Refeed or cheat meals, which should you do? There is a misconception that if you ate healthy all week that you "earned" a cheat meal or a free day of eating. However, you can also have a refeed meal. What is the difference between the two ? So let's break these down a little bit and go over the differences between refeeds and cheat meals.
A refeed is a planned and scheduled increase in particular macro-nutrients. Cheat meals are untracked meals that you can have as a mental break from dieting with no macro -nutrient prescription to follow. A lot of times, having a cheat meal places a negative association with your relationship with food. Cheating, is never a good thing, not for your diet nor any relationship. So why is this term thrown around the fitness community so often?
You might be asking when and why should you do a refeed or cheat meal. The scientific basis for a refeed day lies within the leptin-boosting power from a short-term boost in calories. Leptin, a hormone that regulates satiety and energy intake, decreases when body-fat levels go down and carbohydrate intake gets reduced. As a result, hunger levels rise and satiety is reduced. Ideally, the goal of a refeed day should be to promote a rise in leptin levels to better help adherence to a specific diet.
However, a cheat day can provide a mental break from the rigorous tracking and frequent scrutiny of macros. This pause on tracking food for a meal promotes positive changes, such as an increase in dopamine, a chemical in the brain associated with our brain's reward and pleasure center. This may help to promote adherence down the road.
A properly constructed refeed day will help to replenish glycogen store in your body rather than fat stores. A planned refeed should be done when you are in a calorie deficit and your carbohydrates are low for quiet some time. Be careful of having too many cheat days with higher fat meals. It has the possibility to promote fat gain rather than refilling your carbohydrate stores.
A refeed day should primarily focus on increasing carbohydrate intake. It has been demonstrated that a high-carbohydrate meal can boost leptin, particularly when compared to a high-fat meal. As a result, your raging appetite may be temporarily suppressed, possibly for 24-48 hours, relieving you from the rigors of caloric restriction. So make sure you are putting those calories and extra energy to work the following day.
I would recommend having a refeed day vs. a cheat meal. It's not only helpful for you to plan and keep a little structure, but if you do macro counting, fitting in that meal that you wanted is easier than you think!