Have a Day Off Your Diet

By Nicole German (RD, LD)

3000-1144054_calendar_close.jpgDoes spending the day eating whatever you want, and as much of it as you like, sound like a recipe for ruining your diet? Think again.

Taking a day off your diet every week is likely to boost your chances of long-term success.

Keep Your Metabolism Revved

The human body is an impressive piece of equipment. During times of famine, it will be able to maintain weight on less food than before. And as soon as food is plentiful again, your body will pack on as much fat as possible to prepare for the next famine.

By having one day per week when you eat more, you’ll keep your metabolism strong, and it won’t adjust to your lower calorie intake.

Helps Avoid Binge Eating

Ever wonder why diets fail? All it takes is one trigger like stress or boredom and overeating can occur.

The ideas is that if you let yourself eat whatever you like once a week, you won’t end up feeling deprived. It’s much easier to resist that slab of cake when you know you can have one in a couple of days’ time.

Stay on Track with Dieting

Most of us are enthusiastic about a new diet for the first couple of weeks and then the reality sets in. Counting calories, opting for low-fat versions of favorite foods, and trying to change habits gets frustrating after a while. Taking a mini-break from your diet every week will give you peace.

Worried about the extra calories on your day off? It takes 3500 calories to gain one pound. It is not likely you will wreck your diet in one day.

Fit In, Socially, While Dieting

Make your “day off” a day when you’re out with friends or family. It is less stressful to have to worry about fitting in or the temptation of richer foods. That means you can relax and enjoy yourself without a having to focus on calories!

Have you tried this method, and has it worked for you?

92 Comments

  1. Dayle

    This doesn’t work for me. I eat about 1350 calories a day, burn between 500-700 in a HiiT class 6 days a week and if I do a binge day, I gain between 2-4 pounds and it takes more than a week, up to 2 weeks to get that weight back off. I eat very healthy on my normal days, oatmeal, turkey, brown rice, Greek yogurt, salad. I have incorporated a barre class and it is still the same. My body fat percentage is 24%. I really thought that having extra muscle would boost my metabolism, but it has not at all. I truly feel that all this diet effort is frustrating when I cannot even eat one day off of it.

    Reply
  2. Katha

    I am on day 10 of my diet so far and I dunno if I have made any progress yet (I have no scale), however, I have a pair of pants I want to fit into (3 sizes to small for me) as my goal I set myself. I have been eating healthier and what really helps me I keep track of everything I eat by writing down the calories of the foods I cunsume. Workout wise I haven’t done to great… I have only been doing 30min a day in the gym and been burning 200 calories on average there. I am flakuating with my calories intake a lot though it ranges from 900-1500 a day. I try to not go over 1500.

    The problem I have been having is that I have a lot of food cravings still. I drink about 2 liters in water and tea without sugar a day to help that. I have never been successful with diets and I am proud I have been sticking to this one this long. However, I would like to know how I could improve what i am already doing and if my game strategy is ok. Thank You!

    Reply
  3. sachin chawla

    Eating junk one day can gain weight or not

    Reply
  4. Kyle

    You absolutely must have a free day. Eat good clean healthy food (no cheating at all) 6 days a week and eat whatever the hell you want on that seventh day. Anything you want, as much as you want, all day.

    If you are working out hard 4-5 days a week your body will be low on glycogen (muscle fuel) and will NEED the dirty food you eat to refuel for the next week.

    Also, stay off the scale. Only weigh every 2 weeks or so. You will lose weight all week and if you weigh yourself after cheat day you will panic or give up. You WILL gain weight back initially but your body will work through it during the week and you should end up 1-3 lbs lighter than the last time you weighed.

    It works every time. Figure out your macro’s, eat in that range all week, go nuts on your free day and enjoy life. Food is one of life’s great things. You don’t need to deprive yourself from it all the time.

    Reply
    • jbobs

      I have just started doing 3 protein shakes a day for 6 days a week and intend to have one day off a week,would it be ok to have alcohol on this free day or should I avoid it?

