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The Promise

You have to cheat on this diet. You eat a Mediterranean-style diet during the week, “cheat” on your diet all weekend long, and you’ll still lose weight, according to The Cheater's Diet by weight-loss doctor Paul Rivas, MD.

Purposely blowing your diet on weekends, Rivas claims, cranks up your metabolism, reversing the metabolic slowdown that happens when you restrict calories. Your furnace stays hot, so that when you eat fewer calories Monday through Friday, your body burns fat. Rivas doesn’t cite research to back up this theory, however.

Weekend “cheating” also strengthens your resolve to eat well the rest of the week, Rivas says (though it seems some people may find it even harder to stick to healthy eating after a weekend off). You can even cheat on exercise, working out only twice a week and doing “lifestyle” exercise, such as cleaning the house, on other days, according to the plan.

What You Can and Can't Eat

Pizza, ice cream, steak, wine, beer, cinnamon buns -- they’re all fair game from Saturday morning to Sunday night. In fact, they’re downright encouraged. Only foods that might trigger overeating are off-limits.

On weekends, you add an extra 10 calories per day for every pound you weigh, which could mean a whopping 1,500 additional calories or more on both days.

On all other days, you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-quarter with lean protein (such as fish, chicken, beans, “and some pork loin thrown in now and then for taste”), and one-quarter with whole grains.

You have at least three servings of fruit per day (not bananas, which contain too much starch) and at least four servings of vegetables.

Low-fat yogurt, peanuts, eggs, and skim milk are specifically endorsed.

Sugar, bread, white rice, potatoes, saturated fats (like butter, cream, marbled meats, and most fried foods), and alcohol are off-limits during the week.

Level of Effort: Medium

Preparing healthy meals, avoiding potatoes and other foods, and fitting in exercise during the week will take some effort.

Limitations: Many foods are off-limits during the week, as is alcohol.

Cooking and shopping: If you’re not used to cooking from scratch, spending time shopping and cooking could be an adjustment. You may find yourself buying more herbs and spices than usual.

Packaged foods or meals: No.

In-person meetings: No.

Exercise: The plan recommends exercising 2 days a week and fitting in movement whenever you can on the other days.

Does It Allow for Restrictions or Preferences?

Vegetarians and vegans: Many of the recipes provided contain meat, fish, or eggs, and yogurt is favored. Vegetarians will have a hard time following the suggested menus, and vegans will have an even harder time -- though it is possible to follow the diet without using the menus.

Gluten-free: Most of the recipes don't include pasta or bread. But gluten is in many other foods, so check labels for those that may contain gluten.

What Else You Should Know

Cost: Just your usual grocery expenses. If you don’t currently buy fish or fresh fruits and vegetables, your costs could go up. Rivas recommends certain supplements (yerba mate, L-Tyrosine, 5-HTP, green tea extract, and velvet bean), which would add to the cost, but they are optional.

Support: This is a diet you do on your own.

What Dr. Melinda Ratini Says:

Does It Work?

At the core of The Cheater’s Diet is a Mediterranean style of eating along with portion control and calorie restriction. This combo can certainly lead to a healthy weight loss. But that’s where the science ends.

The author claims that a weekend of cheating (particularly with certain foods) revs up your metabolism so that you can burn fat the following week. This strategy might stave off taste bud boredom, but there’s no proof that it can boost your metabolism or weight loss.

Though they’re not an essential part of the plan, Rivas also recommends several supplements. But whether they affect weight loss isn’t known. One thing that is known is that some of the recommended supplements may be unsafe.

Exercise is an important part of The Cheater’s Diet. But you will have to ramp it from the diet’s recommended two sessions of aerobics a week if you want to meet the generally accepted guideline of 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

The Mediterranean approach to eating has been proven to help prevent heart disease and diabetes. It can even help raise good cholesterol and lower the bad.

Taking in over 1,000 extra calories on the weekend days, however, will wreak havoc on your diabetes treatment plan, especially if you take medication or insulin. Check with your doctor or dietitian to see what adjustments you would need to make.

If you are on a salt-restricted diet, you will have to watch out when preparing your foods and eating out.

The Final Word

The Cheater’s Diet is based on healthy foods, at least on the weekdays, and can help you get used to portion control.

Allowing yourself a guilty pleasure once in a while might be enough to stave off boredom and help you keep your diet on track, but letting yourself eat whatever you want on the weekend might not be a habit you want to develop.

WebMD Diet A-Z

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