THE END OF OVEREATING, which is a great read and is doing some serious paradigm shifting stuff to my brain, methinks, comes down pretty hard on cheat days. The author, as I recall, doesn't so much call it that. He's too fricken scientific. :)
No, it's more about the whole cues/urge/food/reward thing we're wired for. If we indulge in those cheat foods, it can set back weeks and weeks of rehabituating the brain and lessening the pull of trigger foods (usually some combo, worse a trio, of salt, fat and sugar--like, well, most of the menus of popular places like Chilis or McD's or TGIF and Pizza Hut, etc.)
For anyone who wants to try cheat days, I suggest you read that book--every fat person should, frankly--just so you understand why it MAY not be a good idea.
I say "may" cause some people do fine. Usually--the way I've noticed, anyway-- those folks don't do cheat days. They don't go out of control. They do cheat meals (fave food item and sides in normal portions) or one cheat meal ITEM. Like having a cup of mashed potato with butter they denied themselves all month. Or a small slice of cake added to an otherwise controlled meal. And these people account for the cheat by cutting back in the days before or after or both. Calories always have to be accounted for, after all.
If the calories are allocated, and the cheat food or meals don't set you back in terms of control (by reopening the trigger/appetite/cue-reward cycle), then sure, you're okay doing it.
But I do think anyone who wants to do full out cheat days/big cheat meals (as opposed to a cheat item or cheat meal accounted for), needs to ask themselves if it's gonna backfire. Not just in terms of calories, but in terms of their own wiring. Their own behavior modification efforts. Their cue/reward issues. Their dopanine/serotonin levels.
The times I've had cheats in the last couple months, I had to make up for it in the meal/day/week that followed. That's just how it goes.
But I did notice this: When I cheat with something healthful and not cue-triggering (ie, not a lot of sugar, not pizza, not a burrito doused in sour cream and sauce and cheese, not mac n cheese), yes, when I decide I really want to have--say, steamed dumplings (which can rack up calories fast, really, the meat ones)--but it's not the "big bad trigger", I can be sane. I can enjoy it and then make up for it as needed. I try not to have something else heavy in carbs or calories with that meal. I gotta balance it with veggies and maybe lighter fruit. No noodles. No sweet n sour (which is like a killer trigger for a lot of folks, the fat-sugar-salt trimvirate of weight gain right there).
But if I order a cheat-trigger, it's very hard for me to think rationally. I go all limbic or something. I go primitive and in total "eat-eat-eat" mode. That's why they're called trigger foods. You go shooting off into insanity. Food insanity.
If I have a huge, bit ole cheat day, having what I want, what I want will be 3000, 4000 calories for that day. Maybe more. Seriously. Not a good idea. And the days the follow will feel harder to control. Loosen control and it's harder to get it back.
I haven't had an all-out binge in a good while, months and months. I can't even remember it. But I recall well-enough that when I let the reins go and eat that whole pizza with some buffalo dippers, I want to overeat every day that week and more. The appetite comes back full force.
When I eat low-to-no sugar and up my protein and veggies, and the meals are mostly in the 400 to 700 range, I don't get as binge-y. It's as if my body stays calmer when the meals are less carby/sugary and the quantity is not huge.
I had a big caloric meal last night. A bit over 1000 cals. But that's puny next to a binge. And it was big in veggies mostly. I had like 7 servings of vegetables in that meal, and a miniscule amount of bread and a normal (normal for thin, not for obese) serving of beef. Most of the calorie stretch came from the oils (my estimate of the EVOO and butter used in cooking, cause you know restaurants are not discreet). The veggies themselves were negligible. The beef was not over the top. But because I didn't have dessert (sugar) and I mostly erred in fat/salt side, the next day, my appetite didn't wake up crazy. I felt normal today.
So, it's for each person to try and figure out what they can have and handle. I can't handle a cheat day (ie, just eat what I want). I can handle a cheat ITEM or couple of items but not in the "as much as I want" mode. In the "reasonable mode."
Thin, naturally so that is, folks follow hunger cues, so they can cheat and not go nuts.
I can't. Tell me to have a what I want day, and I'm gonna eat a whole pizza.
But tell me I can have one slice of pizza every Saturday, and I may or may not feel like I can handle it. If someone brings me ONE slice, not a whole pie, and I can have water and salad with it to fill up yes. If someone brings the whole pie and I see it, smell it-- I may well go berserk. I am a conditioned hypereater. I'm a binger. I'm an overeater. I'm a person with a freak appetite and a stomach that can eat the food allotment of two burly men and then some.
Know thyself....and don't cheat if you go berserk or don't account for the cheat calories.