physical break from about the same number of calories, and a relatively low carbohydrate diet. So we’ll look at the best cheat day foods for each.

1/ Best foods for a mental break

The simple answer for this section is that whatever you have been craving is the right thing to eat. Don’t worry about the food you’re eating – don’t limit it, don’t try to manage the food. Do the ‘damage control’ exercises, take PAGG, perhaps have a weights workout, and enjoy the day as your reward.

2/ Best foods for a break from low-carbs, and low-ish calories

This section is a little more complex than the first, and that’s because the slow carb diet is a variation of a cyclical ketogenic diet, which means you have a period of lower carbohydrate intake, during which your body becomes adapted to burning fat for energy, instead of glucose. Then, regularly, you have a day where you switch the kinds of food you are taking in, and ‘break’ that ketosis period. This switches things in the body, as it adapts back to glucose from carbohydrates, and you have other changes in the body, such as changes in water retention.

For this section, the best foods are those that are high in carbohydrates. These don’t necessarily need to be sugar however, and that’s an important thing to note. Anything like cereal, bread, pasta, pizza base, etc is high in carbohydrates compared to the beans and vegetables eaten during the week. For that reason, sweets aren’t necessarily the best option, as they are generally pure sugar, with no much other nutrition. If you head for starchy meals with protein and fat, like giant bread rolls with meats, and sauces (thanks to Justin for the correction on the GI of bread – it’s higher than Coke!), like cheese and bacon potatoes with salad on the side, you digest this relatively slowly, compared to a bag full of candies. Likewise, if you hit a pizza, the fat will slow down digestion, as will the other toppings.

So, think in terms of carbohydrates for cheat meals, and ones that offer loads of flavor. Carbohydrates are the main nutrient you’re replenishing, having not had a lot of them during the week. Some fat will likely come along for the ride, and if you’re wondering about protein… keeping it about the same as the other days is a good idea (about 1g per lb of lean body mass). But, that’s not to say you need to labor over these details, just that some people like to have them, to keep in mind. The bottom line is that most everybody’s cheat day is working, and very few people ‘engineer’ their cheat day so specifically.

The second part of this break is to spike calories, and generally speaking, a meal that is higher carbohydrate, and moderate in fat is likely to answer this need comprehensively. If you’re concerned that you’re not spiking your calories high enough, try taking a meal diary online for a cheat day, and see if your total is over 3000 or 3500 calories.. you’re doing well if it is. If it’s 5000, then you have nothing to worry about, as Tim topped out at 6000 calories in his cheat day binge.

Last but not least, foods that speed up your digestive system are good to include, especially if you heading north of 4000 calories. If it goes through you faster, you won’t absorb as much of it. Tim uses various forms of caffeine and spices to achieve this.

The key to cheat day food and meals

Put simply, there is a difference between eating all you want, and force feeding yourself endless amounts of food that make you feel sick. There’s a happy balance in there, that you need to find. Don’t feel compelled to stuff yourself full for the whole day, but don’t prevent yourself from eating for any reason. After a few goes, you should find a pretty good balance – eating ‘as much as you want’ is a very, very fun way to pass a weekend day.

What are your favorite cheat day foods? Do you have special ones that you dream about all week? Or some great tips for people who might be looking for some variety? Leave a comment below!

You might be interested in reading these too:

  1. 4 Hour Body Cheat Sheet: Cheat Day Here it is, your guide to how to get through a successful cheat day. Print this, add to it, and cross things off as you go - you'll be relaxed, with your mind...
  2. 5 Simple Tips for Cheat Day I'm coming into week 4 of slow carb eating, and I have to admit the cheat-day lead-up each week is quite an exciting time for me. Not only for the food, but also...
  3. Happy Cheat Day everyone Here's a bit of fun for cheat day.. because we can't be serious about this food all the time! Check out this photo!...

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19 Responses to Best Foods for Cheat Day

  • Goatlady says:

    Today was my cheat day, and while I would usually go for something way “out there” – rich pasta, cheesy pizza, an Indian feast, cheeseburger with fries and onion rings – tonight I was really craving plain schnitzel and veg. I guess the potatoes and breading spiked my carbs enough!

