When you have been nailing your diet and decide that it’s time to have a cheat day, it is common to see the number on the scale go up. The question that many will ask is if this weight gain is normal after a day of indulgence.
Weight gain after a cheat day is completely normal and to be expected. This weight increase is nothing to be concerned about, as it is coming from water, not fat. Because cheat days normally involve consuming foods with a higher carbohydrate and sodium content, the result is a temporary increase in water retention.
It is important to note that while weight gain after a cheat day is totally normal, going too far and overdoing your day of cheats and treats can negatively impact a fat loss phase.
Because cheat days are typically used as a temporary break from a diet, they have the potential to turn into a “free for all”, where one can end up prolonging any progress in fat loss, or falling off the wagon altogether. This can also result in creating an unhealthy “binge-then restrict” relationship with food, which is the opposite of what a cheat day is intended to do.
In this article you will learn:
- Reasons for weight gain after a cheat day
- What is a normal amount of weight gain post cheat day
- Is prolonged weight gain normal after a cheat day
- How to limit excess cheat day weight gain
Reasons Why You Gain Weight After A Cheat Day
The 3 reasons you gain weight after a cheat day are:
- An increase in water retention from carbohydrates intake
- An increase in water retention from sodium intake
- An Increase in overall food intake in your stomach
1. An Increase in Water Retention From Carbohydrates Intake
The amount of water that your body is holding onto on a day-to-day basis is largely dependent on the amount of carbohydrates that you normally consume. This is why you might feel leaner on a low carb diet. Therefore, the amount of extra water that your body retains from your cheat day depends on how many carbs that you eat
When you consume carbohydrates, which are in higher quantities on a cheat day, your body converts them into its favorite energy source known as glycogen.
Glycogen loves to hold onto water. For every gram of glycogen in your body, there are 3 to 4 molecules of water that are attached to it.
If you are normally on a diet where your carbohydrate intake is roughly 120 grams a day, then you will already be holding onto approximately 420 grams of water, which equates to about 1 pound of weight on the body.
With this in mind, if you increase your carbs on your cheat day, let’s say to roughly 360 grams, then your body will end up holding onto around 1260 grams of water, or 3 pounds of weight on the body.
This would be a 2-pound increase from your normal day-to-day weight.
2. An Increase in Water Retention From Sodium Intake
A typical cheat day will usually consist of foods that have a higher sodium (salt) content. Fast food in particular is notorious for packing in a ton of sodium.
The sodium that we eat is consumed by the cells in our body, and in this process, water will accompany the salt. If your cheat meal contains a large amount of sodium, your body will temporarily hold onto water until it can bring cellular fluid levels back into homeostasis (i.e. back to normal).
While the American Heart Association recommends no more than 2300 mg of sodium a day, if you are eating a clean, unprocessed diet, you are most likely consuming less than this. However, it does not take much of an increase in sodium intake to result in water retention. A mere 400mg of sodium can result in the body holding onto around 4 cups of water, or roughly 2 pounds of weight on the body.
Therefore, a cheat meal that consists of 3 slices of Pizza Hut pepperoni pizza would equal around 2505mg of sodium. If your regular sodium intake is around 1500mg a day, this 1000mg increase above your normal would result in your body temporarily holding onto around 5 pounds of water.
3. An Increase in Overall Food Intake in Your Stomach
Unlike a refeed, a cheat day does not aim to keep certain macronutrients controlled, due to the fact that it’s entire purpose is a break from dieting, counting, or tracking altogether. Because of this potential combination of high carb and high fat foods, the calorie count of a cheat day can get really high, really fast.
If your cheat day consists of eating several high caloric meals one after the other, it is inevitable that you will experience temporary weight gain strictly due to the fact that you will have a full belly, and will have consumed larger quantities of food than you are used to. This is nothing to worry about, as your weight will go back to normal as your body digests and excrete the food.
However, due to the unrestricted nature of an average cheat day, you want to be sure that it does not turn into a permission slip to binge and eat copious amounts of food just for the sake of it.
Binge eating, if left unchecked, has the potential to become a problem that can spiral out of control. Binging on large amounts of food on a regular basis can result in weight gain from fat, and can become more and more difficult to course correct.
Related Article: Should You Work Out On Cheat Day? (Pros & Cons)
How Much Weight Is Normal To Gain After A Cheat Day?
When you consider the increase in sodium and carbohydrate consumption, it would be possiblenot be out of the realm of possibility to see a 5-pound weight gain from water retention after a cheat day. However, you should see this weight gain dissipate within 24-48 hours.
In order to determine what a normal amount of weight gain is for you after a day of treat meals, you must consider (1) the sodium and carbohydrate content in your regular diet and (2) the amount of carbs and sodium consumed in your cheat day.
- You’ll gain 1lb after a cheat day if you consume 120g of carbs OR 200 mg of sodium over what you normally eat
- You’ll gain 2lbs after a cheat day if you consume 240g of carbs OR 400 mg of salt over what you normally eat
- You’ll gain 3lbs after a cheat day if you consume 120g of carbs and 400 mg of salt over what you normally eat
- You’ll gain 4lbs after a cheat day if you consume 240g of carbs and 400 mg of salt over what you normally eat
- You’ll gain 5lbs after a cheat day if you consume 300g of carbs and 500 mg of salt over what you normally eat
Related Article: Will A Refeed Make Me Fat? 5 Tips To Limit Fat On A Refeed
Will Gaining Weight After A Cheat Day Ruin My Progress?