      Reply
  5. Mendel E

    I’ve done it. I’m Jewish and i wouldn’t look at what i ate on Shabbat. I used to lose five pounds a week and gain three back on Shabbat . In theory it’s great, but you also need to train your body to eat less and get used to smaller portions

    Reply
  6. Kristen

    I don’t believe it takes 3500 calories to gain a pound. As we age our metabolism slows so women over 50 don’t need more than 1500 calorie a day diet.
    I gained all my weight by eating over 2000 calories a day. Most of it chips, candy bars, and cheesecake.
    I have lost 34 pounds so far on less than 1000 a day and have 27 left to lose.I can’t imagine a pig out day trying to lose weight. It seems to defeat the purpose of making a healthy lifestyle chamge. I think having a small serving once in awhile of your fav food is okay.

    Reply
  7. Paula goodwin

    I don’t understand how you do your cheat day do you do away with some of your food you eat 6 days ? Or can you have those calories plus an extra amount and how much can it be to still lose 2lbs a week I love this way of eating but a times I’ve only lost 3 ozs please help me !!

    Reply
  8. Salem

    For me it worked , and I lost about 16 kilograms in about 3 months. I was 96 kg and today Ann 80 kg. in cheat day , don’t fear from eating. Eat as much as like . It’s a wonderful feeling really .

    Reply
  9. maria

    Can i still have my sweet and low on my coffee. In the morning being on dr oz diet ?

    Reply
  10. jan

    I have followed a 900 calorie day diet for 9 months, some days a little over, some days a little under. I have lost 81 lb so far, and need to lose about another 45 lb. I have never felt better: my cholesterol levels have gone down from 6.6 to 3; I no longer have sleep apnea, and my glucose levels (which were borderline diabetic) are now normal. Also, I have not exercised at all; partly because I hate it, and partly because I had a rare neurology syndrome 3 years ago. As a result of this, my right leg, arm and hand have actually had some muscle separate itself from where it should be (it actually melted away). It is a lot better than it was, but I still get a sore leg if I do to much.

    Reply
  11. bobby

    every Thursday i go out for pizza and beers with friends and indulge fully. i work hard on my weightloss goals all week and look forward to my splurge day. it keeps me on track and sane knowing i can eat my favorite food and drink beer- not the lite crappy beer but good delicious beer! so far, i am down 6 lbs in 3weeks. you CAN have your pizza and eat it too!

    Reply
  12. Joe

    There are a few simple rules to keep your weight healthy. Eat as soon as you wake up, drink water throughout the day, spread your calories out throughout the day, exercise daily, eat your biggest meal right after exercising, and sleep 7+ hours nightly. Do this and you’ll maintain a good weight even with a naturally slow metabolism.

    If chocolate makes you gain weight, just avoid it. Its a good idea to eat a little more every few days to keep your body out of starvation mode, but you don’t need it for psychological reasons. Just use discipline. If you want to eat a big piece of cake, think about how gross you’re going to look next time you’re with a woman and you take off your shirt. Visualize a hairy gut and the disgusted reaction on the face of the slender, pretty woman you went home with. If you want to eat junk food, hate yourself. Think about what your life would be like if you were a failure. You’ll forget all about food. I’ve been doing it since I was 16, chunky, and couldn’t get a girl. It took 3 months to turn my life around and its worked for 11 years since then.

    Reply
  13. celia velazquez

    all the information is great advice except for the ones who hardly eat anything and want to lose weight, ha ha your killing your metabolism and your just going to gain it all back faster than what you lost it !!!and that can just cause you to give up.The key is self awareness some times counting callores can be awfel and personaly i dont do it because than i began to cheat myself. Be aware of the foods that you love that are also health and take advantage of that.

    Reply
  14. Sexy.White.Guy

    I usually have a day off once a month where I eat anything I want. This day is usually a Monday (I take the day off work). Last week I had a calzone pizza and a large Cinabon. That day however, I did 2 hours on my spinning bike and 30 min weight training. I walked to the shops (roughly 2km, brisk pace) and cleaned my entire 4 bed apartment. For the rest of the week I generally add 15-20 min extra onto my cardio session. Typically I lose 1kg a week. The week that my cheat day is in, I manage to actually lose more. Last week I lost 2.2kg. So a cheat day definately works for me.

