www.flickr.com/groups/1648795@N22/

If you’ve suspected that allowing yourself a cheat day when it comes to following your diet is the key to success, you might be onto something. Some new research has found that including a cheat day might help you stick with your diet goals over the long term instead of falling off of your healthy eating plan completely.

To test this, the male participants in the study were put onto a limited calorie diet of 10,500 calories each week. (Most men eat closer to 17,000 a week.) One half of the group was allowed to eat anything that they wanted on Sundays, while the other half of the group was not.

Both groups ended up losing weight, but the group who had Sunday as a free day showed more signs of motivation and happiness about their health goals. The researchers suggest that it can be tiring to stick to the rules all the time and put limits on what you’re allowed. The idea behind having a free day is that it makes it easier to stick to the diet the rest of the week when you know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Otherwise when you reach a point of boredom or exhaustion with a diet, the only way you’ll foresee making a change is quitting the diet altogether.

It’s more effective to assign a certain day as a cheat day than allow for sporadic cheating, because those are more likely to be guilt inducing and make you feel like you abandoned your plan. (Which can just lead to more overeating.) Having the designated day means it’s allowed, and therefore not bad for your diet.

However it’s extremely important to note that cheat day does not mean eat as much of whatever you want day! In this particular study the men still stayed within their calorie restrictions for the week, they just got their calories from foods that are generally off limits during a diet. Meaning you can eat pizza on your cheat day, if it’s a reasonable serving that you’re having for dinner, not on top of your dinner. You can eat a serving of ice cream for dessert on your cheat day, but not the entire carton.

Another way that having a cheat day can help you out is if you have an event coming up where you would like to be able to treat yourself. Maybe you want beer on game day or cake at a birthday party. Just choose your cheat day to fit your schedule accordingly, keep your cheat meals within reason, and then get back on track the next day with no questions asked. You can think of it sort of like a rest day from the gym. Rest days aren’t an excuse to do nothing, they’re an important step in letting your body recover to stay strong for the rest of the week. In the case of the cheat day, it’s more for your mind as opposed to your body.