Health and Medicine

Cheat Days Help You Reach Your Goals

Cheat Days

You’ve probably heard many people say, if you want to achieve a goal, you have to be all in. Maybe you heard that in order to lose weight, you cannot allow yourself cheat days, because they will just cause you to sink back into your old habits and if you want to save money, you can’t splurge on unnecessary purchases, right?

Authors of a new paper in the Journal of Consumer Psychology say going this route is not only joyless, but very risky. The problem with the ‘all-in’ approach is: if you slip up once, you feel like you have failed and that all of your hard work was for nothing. This can cause your motivation to greatly decrease and it can be extremely difficult to pick yourself back up and get back on track.

This new study actually says it is actually beneficial to plan money-spending or bad-eating days, something they like to call “planned hedonic deviations”. Doing this makes you feel in control of your life, your progress and makes the whole process seem a whole lot more enjoyable and worthwhile. End result: you are more likely to achieve your goals.

Rita Coelho do Vale and her colleagues tested their hypothesis by asking 59 students to pretend they were on a diet via role-play. Half were put on a strict 1,500 calorie diet, 7 days a week and the other half were put on a 1,300 calorie diet, with one day off each week. During that day off, they were allowed to eat as much as 2,700 calories if they chose so.

Students selected their hypothetical meals from a menu every day and once the process was completed, were asked how much self control they thought they would have. They were also told to imagine a snack aisle at the end of the week and come up with ways they would try to avoid being tempted. Students with the less strict role-playing diet not only predicted having more self control at the end of the week, but also came up with more ways to successfully avoid cravings in on the snack aisle when compared to the 24/7 dieters.

A second study of 36 participants dieted for two weeks and kept diaries of their personal thoughts, feelings and weights. Those who were offered a “cheat day” felt more in control of their eating habits and kept their motivation. Surprisingly, they also lost just as much weight as the people on the strict diet during the two week testing.

For their third and final survey, researchers surveyed 64 people who were currently working towards a goal. Half of the people were shown a goal outline that walked them through a 100% committed approach that offered no lapses, while the other half were shown plans that offered schedules breaks that gave them time to act in a way that did not coincide with behaviour necessary to achieve their goal (such as spending some money, eating an unhealthy meal). Those who read the second plan reported feelings of being motivated and hopeful that exceeded those who had read the first plan. They truly felt they would be able to obtain their goals.

Due to these findings, researchers believe they have found a straightforward technique to help people self-manage their progress and obtain the results they are longing for. These findings show the importance of flexibility as a large factor in pursuing any type of goal.