The Cheater's Diet
Can you still lose weight and cheat? The weekday part of the Cheater's Diet, similar to a Mediterranean-style diet, can be healthy, but the weekends are another story.
By Katherine Lee | Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
Paul Rivas, MD, an internist and weight-loss specialist, created the Cheater’s Diet on the premise that other diets often fail because people get bored and cannot follow what may be excessive restrictions. The Cheater’s Diet makes “sinful” high-calorie, high-fat foods a part of the meal plan to eliminate deprivation. Doing so, according to the Cheater’s Diet, will make it easier for people to stay on the diet and lose weight. Rivas’s plan is detailed in his book, The Cheater's Diet: The Medically Proven Way to Supercharge Your Weight Loss, Break Through Diet Ruts and Stay Thin for Good.
The Cheater’s Diet: What Is It?
The Cheater’s Diet is based on eating healthy meals and snacks from Monday to Friday and then “cheating” from 9 a.m. on Saturday to 9 p.m. on Sunday night. In fact, the Cheater’s Diet not only includes normally forbidden foods for dieters, but actually requires them. “The Cheater’s Diet says you must cheat on weekends to stoke your metabolism,” says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, a dietitian and wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
The Cheater’s Diet: How Does It Work?
During the week, people on the Cheater’s Diet are told to eat three meals a day plus two snacks. Foods that must be avoided during the week include sugar, bread, saturated fats, and alcohol. Foods that are encouraged during the week include peanuts, yogurt, fruits, vegetables, and, as with a Mediterranean-style diet, unsaturated fats.
The Cheater’s Diet also features a weekly exercise plan that includes “non-exercise” activities such as yard work, walking at least two days a week up to 45 minutes, and strength training for 20 to 30 minutes two days a week.
Supplements such as yerba mate and the amino acid L-tyrosine are also touted as beneficial for weight control. Yerba mate is said to protect the liver and heart.
The Cheater’s Diet: Sample Day
A non-cheating diet day might include:
- Two eggs
- An orange or half grapefruit
- Coffee or tea
- Water packed tuna in a pita with tomato and lettuce
- Another vegetable serving
- Diet iced tea or water
- A serving of peanuts, fresh or dry-roasted, with no salt or oil added
- Grilled chicken breast
- Steamed vegetables including broccoli
- Wild rice
- Diet hot cocoa
On weekends, the cheating list includes everything from pizza and wine to chocolate, ice cream, and cinnamon buns.
The Cheater’s Diet: Pros
“The serving sizes are healthy, and the diet gives good portion control ideas,” says Jamieson-Petonic. “The diet during the week is pretty healthy.” The overall idea behind the weekly diet is good, and resembles a Mediterranean-style diet.
The book also talks about the importance of exercise and delves into the issue of emotional eating.
The Cheater’s Diet: Cons
There’s not a lot of scientific basis to the claims made in The Cheater’s Diet, says Marisa Moore, RD, a dietitian and an American Dietetic Association spokesperson. The book refers to research, but no studies are cited, and there is nothing to back up the assertion that weekend cheating boosts metabolism.
Some assertions in The Cheater’s Diet seem silly, such as the claim that cinnamon buns are good “cheat” foods for weekends because cinnamon can help improve blood sugar and lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. While cinnamon may indeed have some health benefits, says Moore, the book overlooks the fact that cinnamon buns are loaded with saturated fat and refined sugar.
Also problematic is the lack of information and warnings about the supplements recommended in the book for weight loss. “Yerba mate is a stimulant that can raise the heart rate and lead to heart palpitations,” says Jamieson-Petonic. “No [warnings] are listed [for this and the other supplements] — it is potentially not safe if you’re pregnant, for example.” Green tea extract, another supplement that’s recommended, may react with a number of medications, including Tagamet and diabetes medications.
The Cheater’s Diet: Short-Term Effects, Long-Term Effects
The healthy diet and exercise recommendations for weekdays can be beneficial for your health in the short term. But the lack of science to back up the claims that the Cheater’s Diet is the answer for weight loss and the possible weight gain that may come from indulging too much on the weekends make this a poor choice for long-term weight loss. “People are sometimes desperate, looking for a quick fix for weight loss,” says Jamieson-Petonic. “It’s setting people up for failure.”