    Jo’burg, Sandton, South Africa

    Reply
  15. Andrew

    Utter rubbish. The logic is all flawed about your body reacting to food in this way. If your body was in a fed state and never stored excess fat, then we wouldnt have fat people. You would just always be in a fed state and pass what is not needed.

    You want a binge state to keep the body “fed” so it doesnt assume famine? Then munch on as many veges you can find, have a big salad… I dont see the logic in making that meal a fatty, high sugar, colour dyed piece of junk.

    Reply
    • Kyle

      You are so off it is laughable guy. You clearly don’t understand how the body uses food. This is a scientifically proven method and one of the only ones that REALLY work.

      Study up on glycogen and why you MUST eat all the junky fatty foods you want one day a week. If you don’t you are killing your own progress.

      Research some next time before making a fool of yourself.

      Reply
  16. Ali

    The very first point they made said this. They didn’t miss it at all.
    “By having one day a week when you eat more, you’ll keep your body guessing: it won’t adjust to your lower calorie intake.”

    Reply
  17. Donna

    I’m on a diet.. no way around it. I do slim-fast, which is not a life style. I do not plan on sucking down slim-fast shakes for the rest of my life. It keeps me in the 1200-1300 range most days, and I actually plan a 1500 cal day each week to rejump my metabolism, which has so far worked. Due to what is available on the diet, I don’t crave chocolate. The psychological aspect is taken care of. For example: Breakfast- Cappuchino Shake (Yummy BTW) AM Snack- Chocolatey vanilla blitz bar. Lunch- Chocolate covered cookie dough meal bar. PM snack- Carrot sticks with fat free ranch. Dinner- Chicken and whole grain pasta. Evening snack- Apple. I get chocolate, which is my biggest weakness.

    If you’re doing the splurge day for cravings/psychological reasons, there are ways to incorporate your cravings into your diet.. it’s called moderation, it’s called portions, and it’s called healthy alternatives. Say, you’re dying for cheesecake. If you’re reading this, you obviously have internet. Look up low cal cheesecake recipes (They actually do exist)

    The real reason a one day break is good, is to proove to your metabolism that the low calories on the other 6 days is because you want to lose weight, that the low calorie intake isn’t due to lack of food. This re-boots your metabolism and helps prevent the dreaded plateau. If jumping up to 1500 once a week ceases to help, I will incorporate free day.

    Reply
    • Kyle

      True but it is also to replenish your glycogen levels that will be low due to the clean eating all week, especially if you are hitting the gym pretty hard.

      Reply
  18. Donna

    Anorexia is consuming 900 calories a day, or less, on a constant basis without a doctors supervision and approval. I have never known a doctor to approve this strict diet. Oddly, you need calories to lose weight. Calories provide your body the energy it needs to support healthy organs, growth, and even weight loss.

    If you’re trying to lose weight you should speak to your doctor about the proper calorie intake YOU need. Some people lose weight with 2000+ calories daily. The slim-fast diet aims for 1200 calories a day, though the slim-fast dietitian recommends 1200-1500 calories daily. Less than 1200 calories a day actually PREVENTS weight loss for the following reasons: 1- You will not have the energy for your work outs and 2- Your body goes into starvation mode, basically your body believes there is not enough food to maintain it so your metabolism slows and your body clings to the fat since it isn’t getting energy from calories to use as an emergency energy reserve.

    Reply
    • Adan

      I need your help. I wanna go back to eating 1200 cals a day because before I only ate 500-600 cals. I’m 12 years old and I am scared that jumping right back to 1200 cals will make me gain weight. Can you give me advice?

      Reply
      • Ann

        You should definately go back to eating 1200 cal per day, and a a matter of fact, you should not eat LESS than 1200 calories a day. You are not eating enough calories right now, and you are growing…your body needs more calories. Eat the 1200 calories to 1500 calories AT LEAST and exercise 3-5 times a week…this won’t make you gain weight, I promise! And asking your doctor also would be a good idea. Good luck!!

