Slow Carb Diet Cheat Day - can a binge help with weight loss?

The slow-carb diet has many things to recommend it, getting excellent weight loss and body re-composition results for people the world over. However one of the more inspiring yet controversial aspects of the diet is the once per week ‘cheat day’.

Cheat day on the slow carb diet is the one day out of seven you chuck out all the rules of slow-carb dieting and eat, eat eat… carbs, dairy, sweets, cake, fruit, booze… all the stuff that is controlled and off-limits during the main phase of the program. Sometimes it’s called binge day, or dieters gone wild day… a lot of slow-carbers use a weekend day for it, and it doesn’t seem to affect results if you tweak it a day or two either side to cover for a special occasion if necessary.

So, why cheat day?  There are two important reasons:

The first is that extended calorific restriction does bad things to your metabolism.  Your body has evolved to cope during fluctuating food availability without great impact on the organism – that’s you – through long winters between harvests, and it does this by efficiency savings:  slowing down, suppressing thyroid function, and even slightly lowering your core temperature. 

If you are restricting your calories because you want to reduce the size of the organism (and the organism’s back side…), this survival mechanism is a bad thing!  On cheat day, when you radically spike your calorie intake, this resets the thermostat and stops your fat loss decelerating.  You know how when you first start a diet the results are great, for the first week or so your losses are dramatic… then, even though you keep on doing all the right things, your losses decrease.  How demotivating is that?  Cheat day helps trigger that ‘just started dieting’ response, over and over, every week.

Your metabolism is very efficient by the way, and messing with your calorie intake for too long without let-up can have long term effects.  This is one of the reasons that yo-yo dieters, who have lost and regained weight many times over the years, depressingly find that not only is it harder and harder each time, they tend to return to a higher weight each time.  Cheat day is making better and better sense now, isn’t it?

PAGG stack helps limit cheat day damage
PAGG stack helps limit cheat day damage | Source

There’s another really important reason for doing it though. Slow-carb dieting isn’t an overnight thing – Tim Ferriss claims some dramatic results, like people losing 20lbs in 30 days, but often these are people who had huge amounts to lose to start with. It’s safer, healthier, and more sustainable, to lose weight gradually over a longer period of time, everyone knows that. But sticking with any weight loss program is the tough part – dieting is boring, eating a restricted range of foods is boring…going the distance is the biggest challenge.

Cheat day on the slow-carb diet makes the difference, in motivational terms. Craving donuts? Write it down – start a note on your phone, or a noticeboard in the kitchen – next Saturday: DONUTS!! You can deny yourself for a few days, because very soon you have a day coming up when you can scoff all the donuts you want. Time Ferriss actually advocates eating whatever your personal poison is to serious excess on cheat day, making yourself actually feel a little sick with it, as the best way to steer safely clear in the week ahead.

Don’t those extra calories add back some of the weight you lost in the week?  Of course they do.  Especially if like me you weigh-in daily.  But for me, the two reasons above make it worth it, and the overall trend remains steadily downwards – it’s a curve that has a notable zag up the day after cheat day, but 48-72 hours later it’s dropping again.

Tim Ferriss offers a range of suggestions in The Four Hour Body for minimising the amount of body fat regained on Cheat Day, whilst still allowing you to eat whatever you want, and get metabolic benefits. You don’t have to do any of these, but if you do it can help…

  • Have a standard slow carb meal first thing on cheat day. That is, make breakfast a high-protein, high fiber meal. Your binge starts later.
  • Have some grapefruit juice before your next meal – the combination of fructose and naringin helps suppress your glucose response. In fact, use citrus juices liberally throughout your binging. Lemon drizzle cake, anyone? <I LOVE this diet!!>
  • Use the PAGG supplement stack – you need to research the PAGG stack to understand the key benefits of each element
  • Accelerate ‘gastric emptying’ through use of caffeine and theobromine – tea/coffee/chocolate/yerba mate. Without going into too many messy details, the faster your food moves through your digestive system, the less gets absorbed.
  • Brief bursts of exercise before and after eating triggers a specific insulin reaction called the ‘Glut 4’ response, which helps recruit food calories directly to muscle cells rather than fat storage.
  • Supplement with Cissux Quadrangularis on binge days.
  • Boost your gut bacteria, by avoiding artificial sweeteners, eating fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchee, and pro- and pre- biotic supplements.
  • Get yourself a Cheat Day Cheat Sheet to print out and keep

You can read more about these damage limitation hacks in The Four Hour Body, and experiment with the best methods for you to maximize the benefits of cheat day on the slow-carb diet.

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