  • Helena says:

    Third Cheat day so far and Danishes of some description are a standard…..at least one cafe latte – preferably two – i miss dairy sorely durng the week :-)
    One interesting thing I notice is that I actively avoid meat products on cheat day – I guess because i get my fill of them during the week so on cheat day vegetarian pizza and pasta choices suddenly look delicious !!!
    I haven’t been checking the calories on my cheat day though – and since my measurements aren’t changing yet perhaps this is the reason – I’m also a little confused about the timing of my AGG/PAGG and cissus doses in relation to cheat/normal day meals – I know i need to take the cissus 30mins before meals but does that also go for my PAGG stack ??

    H

    • Luke says:

      Helena, that all sounds great! PAGG is also taken around 30 mins before ‘meals’.. 3 AGG doses, and then one PAG before bed.
      All the best!
      Luke

  • Justin says:

    Ah cheat day, my favourite subject in the 4HB. I think how smart you are about your cheat day is directly proportional to your success. By smart I mean do you understand the pros and cons of the food you are eating.

    One correction on the bread, the GI of bread (even whole wheat) is actually higher than coke, see http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods.htm or glycemicindex.com

    One thing that people need to remember in regards to carbs is that they need to be balanced and timed based on you energy expenditure as well. For me right now a carb reefed once a week would not be enough with the volume and intensity of the training that I am doing.

    For someone that has a primary goal of losing fat, and is doing the minimal amount of working out, once a week might be too often.

    Also for those that are trying to gain weight, spiking insulin post workout does have anabolic affects here is a good article about it on strong lifts.com http://stronglifts.com/anabolic-diet-post-workout-nutrition-spiking-insulin/ Make sure to use high quality whole foods when spiking insulin on a regular basis.

    • Luke says:

      Hey Justin,

      As always, I very much appreciate your wise comments!! Your correction on bread is much appreciated.

      I agree with you on the timing of carbs. And also on the amount. Managing carbohydrates truly is a key to weight loss and maintenance. Likewise, using an insulin spike around workouts will help people gain.

      There is a lot that can be done with carefully choosing carbs and when to have them. This however is where some people tend to fall off the wagon, as things get too detailed. I think the slow carb diet does a decent job of working for most people, to get good to great results. That said, it’s certainly possible to achieve even greater results with varied approaches, but this won’t work for a lot of people.

      Cheers!
      Luke

    • Karenina says:

      I am a personal trainer trying to get back into shape and lose weight after having been injured for many months. I have finally gotten back into a good routine, and I prefer lifting weights 4-5 days a week and do spin classes 2-3 times a week. Is that too much for the slow carb diet? Should I be eating post workout carbs during the week? I lift pretty heavy…

      • Luke says:

        Hey thanks for the comment.
        This definitely sounds like too much – not for this diet, but for your body! This amount of training very well could have contributed to your injury (though of course it may have had another cause). Overtraining is doing too much, with too little rest/recovery time. If you are doing efficient weights that are target and performed correctly, you only need 2 sessions per week, around 20-30 minutes. If you have lifted heavy weights with your legs at one session, then a spin class within 3 or 4 days will most likely negate your strength gains and may set you back.
        If you’re focused on muscle gains, and you’re below around 16% bodyfat, then some post workout carbs are a good idea. If your focus is fat loss, and/or you’re over 16% bf, then stick with slow carb, and just make sure you get plenty of protein (around 130-150g /day).
        All the best,
        Luke

  • Chuck Wood says:

    Good old southern fried chicken is what I think of on Cheat Day–trouble is no one around these parts has it on menu. May be I will go with The big K. My problem is my Blood Pressure–I have lost 25-30 pounds but my BP is not doing to good. I have over 50,000 miles as a DAV Volunteer Driver, but had to take time out for back surgery & gained lots of weight. I have taken physical to get reinstated but BP was to high. Any Ideas CW