        Reply
      • Sharon santic

        Adan, im am 51 and have lost a lot of weight and along the way discovered that wasnt eating enough GOOD food so my body was storing fat where it could. i found lite n easy great cos i could pick a menu for whatever meals i wanted and it was all planned out for me to be nothing over 1200 or 1500 caloried a day. the reason i had to go off it was because i found out i was dairy intolerant and a lot of their meals have dairy. now im doing something else and losing weight again

        Reply
    • lisa brown

      Eating less then 1200 calories a day does NOT prevent you from losing weight. I take meal replacement Whey protein shakes 6 days a week while doing yoga and other strength training. I have one day a week where I do eat. Ive lost 25 pounds in 4 weeks so far and have another 15 to go. Everybodys different but to sit there and tell someone what will work and what dont is not my thing to say.. I know what works for me. This is working so far and I have not had one bad issue.

      Reply
  19. Donna

    And that’s great for maintaining weight, but I believe he was talking about dieters who want to lose weight.

    Reply
  20. not a great idea

    Are you serious about eating only 500 calories a day…then porking out at 3,000-4,000 calorie? It’s eat what you want…not buy the grocery store!

    You need to read up about extreme calorie reductions and see how it will medically HURT you. That ain’t the goal sweetie. I won’t waste my time prattling on should you not read it…or worse yet….decide to go with your plan.

    You write like you are a teenager?? If you aren’t a teenager…you need to act like an adult and read up about your idea. 500 calories is a hard boiled egg (80), cup of fat free plain yogurt (120), two slices whole wheat bread (200), and an apple (80…or two). The two will put your over your limit by a few calories.

    You gonna live like that your whole life? Save your money for doctor bills cause your body is gonna get sick…your immune system will drop…and you’ll need a psychiatrist.

    Reply
    • Kyle

      No, you are supposed to eat at a caloric deficit which will be different for each person. Then on the free day you eat as much as you want to replenish much needed fuel for your body. It’s that simple.

      Workout hard 4-5 days a week, 3-4 days of cardio a week, and eat clean for 6 days a week. Eat as bad as you want that 7th day. Period. You must for progress.

      Reply
  21. lovethe idea

    I admit, I’ve just started my new eating habits (I refuse to call it a diet – sounds temporary) and I’v lost about 1.5 pounds a week…very healthy.

    I have done it completely painlessly. I eat whatever I want ONE day a week. On the day I know I’m going to do that I always eat an omelette first thing in the morning (and yes, I eat the egg yolk!). I load it with whole foods and feta cheese (..the full fat). This way I assure I have eaten at least TWO servings of veggies (versus my usual 4-5 servings on the other days.

    Every night…I eat a sweet treat…around 200-250 calories. I can do this, I conclude, and STILL lose weight… because I eat so little processed food during the day…I am still losing weight compared to what I used to eat – mainly processed.

    I think the blogger is trying to say that if we go completely cold turkey on anything that we enjoy eating…we will fall off our new eating plan. I couldn’t agree more.

    People are SHOCKED when they realize my midnight snacks (literally…at midnight) have NEVER changed in the month I’ve been losing weight (small dish ice cream / slice of pie / strawberry shortcake / yup!)

    I think keeping my midnight snacks helps me mentally and physically. My body doesn’t think it’s starving and my brain doesn’t feel denied of a pleasure I’ve had most of my life – a midnight snack. Note…snack…not a meal!

    It’s made changing my day / night eating behaviors SO MUCH EASIER! (I also buy only organic meat now at the local whole foods market!).
    I’ve always exercised (5-6 times a week -hour a shot…sometimes a little less…) But my body has never had much to show for my efforts.

    I’m not dying to be a super model….but 30 pounds off would be lovely. And now…I’m 7 pounds closer to my goal. Gotta go. Snack time is 2.5 hours away.

    Great blog post!

    Reply
  22. Larissa

    I think having a treat day (as i call it) is an awesome idea. Ive started my diet plan about 3 weeks ago. And last week we had a gathering to watch the football game complete with many delicious dips and finger food. My mom told me it was fine to have a treat day once a week. So I picked that sunday. Afterward i felt to bad for treating myself!! that was until the next friday (my weigh in day) and even with that treat sunday i still lost 8 pounds that week! it got me so excited! So with the treat day, i dont have to deprive myself and i stil lose weight! Then it also makes me super hyped to start new with healthy foods for the week. Reading this and all the comments helped me so much too! im not the only one! thank you!