After you have been sticking to your diet for a while and decide to indulge in a cheat day, as long as you get right back on track your progress will not be affected.
However, if your cheat days become a frequent occurrence, or turn into “cheat weekends”, there is a good chance that you will drastically slow or even reverse the progress you have made.
The success of your fat loss phase depends directly on your adherence to a calories deficit over a consistent period of time.
If you have been in a calorie deficit for 1-2 weeks, and decide to have a cheat day where you are in a temporary caloric surplus, overall you are still in the caloric deficit that is needed to achieve your goal of fat loss.
Related Article: How Many Calories Should You Eat on A Cheat Day? (Explained)
How To Limit Excess Weight Gain During A Cheat Day (5 Tips)
Despite the fact the weight that you might gain after a cheat day is most likely temporary water weight, the following tips will help to you to reduce any excess, unnecessary weight gain from water retention during your next cheat day:
- Have a “cheat day plan”
- Avoid foods that you know you don’t digest well
- Drink lots of water
- Pay attention to how you feel
- Consider having a cheat “meal” rather than a cheat “day”
1. Have a “Cheat Day Plan”
It can be extremely beneficial to plan out your cheat day, just as you would your regular diet.
While a cheat day is all about allowing yourself to eat foods you don’t normally consume, having a rough idea of what you are going to eat and sticking to that plan will help to ensure that you don’t overdo it.
2. Avoid Foods That You Know You Don’t Digest Well
For most people, a cheat day is often the time when you will indulge in processed food favorites that don’t have a place in your daily diet.
While one of the purposes of a cheat day is to satisfy any food cravings we might have while on our regular diet, if you are looking to reduce any temporary but unnecessary weight gain caused by bloating or digestive disturbances, it may be best to avoid any foods that you know you personally do not digest well.
If you know that the spicy chicken pizza will make you bloat up like a balloon, maybe go for a different, but equally satisfying option!
3. Drink Lots of Water
Believe it or not, one of the most effective ways to mitigate water retention is to drink water.
More specifically, when we drink water, we are helping our bodies to flush out any excess sodium that we may have in our system, which will ultimately help to decrease the amount of water the body is holding onto.
The recommended daily water intake is around 3 liters a day for men and 2.2 liters a day for women. However, if you normally consume more than this, say 3.5 liters, then make sure you are drinking that amount on the day of and the days following your cheat day.
4. Pay Attention to How You Feel
As stated above, a cheat day should not be viewed as a free pass to binge on anything and everything. It is important to make sure that you are not eating to the point of uncomfortable fullness just for the sake of it.
Even on a cheat day, it is still important to pay attention to our hunger and fullness cues that our body provides. If you are halfway through your cheat day but start to feel uncomfortably full, don’t push it!
5. Consider Having a Cheat “Meal” Rather Than a Cheat “Day”
For some people, getting back on track after an entire day of being out of your normal eating routine can be tough. This is where it may be more beneficial to try a cheat meal, rather than a full cheat day.
Planning a cheat meal will allow you to satisfy any food cravings that you may have, all while not running the risk of overdoing it with an entire day of cheat foods. This would also be a more favorable option if you are early on in your fat loss phase and you don’t want to lose or undo any progress that you have made.
Related Article: Going Over Your Calories Once A Week: Is This Okay?
Frequently Asked Questions
I Gained 2 Pounds After Cheat Day: Is this Normal?
Due to the fact that a cheat day normally involves an increase in carbohydrate and sodium intake, seeing a 2 pound increase caused by water retention is to be expected. This weight gain is temporary and you should see your body return to it’s normal weight within 24-48 hours.
I Gained 3 Pounds After Cheat Day: Is this Normal?
A 3 pound weight gain after a cheat day is no cause for concern. If you normally eat a low carb diet of 60 grams of carbs per day, and decide to have a cheat day where you consume roughly 360 grams of carbs, it would not be unlikely to see a weight increase of 3 pounds on the scale from water retention.
I Gained 5 Pounds After Cheat Day: Is this Normal?
Yes, an increase of 5 pounds after a cheat day would be considered within the normal range of weight gain. Given the fact that cheat meals are typically high in carbohydrates and sodium, it is common to see weight on the scale go up due to water retention.
I Gained 6 Pounds After Cheat Day: Is this Normal?
After a cheat day, your body responds to the increase in carbohydrate and sodium intake by temporarily holding onto water. A weight gain of 6 pounds after a cheat day would be a result of water retention, not fat gain.
I Gained 7 Pounds After Cheat Day: Is this Normal?
Seeing the scale go up 7 pounds after a cheat day is caused by water retention from an increase in carbohydrate and sodium intake. This water retention is temporary, and as long as you get back on track, you will not experience weight gain from fat.
I Gained 10 Pounds After Cheat Day: Is this Normal?
Gaining 10 pounds after a cheat day can be alarming, but it is not 10 pounds of fat. You must consume 3500 calories above maintenance to gain 1 pound of fat. Unless you consumed 35,000 calories, you didn’t gain 10 pounds of fat. This weight gain is water retention caused by an increase in carbs and sodium.
About The Author
Colby Roy is a holistic health and nutrition coach. She is certified through Precision Nutrition and the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and has a passion for all things nutrition and healing the body. More specifically, Colby likes to work with clients who want to optimize their gut health and energy levels.