If you have spent 20 minutes looking at the fitness industry on Instagram, I can bet my life’s worth that you have come across the following terms: cheat day / meal, treat day / meal, and refeed day / meal. Here in the Bowmar household, we try to avoid using the word cheat because that implies you are doing something you aren’t supposed to (cheating on a test, cheating on your spouse, cheating on your diet). We like to use treats or refeeds!
What is a Refeed?
A refeed (or treat day / meal) is an allotted amount of calories OVER your current daily calorie intake. For example, if you are losing weight and your current calories are 1750 on a daily average for the week, a refeed or treat would be somewhere in the 20-30% over your current cutting calories. As a reminder from my most popular post ever, you should never eat below your BMR to avoid unnecessary metabolic adaptation.
A refeed can be a meal or an entire day. It should be planned, calculated, and viewed as a way to take a mental break from your diet as well as a metabolic recharge. I also would like to note that a refeed can either be a meal outside of your typical “diet” food or it could simply mean MORE of the food you are already eating.
The Problem with Refeeds
The issue with treat meals or refeeds is that many people do not understand them, they think they are in a calorie deficit when they really aren’t, and they “treat themselves” on a diet that they actually aren’t doing properly to begin with. Another issue is that many people do them too soon into their diet or cutting program and they can’t stop their treat meal and it turns into a treat weekend and suddenly all progress from the entire week is ruined.
1lb of fat = 3500 calories. Your BMR is 1500 and your TDEE is 2500 so your cutting calories are 2000 (these are just examples). At a 500 calorie deficit per day, you will lose 1lb of fat per week. In 7 days, your total calories are 14,000 and you burned 17,500 (which gives you 3500 calories). Let’s say you are on week 1 of your diet and you have lost a pound- go you! And then you decide you EARNED that treat meal and it goes from a 600 calorie (totally fine) refeed and turns into an entire weekend where you consume an excess of 3000 calories and now your 1lb of fat loss has gone down to 2.4oz. Less than 1/4 of a pound.
Who / Where / When
Who should utilize a refeed? Someone who is metabolically adapted (aka is fat-adapted), is in a calorie deficit, is losing body fat, and has been on their cutting program for longer than a week. If you are unsure if you are fat adapted- here’s a simple test: if you miss a meal or a meal is late and you turn into the devil, you aren’t fat adapted (ie you are still relying on food to fuel you and not your own stored fat cells). If you miss a meal and you are slightly annoyed but still a functioning member of society- you are more than likely fat adapted.
The when depends on you! If you are operating on 2000 calories, your body will start to get used to operating on 2000 calories, meaning in order to lose more weight, you will either have to eat less or move more. Adding in a weekly refeed meal can “trick” your body into thinking it’s going to be getting more food, your metabolism will recalibrate, and when you dip back down to your 2000 calories the next day, you should see some fat loss. It’s also beneficial if you are losing too quickly in which case a refeed and then a calorie adjustment is needed. They are also a great mental break from your diet WHEN YOU ARE READY!
The where depends on you! I personally don’t recommend having a refeed meal for breakfast as that usually sets up a downward spiral for the rest of the day. We like to do our refeeds for dinner, enjoy ourselves, and get right back to it in the morning!
I personally just did a refeed the other day and “gained” 2lbs on the scale overnight. Did I eat 7,000 calories ABOVE my TDEE? No, absolutely not. But I was holding a lot of water from the excess calories and that is OK!
I hope this blog helped clear up what refeeds / treat meals / days are!