    Reply
  23. Charlotte

    I liked the sound of your program. That was what my question was going to be. I have started a program that is supposed to be 1300 calories a day eating 5 small meals a day. I have always had a hard time sticking to a diet on weekends. I was wondering if I ate the 1300 calories Mon – Fri and then ate about 1600 hundred to 1800 calories on the weekends if I would still lose weight? It sounds like it worked really well for you. I guess all I can do is try it. I am also working out 5 days a week.

    Reply
  24. jason

    i think thats because children only eat when they are hungry and adults eat when they are hungry, bored, stressed, or just for pleasure. i myself only feed my kids when they ask for food which is often but they only want a little at a time i dont mind those eating habbits because i dont want them to have my weight promblems

    Reply
  25. sabs

    hey if anyone could reply to this is would be appreciated. i want to lose weight, but whenever i d\iet i binge and gain the weight back. will i lose if i eat 500 cals per day, and ten one day a week eat what i want (like 3000-4000 cals worth?) or will i just on that day gain back all ive lost? i want to lose about 3 0r 4 stone (am 12 stone now)tyxx

    Reply
    • Kyle

      It’s not rocket science.

      You don’t even need to calculate your macros. You just need to eat small portions of lean beef and chicken with green veggies 3-4 times a day, a good breakfast of egg whites and oatmeal, and throw in a few snacks like almonds, walnuts, raisins, cottage cheese, etc during the day. 5 or 6 meals in total and you can supplement 1 or even 2 meals with a Whey isolate protein shake. Spread your calories out through the day. No junk food. No sugar. No processed food of any kind. Unsweet tea and water to drink only.

      The next stage is you MUST work out. Hit the weights and hit them hard 4-5 days a week. You MUST do cardio 3 times a week.

      Then you MUST eat whatever you want on your free day. As much as you want. All day. It’s critical you do this. Your body will need the energy. Don’t worry about overdoing it because the first time you do and you get nauseous will be the last and you will take it easier next time.

      If you follow this consistently and stick to it you WILL lost weight and put on lean muscle mass. Period.

      Reply
  26. Julia

    So far I have lost 10 lb. by eating 1200 kcal a day, but on my occasional off days (which happen when I am absolutely too weak or hungry, approx. every 2 weeks), I allow myself to eat a little more calories from HEALTHY food (an extra yoghurt, an extra plate of veggies, a bowl of steel-cut oats in the evenings…). That really works. Provided it is an occasional exception, and not a junk fest.

    Reply
    • Kyle

      (1) You must be tiny if 1200 calories puts you in a deficit. I would wager you are vastly undereating.
      (2)If you are feeling weak or tired then you absolutely are starving yourself, which in turn is slowing your metabolism, and killing progress. I hate to tell you this but the 10lbs was water weight and always comes right off.

      Stop starving yourself and eat more food. If you are working out you need it and you SHOULD be working out.

      Then have a free day EVERY week.

      Reply
  27. Julia

    Such a rude, arrogant comment!

    Reply
  28. A. G. Tate

    Thanks for the insight, but you don’t have to be so aggressive toward whoever wrote this article. It’s not like it was written specifically to spite you.

    Reply
  29. Matty

    Great! The first smart thing I have heard about dieting from the internet. I have lost 20 pounds this way over a month. Having a free day is great and I usually regret eating so much on my “free” day that it makes it easier to eat less on the rest of the days. So much of a diet is mental and giving yourself one day a week is huge(pun fully intended) in get around that mental obstacle. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Kyle

      Absolutely. You MUST give yourself that day to have all the “bad” food. It’s not only a mental relief, but your body needs its glycogen stores replenished and this is the best way to get that done.

      Reply
  30. Forsikring

    I would start craving junk again. I am going to try this today and see how it works. I’ll let you know next week.

    Reply
    • Ray

      Hi, i went from 17.5 stone to 13.5 stone, i’m male 6 ft tall 67 yrs old. Come xmass i thought i’m happy having made 13.5 stone and stopped dieting. 6 months later i’m back up to 16.5 stone again so went back to same diet but binge on Saturday, Lost 6lb in first week,hope to lose 2lb a week including my Saturday binge.Its a lot easier knowing i can have a pizza or fish and chips, i just have to wait until Saturday not forever.

      Reply