Women who want to lose weight often start dieting to burn excess fat and attain a trim look. While dieting does work for some, it can be painfully overwhelming for others. The idea that you cannot eat as much as you’d like or enjoy the foods you’d typically eat is one of the primary reasons many women struggle to keep up with their dieting programs. In fact, for some, sticking through to the end of their dieting period is often an act of pure will.
Yet, some research may be pointing to the fact that if people are placed on a diet for too long, the body adapts. That will lead to a rapid slowdown in weight loss resulting in less than expected success and potential loss of motivation to carry on with the diet. This is where the concept of refeed days or cheat meals may be able to help.
What is a Refeed Day or Cheat Meals?
Every dieting program is based on a calorie restriction plan. So women who require 1,600 – 2,200 calories per day to maintain their weight may reduce their calorie consumption by about 500 calories per day to achieve their fat loss goals.
This calorie deficit triggers fat loss by forcing the body to draw from its fat reserves. But because the body adapts after a while and reduces the quantity of fat that it burns up, it is often imperative to “trick” the body into going back to the beginning stages of the diet.
This is where refeed day comes in. Refeed day is a day when you can eat enough calories to maintain your body’s weight. In other words, you can eat as many calories as you would if your goal was just to maintain your current weight.
Refeeding is believed to elevate leptin levels in the blood. The body goes into overdrive, assumes that fat levels are back at the pre-dieting levels, and then starts burning fat at a higher rate again.
On days like this, you can eat whatever you want – even your favourite ice cream – as long as it doesn’t exceed the recommended daily calorie allowance. Increasing your carbohydrate intake on refeed days is a good idea too.
Does Refeed Day Help You Burn More Fat?
Even though some promising studies show that refeeding may increase leptin levels and help participants burn more fat, the studies aren’t conclusive yet.
In some studies, it appeared that people who took breaks from their dieting for a few days or weeks –depending on the dieting plan the participants followed– saw better results in terms of fat loss than those who didn’t.
There have been some allusions to the fact that maybe refeeding does help with increasing the body’s metabolism so that individuals doing it end up burning more fat.
But the studies didn’t show this. If anything, there were pointers to the idea that your body’s metabolism can adjust to the new amount of limited calories you’re giving it. This way, the rate of metabolism matches the number of calories you consume.
This probably explains why people’s weight loss journeys through dieting tend to slow down after rapid fat loss at the beginning stages –even though nothing changed in diets or physical activity.
It’s as if the body has an in-built mechanism to fight for the last few pounds. This is probably why dieters say they have “hit a wall” –it’s often difficult to break through a specific “fat ceiling”– in their fat loss journey after a while.
So How is Refeed Day Different from Cheat Days?
On cheat days, you get to eat whatever you want without paying attention to your calorie limits. On cheat days, people typically indulge themselves and consume as many calories as they desire. In many instances, people eat all the foods that they’ve denied themselves for a while.
On refeed days, you can only eat what you want up to a certain point, that point being your daily calorie allowance for weight management. And for the best results, the excess food you eat should be carbohydrates.
So what's the verdict?
There may be an explanation for some of the results that women athletes and other weight loss enthusiasts have reported from refeed days or cheat meals.
If you eat more food, the body expends more energy by burning the consumed calories. This may account for the slight improvement margins recorded among fat loss enthusiasts who practised refeed days.
Also, there's the mental benefit of having a day where you can splurge within reason and eat favourite foods you haven't had in a while. Doing this can ultimately help you stay committed to the dieting plan and see it through to the end. That, in itself, makes refeeding worthwhile.
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