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SALT LAKE CITY — So you cheated on your diet. You caved in and had a second (or third) piece of birthday cake, got a super-sized combo meal, or dug out that chocolate bar you've been hiding in the back of the pantry.
Do you punish yourself with an extra 30 minutes of cardio? Do you feed your guilt as well as your sweet tooth and keep the calorie-fest rolling? Or do you enjoy the splurge, then get over it and try to do better tomorrow?
Experts say this final approach is the healthiest. In fact, some even say that having a "cheat day" is healthier than a strict, rigid diet for months on end. Here's why.
Cheating a few times a week can boost your metabolism. Health and weight loss writer Tracy Rose explains that when you're on a reduced-calorie diet, you'll only lose weight to a point. That's because your body will adjust to the new regimen and your metabolism will slow, causing you to hit a weight loss plateau. "A diet cheat day works to boost your metabolism and keep your body guessing," Rose says. "Just raising your calorie consumption one day per week can kick your metabolism up and prevent a plateau."
Having a cheat day or approved "cheat foods" will make you less likely to cheat uncontrollably. "Sometimes the best way to help someone follow a restrictive weight loss diet is to lower their calorie intake but also provide a cheat sheet," said nutritionist Susan McQuillan in a ["Psychology Today" article](<http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cravings/200903/how- have-fun-diet-cheat >).
McQuillan does this by creating a healthy meal plan that's a couple hundred calories short of what the client should be consuming. Then, she says, "I tell (the client) it's okay to eat a few hundred extra calories throughout the day, whenever hunger strikes." This way, she says, a diet isn't about deprivation and cravings and allows you to enjoy food without the guilt.
Just make sure you plan your splurge, otherwise you could be setting yourself up for an uncontrolled binge and a head-first dive into regret.
Knowing that you can still enjoy one of the unhealthy foods you love at some point each week will make the fact that you're on a diet less of a punishment and more about living a new, healthy lifestyle that can still be fun.
"Most people don't feel good after stress-eating a bowl of Ben & Jerry's on a Friday night. But if you plan ahead and reward yourself for a week of sticking to your diet and exercise plan with a bowl (not a pint) of Cake Batter ice cream, that feels different," says Mike Roussell, PhD, the Diet Doctor for "Shape" magazine. "Plan your splurges so that you can truly enjoy them."
Allowing yourself "splurge" foods helps you maintain a healthy attitude about food. "The psychology of cheating on your diet is bad," Roussell says. "It conjures up images like raiding the refrigerator in a dark kitchen to devour the last piece of pie, hoping no one sees you."
That's why it's so important to break the cycle of guilt that shadows a restrictive diet. Not only is it just plain depressing, it sets you up for having a negative relationship with food.
That, in a nutshell, is why allowing yourself to cheat on a diet is so important.
"Getting depressed or lacking motivation to stick to a healthy diet and exercise plan can cause you to stray off of your healthy lifestyle regimen," reads an article for Fit Day weight loss tracker. "Knowing that you can still enjoy one of the unhealthy foods you love at some point each week will make the fact that you're on a diet less of a punishment or a chore and more about living a new, healthy lifestyle that can still be fun."