Food Talk And Fabulous Finds - Does a "free day" boost your metabolism?

11-06-2004, 12:47 PM
I've read that including a higher-calorie day once a week will help boost my metabolism. Is this true, or just a myth that will trip me up? I'm sticking to 1,500 calories per day or less during the week, and on Sundays, but Saturday I'm eating 2,000 calories. Am I sabotaging myself? Thanks for any advice! :)

11-06-2004, 01:37 PM
I think it depends on how high the calories are for the 'free day'. ;) In your example, I wouldn't really call a 500 calorie increase over your normal calories a 'free day' exactly, at least in the meaning that it's often used in diet plans. When I read about what most people call 'free days', they're usually pig-out days, featuring huge quantities of 'forbidden foods'. In the typical free day scenario, people spend one day a week eating themselves silly and then go back to dieting for the other six days.

Bear with me while I talk about the whole 'free day' concept for a minute :soap: and then I have a few comments about what you're doing (which BTW sounds fine to me :) ). Here's my entirely unscientific two cents - no, I don't think that taking a 'free day' will boost your metabolism. What it will do is boost your calories for the week! :D The reason for a free day being included in a diet plan is probably just to make it more marketable/more acceptable to Joe or Jane Average American, IMO.

The question is whether taking a free day is a more effective way to lose weight? At the end of the day, weight loss comes down to calories in versus calories burned (I know that's oversimplified and that the quality of the food matters a great deal also but calories are the bottom line ;) ). One pound of fat equals 3500 calories, so we have to create a 3500 calorie deficit in order to lose one pound of fat, either by decreasing calories in (what we eat) or increasing calories out (what we burn through exercise and normal activities).

OK - so let's say you eat 1500 calories a day for six days and then have a free day of 4000 calories (this isn't an exaggerated number - there are lots of people who have had 4000+ calorie free days that are perfectly 'legal' or 'on plan'). That person's total for the week is 13,000 calories. Divided by seven, it averages 1857 calories per day. For many of us, it would be difficult to lose much (if any weight) at that calorie level because it's not going to create very much of a calorie deficit.

Compare that to what you're talking about - six days at 1500 calories and one at 2000. Your total calories for the week would be 11,000 calories, or 1571 per day. That's a more reasonable calorie level for safe weight loss than in my example above - and it's more likely to create a calorie deficit since it's almost 300 fewer calories per day than my other example.

I'd call what you're doing with six 1500 calorie days and one 2000 calorie day more like 'calorie-cycling' or 'zigzagging' calories. That's a pretty well-established idea in dieting: taking a reasonable total of calories for the week and dividing them up unevenly. Some people calorie cycle every three days; others cycle grams of carbs (which ends up cycling calories). The thought is, like you said, to keep your body guessing about what's coming and keep your metabolism from getting sluggish or too complacent. It's important to stick to healthy food even on your higher calorie day, IMO. An extra 500 calories of good food may help with weight loss, but I'm pretty sure that an extra 500 calories of junk food isn't going to be too effective for long-term success. :lol:

I have to say though, that I think the best way to boost metabolism AND burn fat (and create a calorie deficit) is with exercise! Cardio exercise burns calories; weightlifting builds muscle which burns calories and gives you a tight, toned look. Either way, you don't have to starve yourself in order to create a calorie deficit and lose weight.

Gosh, I kind of took your question and turned into a treatise about free days generally. :o Sorry about that - I feel like the 'free day' concept can really de-rail people so I wanted to give my opinion. Bottom line - what you're describing sounds fine to me so long as those extra calories are the same kinds of foods that you eat on your other days.

Hope that helps! :)

11-06-2004, 04:29 PM
A cheat day may keep your body guessing, but I think it's still a good idea to stick to healthy foods, avoid anything you might be sensitive to, etc.

I tend to avoid "cheat days" because I get cravings from my "cheats" and then I have trouble getting back on plan :o

11-07-2004, 06:51 AM
Great post Meg !! thanks ;)

11-07-2004, 10:02 AM
I seem to do better with a 'free day', but it's not an all-out binge, just an opportunity to eat some 'forbidden' foods. :) I avoid such things as sugar, white flour, bad fats,etc. 6 days out of the week, but on Saturdays I allow myself these things. Generally it's just one cheat meal plus some sort of sweet treat, not 5 pizzas or anything like that. Yesterday I baked chocolate cookies and ate a little too much cookie dough :P.

My calories during the week are roughly 1800-2000 of 'clean foods', evenly spaced into 6 meals. On my free day I probably only get in three meals and around 2500 calories.

I did this for my entire weight loss journey, starting with 'free weekends', then moving to 'free day', then eventually to 'free meal' now and then. :)

So far so good, but it's not the way for everyone. Some people have reported going nuts and not being able to stop when the free day was over. My diet 'plan' (Body For Life) also recommends a free day, but the rest of the week is really rigid!

