Will cheating on your diet actually help you get leaner? Sounds crazy, but depending on your definition of cheating, there may be something to it, as we discussed in part one of this interview. In part two of our interview with Cheat Your Way Thin author Joel Marion, you’ll learn: how cheat days affect overweight and lean people differently, what is the best way to cycle carbs, the debate about the glycemic index, is refeeding the same as cheating? should refeeds be clean foods or cheat foods, are there downsides to the cheating method, and much more…Tom: I’ve found a lot of evidence to suggest that an overweight person and an already lean person have some significant physiological
differences that can influence how they respond to a particular diet. Do you suggest a different approach for the overweight person and the already lean dieter who is trying to get even leaner (for example a bodybuilder or figure competitor)?
Joel: In addition to what I’ve mentioned about, I’ll say this. The leaner you get, the more leptin becomes a limiting factor and the more you have to do to manipulate it. Because of this, we often increase the frequency of cheat days to once every 5 days for very lean individuals, or even every 4 days in some extreme instances like with bodybuilders or figure competitors prepping for a show. Some advanced diet and exercise strategies are also needed to make that type of frequent approach work.
Similarly, for the very overweight person, when we first transition them to using strategic cheat days, we may start with a cheat day once every 9 or 10 days, as opposed to once a week.
For the vast majority falling in between these two extremes, however, the once per week approach works best (and is great for consistency as cheat days always fall on the same day each week allowing people to plan their cheat day around whatever day is generally their most social day of the week).
Tom: I’m a firm believer in cycling calories up and down and doing that by manipulating carb intake which I call carb cycling, for many of the same reasons that you have a cheat day. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of different ways to carb cycle, like 5 days keto and 2 days of high carb, the rotation of high, low and medium days, and various mixtures of high and low carb days. What is your basic methodology for introducing the higher calorie cheat days and why do you prefer your method over some of the other ways that people do carb cycling?
Joel: As for methodology, it’s based on the research I shared earlier that leptin falls off by about 50% after only one week, while only taking one day of “overfeeding” or “cheating” to ramp levels back up to baseline. So this is the basis of the weekly cheat day.
That said, we actually do use carb cycling in addition to Cheat Days to make the program even more effective, but carb cycling alone, unless you are doing very high calorie “refeed” days, while somewhat effective, not as effective as combining both or using all-out cheat days.
I’ll explain the reason and necessity for the weekly carb cycling in a bit.
Tom: Your method seems complicated with high glycemic index/glycemic load days, low carb days and cheat days and all kinds of phases. If your goal is to increase adherence by allowing cheat meals, then wouldn’t creating a complex system of high, low, cheat, and various GI level days just create the opposite effect and lower adherence?
Joel: People have reported, a thousand times over, that it’s actually the easiest diet they’ve ever done, and not only because of the cheat days, but because of the wide variety of foods that you’re allowed to eat even on “diet days”. We go low-carb after a cheat day and then pretty much every day we add foods to the “allowed” list. This isn’t hard to do, there is no calorie counting, and with every day you just get to eat more than you did yesterday. That’s a pretty easy diet to stick to. And oh yeah, once a week you get to eat whatever you want. I don’t think it gets easier.
In the manual, I list it out in the easiest way to understand possible, and after a week or two on the diet the entire system become second nature in which people don’t have to even think about it whatsoever.
On low carb days you eat steak, fish, eggs, and plenty of veggies, on low GI days you fill up on things fruit and legumes, and for higher GI days you’re allowed to have pasta, bread, potatoes, rice, etc. Of course there are a lot more options than just those foods, but that’s the gist of it…you just climb the GI scale throughout the week.
It’s not complicated at all once people read through the program, and even less complicated when they actually start doing it.
Tom: I’ve been following the research on glycemic index/glycemic load and weight loss with great interest. It seems, at least if you go by what the peer-reviewed research says, that GI is a useful tool for blood sugar management, which is what it was originally intended for, but when calories are matched evenly, there’s little or no impact of GI on weight loss. Are you familiar with these studies, and if so then why do you emphasize GI and GL so much in your program?
