In this article you’ll learn the difference between refeed days and cheat days. One will support your goals, the other will likely hold you back. Keep reading to found out which is which.
It’s common to see people controlling and tracking their caloric intake very diligent during weekdays, just to completely go overboard during the weekends.
By Friday, you feel like you did so well, you deserve to treat yourself. A couple of slices of pizza, and a few glasses of your favorite alcoholic beverage, and before you know it, you overshoot your calories.
You don’t understand why you can’t lose weight, you do your best so much to stick to your calorie deficit during the week.. What you don’t realize, is that those two weekend days bring your weekly energy balance back to maintenance, or even above.
But what if I told you, that you could be losing weight and enjoy your weekends? This concept is called ‘refeed days’.
Cheating is never a good thing
For context: Let’s say both person A and B maintain their weight around 2600 calories and want to lose weight.
This client ate at maintenance calories and enjoyed his beers (in moderation) almost every weekend of his journey. Only at the very end of his dedicated fat loss phase, we took his high days away as a final toggle. He lost a total of 15 kilos over the course of about 4 months.
Refeed days vs cheat days
Likes to have a little more every now and then, so he goes back to maintenance on Fridays and Saturdays. He still controls his food intake and enjoys the extra flexibility and freedom with his macros. He knows weekly calories matter, plays it smart and manages to stay in a deficit. He enjoys his Fridays and Saturdays, while still being able to lose weight.
Has a cheat day mentality. He thinks: “I did so good this week, I’m going to treat myself and not track anything”. He Goes All-In, And Ends Up Over Eating For Two Days. He Overshoots His Calories, And Ends Up Back Around Maintenance Or Even In A Slight Surplus (More On This Down Below). He’s Frustrated. He Does So Good From Sunday To Thursday, But Just Can’t Seem To Lose Weight.
How refeed days can help you stick to your weekly calories
Daily calories matter, but weekly calories matter even more. With this in mind, let’s see what that means for both person A and person B.
5 low days at 2200 kcal (deficit)
2 high days at 2600 kcal (maintenance)
(5 x 2200 + 2 x 2600) / 7 = 2314 kcal average per day = deficit
5 low days at 2200 kcal (deficit)
2 high days at 4000 kcal (surplus)
(5 x 2200 + 2 x 4000) / 7 = 2715 kcal average per day = maintenance or surplus*
* Your metabolism is highly adaptive, and calories in and calories out can influence each other, plus the fact that no two days are ever exactly the same. Maintenance is more of a range rather than one set number, which is why we’ll say he could either end up at maintenance or even a slight surplus.
There Is No Cheating The System
If you want to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit. But learn how to manage your intake and to be flexible with your diet, and you’ll set yourself up for success while still being able to enjoy your weekends.
Also know that diets aren’t meant to be forever. As we shouldn’t spend much more than a couple of months being in a calorie deficit anyway, we could simply say “Ok, let’s take it down a notch for the time being”.
Be honest with yourself, and address whether it’s going to be worth it to prioritize alcohol and very calorie dense foods during a fat loss phase.
A calorie deficit is a temporary tool.
You’d be surprised to see how many calories you can get away with after a successful reverse diet.
We think it could be worth making certain trade-offs in favor of your progress for a limited period of time, although this is entirely up to you.
By incorporating high days during the weekends, the overall diet is likely going to take a little longer. Many of our clients don’t mind this however, they know that it’s never worth being in a rush when it comes to weight loss anyway. Plus they enjoy the flexibility and freedom that comes with their high days.
Do you prefer staying at maintenance over the weekend? Now you know that’s totally possible! Just know that even during those days, your caloric budget isn’t unlimited.
Do you prefer to stay in a bit more of a moderate deficit, 7 days a week instead so you don’t have to worry about multiple different macro/calorie targets? Great! That’s totally fine too.
As with anything nutrition, the approach should be tailored to your specific needs.