11-07-2004, 06:07 PM
I'm kinda like ElisaB in that when I have a "cheat day" it makes me wanna cheat more. The first three months after I started this I did very, very well and only "cheated" a few times but the last 2 months I've cheated almost more than I've stuck with it. I still lost about 20 pounds for October and November which I know is good but it's not as good as I was doing. I usually eat about 1200 calories a day but every 3 or 4 days I eat a little bit more or less (usually within 200 calories or so) because like a few other people here said, it's keeps my body guessing and I don't hit plateaus. At least I haven't so far :) This seems to be working very well for me as long as I don't "cheat".

11-07-2004, 09:39 PM
I lost all of my scale weight 3 years ago doing "Sugar Busters" Diet and a lot of cardio and weightlifting. I didn't count calories or ratios of anything, but I'm pretty sure I was eating under 1200 calories a day, probably less on most days. I hardly ever cheated, and went right back on plan. Once I got to my goal weight, I discovered it sure wasn't my goal body. I switched to Body for Life and increased my food, but also increased the intensity of my weightlifting. I didn't lose or gain any weight, but I did lose about 8% bodyfat during the first 12 week challenge. I also didn't take free days until about mid-way through the challenge when participants on another web-site convinced me that it was an important part of the plan. What a disaster! I now had a reason to eat poorly: it was part of THE PLAN!

It took me a long time to get over the "free day syndrome", which at my current body fat level would have me gaining weight rather than maintaining. It certainly stopped my loss. I really didn't have all day foodfests like I've seen described, either. I think my body had just gotten used to healthy "clean" food and had and still has no tolerance for processed, sugared, greased, or starchy foods.

For me, I've found that calorie and carb cycling works, but I've also gone through weeks were I've eaten virtually the same thing every day and that works just fine also.

As so many posters have said, find what works for you. If you can go off plan and right back on with no problem, and it doesn't seem to have any effect on your weightloss, great! If you find yourself stalling or having problems getting back on plan, I'd take a look at the quantity and quality of the "free" food. In my experience, nothing's really free :p


11-07-2004, 10:31 PM
Nope, TNSTAAFL... we learned it in Econ this year, "There's no such thing as a free lunch." I find this cocept relates to alot of things in life, not jsut economics. I agree with mel, in that my body is so accustomed to healthy foods, whenever I eat something processed or sugary or starchy, my stomcah gets upset and I will surely be wearing it tomorrow. Thats just me though, I also choose to stay away from the "free" day, because I like to be in control of what I eat, and being a bulimic, know that will only trigger negative thoughts along with purging. So,I find it easier to stick to my healthy eating, and instead of sugary desserts, go for fruit or sometimes Sugar Free jello, but this is only a few times a month.

11-08-2004, 02:48 AM
I was having a free day but I have stopped doing that as it would cause a dominoe effect for me personally, one free day led to two free days which led to, well you get the idea. I now just stay on plan and have jello or make some oatmeal cookies with I can't believe its not butter spray and splenda (not the same but it works for the craving) also I'll have a diet pepsi as a treat as I usually don't drink sodas much. Or if its a cold day I'll pass on the cocoa and have a 6 oz of hot apple cider.

Good Luck!!

Sweater Girl
11-08-2004, 10:55 AM
As someone who has binge issues (not 100% resolved sadly, had a chocolate spree yesterday), free days were awful for me... I'd end up eating until I was sick basically. The fact is free days calories DO count. If you 'free day' includes an extra treat or two or a treat meal, that shouldn't be a big deal, but if you're free day starts off with a huge breakfast, a big lunch and then a bucket of chicken sprinkled with chocolate bars or alcohol throughout the day, you could be eating enough to negate the other 6 days of effort, especially if you're close to your goal weight.

I knew bodybuilders who had cheat days, but really for them, they'd usually have a couple of beers, and a big meal... They were also guys with high levels of lean body mass, so they could get away with it), they also weren't snacking on everything and everything the rest of the day.

I have a day with a treat meal (when all is good), and it consists of me eating well during the day and having a yummy dinner of whatever with dessert, it doesn't stop me from losing and I am sure it provides the shake-up my body needs.

But an all out free-day turns into a binge day which sometimes turns into a binge week, so for me I stay away from them.



11-08-2004, 11:42 AM
I too, have binge issues, and free days don't seem to work for me. I try and try to remember that just because I had x, doesn't mean I am free to eat y as well. I def. had an off plan day yesterday (planned) but I am struggling today with eating and getting back on plan!!

Sweater Girl
11-08-2004, 11:46 AM
Jazz: good luck! Remember your next bite can always be OP!



11-08-2004, 11:48 AM
So True!! thanks Ali!! :)

11-10-2004, 12:31 AM
I have never followed an eating plan that has a totally free day, but it seems counterproductive to me. If one of our goals besides wl is to restructure our eating so eating healthy and light becomes a way of life forever, having free days might be a deterrent to this happening. As long as we look forward to 'eating whatever we want' as a regular treat each week, it is anything but re-inforcing a major change in our basic eating style. To the contrary, it re-inforces that once we are finished dieting or losing our weight be it once/week, or more, we then can have as many free days as we want. sounds bad to me. Isnt one of the goals to change bad habits around food forever? As long as there are free days (in the out of control sense), isnt that helping to not break old bad habits by keeping them around?