Joel: Yes, I’m familiar, but here are a couple things to consider. One, these weight loss studies are performed with people adhering to the same typical calorie restrictive, 7-days a week of dieting approach that I adamantly preach against, because it’s ineffective. There is no calorie cycling, carb cycling, or strategic cheating involved. Needless to say, simply manipulating GI in this instance isn’t going to make a big difference.
Beyond that, let’s say that GI really didn’t matter even when adding a weekly cheat day. That would be valid data if you were consuming the same basic diet the other 6 days of the week, but that’s not what we do with Cheat Your Way Thin.
Allow me to make an analogy. Let’s say my employer pays me one of two ways – my pay for a full week once a week on Friday, or my pay for one day, every day. At the end of the week I make the same amount of money with either approach. But is there a difference in the impact of each payment method? Absolutely.
With the once a week approach, my pay day is a much bigger event, I have enough money to make a larger purchase, or go out for a higher-end dinner.
With the every day approach, not so much. I make the same amount of money each week, but it never quite “feels” like a have a lot of money in my hands.
Well, we treat our use of the GI system the same way. If I just prescribed the same diet every day, it probably wouldn’t make much of a difference, but that’s not how I use GI and GL. Instead, we line up carb intake strategically to create little “paydays” – spikes and jumps and high points in insulin throughout the week, and that strategic use makes an impact.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Why would we want to spike insulin throughout the week?”, and that’s a good question.
The reason is, I’ve read through quite a few VERY intriguing papers that show the number one influencer of leptin is insulin, and the supercedes the actual calorie content being consumed. There was actually one study, and you’re eyes are really going to be opened with this one, that monitored leptin levels of fasting individuals. Naturally, leptin crashed pretty hard, but then they did something else. They gave each subject an IV drip of insulin to maintain normal blood insulin levels, and even though they were consuming ZERO calories, leptin levels were maintained.
That’s the power of insulin in this scenario, and exactly why we cycle carbohydrates in the fashion we do. We start off the week low-carb when leptin is high after the cheat day along with strategically time exercise to accelerate progress. Then, mid-week, when leptin starts to fall off from the low cals and carbs, we reintroduce low GI carbs for an insulin boost. Then, later in the week, as leptin begins to fall again, we add starchier, higher GI carbs for an even greater boost.
Every single day is set up in a strategic way to manipulate leptin and maximize the benefits of the Cheat Day.
Tom: Is there any reason that the cheat day has to be junk food? Call me crazy, but I don’t like eating a lot of junk. Give me two cheat meals a month and I’m completely satisfied, I swear, I just want the option to eat what I want occasionally. In fact, I usually feel like crap after I have a huge junk meal, let alone an entire junk food day. Would a guy like me get the same effect, from a physiological point of view by carbing up / refeeding on potatoes, yams, rice, oats and maybe some pasta? Is there any reason eating more clean food won’t have the same effect as junk food?
Joel: A clean “carb refeed” does not have the same benefits and is not as effective; we actually tried it many, many times with clients, comparing results with the “all-out” approach, and strictly from fat loss standpoint the all-out approach produces better results every time.
Now, that is not to say that you need to eat “junk” food, but rather that you just need to understand why “junk” food works so well for our purposes, and then replicate those reasons with cleaner items.
French fries, pizza, ice cream, pastries, etc, all combine two things very well—very high glycemic carbohydrates and fats. That is the winning combo. Carbohydate + fat produce a synergistic insulin response beyond what is possible when just using carbs. And you need to go HIGH GI—yams and oats are OK as part of the day’s menu, but you really need to go higher GI than this. Throw in some bread, the rice and pasta are good, maybe some crackers, Gatorade, etc.
Bottom line, high GI carbs + fat wins out. Whether you want that to be pizza or whole wheat toast with all natural peanut butter is up to you. I’d certainly take the pizza on a “cheat” day, but hey, to each his own ;)
Tom: To what degree is your varied carb approach simply a way to manipulate calories? With so much focus on carbs and glycemic index, do you see a danger that people are going to start to fear carbs or consider carbs fattening, when its really just a caloric deficit we’re trying to achieve, isn’t it?