    • Luke says:

      Hey Chuck,
      Thanks for leaving your comment. That’s too bad about your blood pressure situation, I’m sure you’d like to find a way to get that under control. I would suggest giving it some more time on the slow carb diet, but if it’s already been 2 or 3 months (or more) and it’s not improved, then other options might be worth looking at. You may want to consider the Atkins method of dietary change – it has a range of health benefits, including reducing blood pressure (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/7072095/Low-carb-diets-like-Atkins-better-at-reducing-blood-pressure-than-weight-loss-drugs.html) and contrary to mis-information in the media, is very safe and healthy. To read more about the Atkins diet check out the updated book by clicking here.

      Please discuss any changes you might make with your doctor.

      All the best,
      Luke

    • Rodrigo says:

      Dear Chuck like the 4 h body and most of my immediate remedies, i went to the internet !!! and i’ve lowered my blood pressure following this advices (went from 140/90 to 129/79) in about 30 days … how : lowering fat level (slowcarb diet) , WEIGHT TRAINING , watching standup comedy ( the more you laugh the better ), linden 1 hour before sleep ( right after my hot/COLD BATH ) and Hibiscus Tea with cinnamon 2-5 times a day (you can take it cold ) …. I’m no Doctor and of course, you should go to yours before , but this has worked for me!

      Let me know how everything turns out for you ! Keep it low and ENJOY !

      • Luke says:

        Hey Rodrigo, thanks for leaving the details of your approach! That’s really great that you’ve managed to find better health through lifestyle changes. What great progress you’ve made!
        Keep up the great work, and thanks again.
        Luke

  • Dheana says:

    Hi Luke,
    Great website! I’m new to the SCD – though it’s not that different from how I ate before. But this ‘Cheat day” concept = totally foreign! I’m gearing up for my first this weekend but have a concern. I don’t LIKE junk food! LOL I know it’s weird but I’ve been eating healthy for so long I’ve lost my taste for crap. The thought of a candy bar is gross to me – or store bought pizza. Plus understanding their inflammatory effect on the body – just doesn’t compute, you know?
    I can see enjoying a desert type treat or two from whole foods or thrive, but I’m a bit worried I won’t be able to pack down enough calories that day.
    Thoughts? Tips? Anyone else in this boat?
    Thanks!
    Dheana

    • Luke says:

      Hey Dheana, I know what you mean! You might like to indulge in treats that are more healthy, but still carbohydrate dense. So something like an apple crumble baked with quinoa instead of wheat flour. Other examples include some gluten free pizza with delicious meat and veges, and also perhaps some pasta with meat sauce. There’s a lot of foods that fit between ‘junk’ and slow carb – think about things that the media classifies as healthy and you’ll have a good starting point ;)

      All the best!
      Luke

  • john snow says:

    Ziti slices of pizza are great for this, as are blends of snacks (aka custom chex mix) & ramen w/ whole wheat soba is a classic

  • klynnb says:

    We don’t do cheat days. We do a cheat meal every Saturday night. Nachos is what we eat. I usually do a pork loin in the crockpot on Friday and then we use the leftovers for nachos!!

    • Luke Starbuck says:

      Hey, that sounds delicious!! Nachos are possibly my favorite cheat day meal. The pork loin would be delicious – I normally have spicy beef on my nachos but I’ll have to try some pork soon.
      Cheers!
      Luke

  • josh says:

    im wondering, what is the best food for a cheat day? or cheat meal? you said go for carbs, so which would be better, lots of fruit? or icecream? high carbs, low fat. any other suggestions for choices of food to choose for a cheat meal?

    basically my question is if i didn’t have any urge to chose one food over another, which food should i choose for best results?

    • Luke Starbuck says:

      Hey Josh,

      For best results, the low fat, high carb approach works, with moderate protein. So, for that reason, a great example is a bowl of spaghetti with a tomato and meat sauce (made with lean meat). Another great example is oatmeal with fruit and greek yogurt, plus protein powder.

      Enjoy!
      Luke

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