11-10-2004, 10:59 AM
You cheat yourself with "free" days. Those foods are not good for us period. You need to restructure your eating style to avoid them like the plague if you don't want to be one of the 95% who regain what they lose. Continuing to eat them on "free" days just keeps the desire for them alive.

11-21-2004, 09:32 PM
This past weekend was a free weekend, I think I had about 14000 calories over 3 days. I'm gonna pay dearly for this "free" weekend. I can always see the bright side, it'll keep me motivated through the rest of the year! Something strange though on the free day subject. Any time I seemed to hit a plateau, taking a weekend off from watching what I eat and working out (usually when I visit the parental units), I start to see the weight come off again.

I have to agree with what everyone said above, especially QuilterInVA. If you don't buy the stuff you won't eat it. Sometimes when I'm shopping I'll fill the cart with a few pound bags of M&Ms, Skittles, etc. Then I do all my shopping, and put it all back on the shelf. It's the easiest way to lose the 50000 calories that are in the bag...never gain them.

But this past weekend had buy one get one free bags of Dove....stupid Doves :-).

01-11-2005, 12:54 AM
I must say that I've lost 70 lbs in the last year, with a free day each week. I couldn't have done it without the cheat day. In the beginning, my free days probably were 3000-4000 cals days, but over time, I just found that I couldn't eat that much. My body got used to surviving on less, so I did too.

The main thing to remember is to stop eating when your body tells you to. A lot of overweight people got that way by not paying attention to or obeying the mental and physical cues the body sends when it's had enough to eat.

With heavy, greasy food, your body will send the signal faster. Veggies and fruits enable me to eat more, while having less cals. So, my system has just gotten used to it.

So, I've found that on my free days now, I continue eating healthy.

01-27-2005, 11:09 PM
I realize that I am late to this thread but I was just reading up on this concept yesterday. I think the term "free day" has been misunderstood by many people. It is not an excuse to go all out on one day and doing so will not increase your metabolism. Food and fat are metabolized over a course of a few days to a week not day by day. So, the actual theory of a free day is that you plan your calories by the week rather than the day and never consume the same number of calories two days in a row. So for instance, if your daily intake is 1500 calories per day then you have 10500 calories to distribute for the week. Typically, the two days are average, maybe 1200 and 1400, the third day is a small "refeeding" day and you would increase your calories to 2000, the fourth and fifth days are back to an average intake, and the sixth day is a low calorie day, maybe 900-1000. Finally, the seventh day is another refeeding day and you would consume the remaining calories alloted for the week in this example 2300 to 2400 calories. Also, it isn't inteded for be a free for all of junk food. Complex carbohydrates are what I've most often seen suggested to up caloires on refeeding days - although you do have more room for some of your higher calorie favorites - pizza, dessert, etc. The idea is to keep your body from adjusting to one calorie level and thus keeping your metabolism on its toes so to speak. In addition, the claim is that because your body never reaches starvation mode (thanks to the refeeding days) you more easily burn fat as opposed to muscle since, if your calories drop too low your body tries to hold on to its energy (fat).

I have never officially tried this approach and can't say whether or not it actually works. This week, however, I had a much higher weight loss than I had expected even though I had two days that were higher calorie than usual (I stick to between 1200 and 1500 and had a couple of days in the 2000, 2100 range this week). I looked back through fitday and realized I had, without meaning to, followed this plan.

It peaked my interest enough to look back through several months of my food and weight journal and, sure enough, I had the most significant weight losses during similar weeks. So, I think there very well could be something to it.

With all of that said, even if this does work, I think the catch for most people would be whether or not they would have difficulty going back to an average calorie day after a refeeding. I imagine it would depend much on your personality, your goals, and your overall relationship with food. Personally, at this point the refeeding days would be difficult for me in that I just have trouble eating that much food in a sitting anymore. Also, I think the idea is geared more towards serious athletes such as bodybuilders. Of course that doesn't mean it couldn't apply to us regular folks too!

01-28-2005, 09:21 AM
I just saw this post this morning... others have said what works for you. a free day works for me. I'm not counting calories, but watching my total carbs only and it's working for me. on the weekends I go over my carb limit for the day. but I'm still seeing weight come off.

The Curves plan- the "permanent results without permanent dieting" (the plan I'm doing) says that eventually when you get to phase 3, you can eat whatever you want and then diet 1-2 days and it comes off. I've cycled around a few times and I found that after the weekend, if I watch what I eat on monday, tuesday... 2-3 lbs usually comes off. so it's working for me.

Everyone's going to say different things- but the most important thing is to find something that works for you!

01-28-2005, 03:26 PM
You should keep your body guessing...I've read EVERYWHERE that the most affective thing to do is keep your body guessing, don't always so the same stuff (food, exercise etc.)

You know when it comes to exercise that you shouldn't do the exact same stuff all the time b/c your body will get used to it and then it won't be as affective right? Well the same goes for food, don't always eat the exact same amount of calories or your body will get used to this, I'm on weight watchers and alot of things I have read suggest to vary my points on day to day, low/high/low/very high/very low/high/med. high. for example.

It keeps your body guessing. But this doesn't mean that on the very high day you get to eat junk should still eat healthy. :)