Joel: The calorie stuff is actually just a side-effect, after-effect, or added “bonus” of what we do with carbs, not the main or intended effect we are trying to achieve, which again are the insulin spikes throughout the week.
Yes, the calorie cycling does help a bit indirectly, but I even mention in the manual that this is not the main reason for the staggered carb set up.
Tom: I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but I have to ask. Do you see any potential downside of allowing an entire “eat whatever you want” cheat day, as opposed to doling out individual cheat meals? In particular aren’t you concerned about people overeating, losing track of calories and setting themselves backwards? If you give permission to your clients to go wild and eat whatever they want on cheat day, I know some dudes that would make an all you can eat buffet go out of business.
Joel: Yup, and I’m one of those dudes. Fact is, it works the way it is. I haven’t met anyone who can really “overeat” the cheat day to the point that it sets back progress if they strategically follow the way I set up the rest of the program. It just doesn’t happen. And this is coming from a guy who orders a 48 oz steak when I go out to a steak house, along with appetizers, salad, soup, “family” size sides, and dessert.
The only “stipulation” I put on the cheat day is that you do not eat to the point of discomfort. Eat until you are full, but that’s it. Then wait until you are hungry again until you eat. If you are leaving the table saying “I ate too much” or if you’re feeling sick, or if you have to lay down because you over-did it, that’s where you know you’ve gone overboard, and that’s really the only way people are going to overdo the calories.
As for the recommendation of doling things out to individual cheat meals, that does NOT work to bring about the physiological changes (increasing leptin, etc), which is the number one reason we use cheat days. The psychological stuff is a nice added benefit, but it’s a side-effect of the physiological benefits we are aiming to gain from each cheat day.
Cheat meals are great as a psychological vent, but that’s about it. Research has very clearly shown that prolonged overfeeding over the course of a day (and not a single meal) is necessary to restore leptin levels to baseline.
Tom: On a related note, would you agree that there are some people that shouldn’t use the cheating method at all, like people who have a history of binge eating?
Joel: Yes, if you have a history binge eating, eating disorders, etc, this program is not for you. But, that’s the vast minority of people. 99% of people who use the program are ready and motivated to hit the diet hard after a cheat day, and I give some super easy strategies to implement to make sure the cheating “stops” on the cheat day and doesn’t trickle into the diet week.
Tom: Joel, one last question, that’s slightly off topic, but I’m curious. When you won the overall body for life challenge, what did you win? Because if you entered that contest when they were giving away the million bucks or heck, even the Lamborghini, I will be one jealous bro!
Joel: It was a million dollars in cash and prizes, divvied up over the 12 winners (and some of the runner ups). So, I personally actually won $25,000 along with a full expenses trip to Hawaii at a 5 star resort and first class plane tickets, an EAS leather jacket, a “champion” gold ring, and free EAS supplements for 2 years. All in all, not too shabby!
Tom: Well, congrats, and thanks Joel.
For more information go to www.burnthefat.com
About the Author:
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, personal trainer, gym owner, freelance writer and author ofBurn the Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of the World’s Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has writtenover 140 articles and has been featured in Iron Man Magazine, Natural Bodybuilding, Muscular Development,Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men and Men’s Exercise. Tom is the Fat Loss Expert for Global-Fitness.com and the nutrition editor for Femalemuscle.com and his articles are featured regularly on literally dozens of other websites.
For more information go to www.CheatYourWayThin.com
About the Author:
As a nationally published author and fitness personality, Joel has appeared on NBC, ABC, and CBS, is a frequent guest on SIRIUS satellite radio, and has been featured in the pages of more than 20 popular national newsstand magazines including Men’s Fitness, Woman’s Day, Maximum Fitness, Oxygen, Clean Eating, MuscleMag International, and Muscle & Fitness Hers. His other accomplishments include winning the world’s largest Body Transformation contest for “regular” people, the Body-for-Life Transformation Challenge, in 2001 as well as graduating Magna Cum Laude from a top-20 Exercise Science program and being certified as both a sports nutritionist and personal trainer through the nation’s premier certification agencies. Through more than 6 years of research and working with clients in the real world, Joel developed his Cheat Your Way Thin system which you can learn more about at: www.CheatYourWayThin.com