By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature
Reviewed by Charlotte Grayson Mathis, MD
What It Is
Most people think cheating is a bad thing, but in the Cheater's Diet: Lose Weight by Taking the Weekends Off, it's the secret sauce to successful weight loss. The idea is that all dieters cheat on their diets at some time, but what really matters is not whether you cheat, but how often you do it.
Author and weight loss physician Paul Rivas, MD, thinks if you are physically active, eat healthy meals the majority of the time, and cheat only on weekends, you will lose weight permanently.
The Cheater's Diet allows dieters to have their cake and eat it too -- but only for 36 hours of sanctioned cheating time from 9:00 am Saturday to 9:00 pm Sunday. From Monday through Friday, dieters are expected to eat healthfully and get as much physical activity as possible.
If you like the idea of regular exercise, a little "cheating" on the weekends, and following a Mediterranean-style eating plan, the Cheater's Diet could be the plan for you.
What You Can Eat
On the Cheater's Diet, you're encouraged to eat a Mediterranean-style diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy (especially yogurt), peanuts, and unsaturated fats.
You enjoy three meals and two snacks each day using the plate method; fill half the plate with fruits or vegetables, 1/4 with lean protein, and the remaining 1/4 with whole grains. Two weeks of weekday menus, along with recipes, are included in the book to help dieters understand the composition of a healthy weight loss plan.
To help dieters keep portions in check, Rivas provides visual associations, such as a portion of lean meat being equal in size to a deck of cards. In addition, the plan encourages dieters to include snacks twice daily from an approved list that includes fruit, nuts, low fat yogurt or pudding, protein bars, low calorie frozen treats, and more. During the week, sugar, bread, saturated fats, and alcohol are not permitted.
Cheating is not optional but required on the Cheater's Diet, and Rivas suggests foods like:
- Peanut butter
- Cinnamon buns
- Ice cream
- Strawberry shortcake
You can choose other cheat foods if you like; the only foods off limits during the cheating phase are "any foods that can trigger a binge," says Rivas.
Sample Weekday Menu
Two eggs, any style (cook with PAM cooking spray)
One medium orange or one half grapefruit
Coffee or tea with artificial sweetener and nonfat milk
Four ounces tuna packed in water on a whole grain pita or tortilla. Mix with
olive oil or fat-free mayo, or mustard, or lemon with salt and pepper
Tomato and lettuce
A serving of any vegetable
Diet iced tea or water with lemon and artificial sweetener
One handful of peanuts (fresh, dry-roasted, no salt or oil added)
Grilled sliced chicken breast strips
Steamed broccoli and peppers
One cup hot cocoa, sweetened with artificial sweetener
How It Works
In the Cheater's Diet, the prescription is for a healthy, reduced-calorie diet, along with plenty of physical activity during the week. The real bonus is the opportunity to break free on weekends, when most people tend to splurge and eat those otherwise forbidden foods.
According to Rivas, eating a healthy diet, consisting of three meals and two small snacks during the week, prevents the metabolic slow-down that typically occurs on most restrictive and fad-type diets. Cheating on the weekends is essential to "stoke your metabolism" for weight loss, so that when you go back to your regular weekday eating program, you're burning optimal calories.
"When you chronically under eat, your metabolism drops," Rivas says, "but if you keep your calories constant during the week and only overeat on weekends, the metabolic rate increases to handle the extra calories and continues to burn calories at a higher rate throughout the week." This way, dieters never go through the yo-yo dieting cycle that lowers metabolism and reduces calories needed to keep the body alive.
By allowing controlled cheating (as in eat a piece of cake, not the whole cake), dieters can look forward to enjoying their favorite decadent food or drinks without guilt. Rivas' theory suggests that being allowed any food during the controlled cheating time strengthens the dieter's commitment to eating healthfully throughout the week
Rivas recommends a list of unusual dietary supplements (Yerba Mate, L-tyrosine 5 HTP, green tea extract, and Mucana Pruriens) to augment the weight loss process, but adds that "you can also successfully lose weight on the Cheater's Diet without supplements."
What the Experts Say
The Cheater's Diet's overall approach to nutrition is healthful, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, enjoying pleasurable foods, and physical activity.
"The plan is likely between 1,600 and 1,800 calories, which of course, may be too many calories for a very petite female, or far too few for a muscular male (especially at the level of activity recommended)," says American Dietetic Association spokesman Cynthia Sass, who would like the nutrition information for the recipes and menus included, along with suggestions on how to individualize the plan from its one-size-fits all approach.
"My biggest concern with the Cheater's Diet is that there are no references or research provided to back up the author's claims, even though he frequently refers to research in the book," Sass says.
Sass' apprehension is that no studies have been carried out to test Rivas' weight loss theory that cheating on weekends boosts metabolic rates. "Studies on people who have successfully lost and kept weight off in the National Weight Control Registry find these individuals do not cheat on weekends, but rather indulge in treats in moderation throughout the week," reports Sass.
Sass also dislikes the supplement recommendations because, once again, there are no references to document the effectiveness of the supplements in weight loss. "Some of the recommendations are potentially unsafe, with adverse effects for certain individuals, according to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD), and they defy up-to-date science-based references," adds Sass.
Food for Thought
Sass suggests saving your money on the Cheater's Diet, and instead log onto mypyramid.gov for a much more logical approach to successful weight loss. Her tip: Follow the 2005 Dietary Guideline's recommendations for small daily splurges (called discretionary calories).
"The general public likes the idea that a diet must include sacrifice, and they mistakenly believe that is what it takes to be successful," Rivas says. He maintains that the Cheater's Diet proves that cheater's win, and the plan will result in weight loss.
If you like this plan's recommendation of regular exercise, splurging a bit on the weekends, and enjoying a Mediterranean-style diet (minus those unnecessary supplements), you may have found a diet you can stick with for life.
Published February 2007.
SOURCES: Paul Rivas, MD, author, Cheater's Diet: Lose Weight by Taking Weekends Off , HCI Books, 2005. Cynthia Sass, MA, RD, spokesman, American Dietetic Association; co-author, Your Diet Is Driving Me Crazy, Marlowe & Co., 2005.
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