The effects of a cheat day go beyond the bloated, upset tummy and puffy, ill-defined abs. An unexpected cheat day in the middle of a strict cut phase or new workout routine can ruin more than your waistline—it can short-circuit your motivation, too.
Cheat days get into your head and make you feel like a failure, which in turn makes you question why you even bother trying. If your whole identity revolves around whether you can stick to the plan, you beat yourself up 10 times worse than the next person when you go off track.
Here’s the bottom line: Cheat days happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your progress. Here are three strategies you can use to get your mind and body back on track any time you slip up.
1. Hit The Reset Button
The effect of a cheat day is twofold: Your body feels icky because you just dumped a ton of empty calories into your system, and your mind is going haywire because, well, you just dumped a ton of empty calories into your system.
Cheat foods do more than fill up your belly—they mess up your mood, your energy levels, and your hormones. This is why bouncing back after a cheat day is so difficult: Your body and your mind both take a hit.
The first thing to do when you pull yourself out of a food tailspin is to drink water. Water is essential for proper digestion, and no matter what you put in your body, you’ll need water to help flush it out. Water is also hydrating, which helps boost your energy and clear your mind so you can feel better and refocus right away.
After water, think about what your body needs to reset healthfully. Stayed out too late on an all-night bender? Take an afternoon nap. Ate too much in one sitting? Give your stomach a full five hours to empty before eating again. You can’t do anything about the cheat foods you already ate, but you can take steps to help your body and mind reset.
2. Get Back On Track
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s surprisingly tricky to pull off when you’re coming out of a no-holds-barred celebratory weekend or a 14-hour Netflix binge. As hard as it may seem at first, the best and easiest way to recover from a cheat day is to get back on track as quickly as possible.
Hit the all-you-can-eat bar a little too hard at brunch? Eat steamed veggies and chicken or a light salad for dinner. Feeling the massive sugar rush after tearing into that box of Girl Scout cookies? Use that energy to go for a jog, clean the house, or finish that work project you’ve been putting off. Doing something positive and productive will help your mind and body recover more quickly.
What you eat and how you move has a direct impact on your mood, energy, and mindset, so get up and do something healthy. Throw together a few healthy meals to take to work, pack an extra bottle of water, and whip up a tasty protein shake to celebrate. It doesn’t take much to get back on track—but you have to take that first healthy step to get there.
3. Give Yourself A Break
Fitness isn’t built in a day, so why would it be undone in a day? You know the key to a phenomenal physique isn’t one single workout—it’s many workouts, done consistently, over a period of time.
So why aren’t you applying the same logic to your food? Thinking it’s all over after one cheat day is like thinking you can get washboard abs with one workout. You went off the rails with your meal plan and ate everything in sight, but it’s only one day. If you’re consistently good about what you eat, a single cheat day won’t undo all your effort.
Everyone needs a break from the gym once in a while. The same goes for your meal plan. Sometimes having a cheat weekend and feeling the effects of all the salty, sugary, fatty foods is a great reminder for why you chose to eat healthier in the first place. You don’t just look better when you eat healthy—you feel better, too.
Just as a day off from the gym can give you the mental and physical break you need to regain your focus, a day off from your meal plan can be just what you need to appreciate how hard you’ve worked and why you make healthy choices in the first place.