How Bingeing Can Increase Your Willpower - 52 Weeks of Habits52 Weeks of Habits


Binge to increase willpower

Last Saturday I ate no less than 8,000 calories; many of them from soft serve, funnel cake, and breakfast pastries. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Tim Ferriss’s books, and I’ve been following the diet from The 4-Hour Body for a little while now. What’s great about the diet is that an integral part of it is picking one day a week to cheat heavily on the normal restrictions; indulging all of your sugary, fatty, and carby desires.

Intuitively this seems flawed. How can a diet not only allow but suggest that you cheat on it? Tim spends more time on the biomechanics than I will, but the most important reason to me is that it helps us regulate our willpower. I wrote a short post a while ago on Willpower and Habits, but the relevant point from it is that our willpower is a finite resource that needs to be managed effectively if we want achieve our goals.

The hardest part of any diet is hitting that afternoon slump and going “I can’t have chocolate ever again if I want to be healthy…” and having to think that every day. Denying ourselves anything that we desire will deplete our willpower and leave us less able to apply it towards other tasks. If we are constantly lamenting over the loss of chocolate from our lives, then good luck doing anything else substantial.

Having a cheat day changes the conversation. On the hardest day of the week (Sunday), we still only have to tell ourselves “just make it to Saturday, then I can make Coldstone my b*tch.” On Wednesday we get to say “Just three more days…” And then on Saturday we can go crazy. It’s a lot of fun–last weekend my girlfriend and I were in Disney World so we went to Epcot and had either a meal, dessert, or drink in every country. It was great.

Cheat Days for Everything

But why stop at dieting? The idea of a cheat day is brilliant–it recognizes that we’re going to fail at some point (no one stays on a diet forever) and mitigates the damage of that failure by planning for it. When we have a set day to fail on, we feel much less desire to cheat on all of the other days. We can use cheat days to make adopting particularly difficult habits much easier.

I play a lot of Dota 2, but I recognize that it isn’t the most productive use of my time. I don’t want to get rid of it completely since it’s fun and I have a lot of friends who play it, but I could benefit from playing less of it during the week. By designating Saturday as my “video game cheat day,” I can get through the week much easier.

Maybe you’re trying to adopt the Social Media Habits from my last post. Commit to not letting them interfere with your life for Sunday through Friday, and then on Saturday let yourself binge on social media. Spend all day browsing Reddit and eating cake. You’ve earned it, and the rest of the week will seem much less daunting.

Some Exceptions

I do think there are habits you may not want to have cheat days for. The difficulty of waking up early consistently doesn’t really allow for cheat days until you’ve successfully adapted to your new schedule up to a month later. Once you’re on the new schedule go for it, but until then you will adapt quicker if you don’t cheat.

Other habits that could be called addictions are also not good to have cheat days for. If you bite your nails and are trying to work that out of your system, it’s not something that you want to be doing once a week. The same would go for aggressive driving, or complaining, lying, etc.

Saturday as the Willpower Recharge Day

Now that you’re eating everything and checking email constantly and playing hours of video games or whatever it is you choose the binge on, there’s one important additional element. If you have the ability, don’t do a single thing you don’t want to do on Saturday. You want to maximize the willpower recharging indulgence of the day, and every obligation you have to someone else will only drain that. Don’t do any work, don’t talk to negative people, just spend the whole day on you and making sure that you can get through the other 6 days without being distracted by your vices. Your mind and body will thank you.



4 Responses to How Bingeing Can Increase Your Willpower

  1. 4 years ago by kkinnison

    Great article! I stumbled upon the same principle last December. I called it “Planning to Fail.”

    Recently though, I heard Gretchen Rubin speak on the difference between “moderators” and “abstainers.” She believes that some people can handle “no-no’s” in moderation (cheat days, for example) where others have to abstain completely or risk falling back into their bad habits. It’s definitely worth testing out for ourselves.

    • 4 years ago by Nat

      I’ve not actually heard about the idea of different people being moderators and abstainers, but I’m going to go check it out now. It could definitely make a good addition to this article–I wouldn’t want abstainers to implement cheat days and have it cause them to be more frustrated during the week. Thanks Kendra!

  2. 4 years ago by Alex

    I like the idea, but 8000 calories in a day seems really excessive. If you’re trying to lose weight by cutting 500 calories per day, for example, that means you’ve reduced your 6 day intake by 3000. If you eat 8k in one day, you’ve wiped out that 3000 deficit and now have a large surplus for the week.

    I don’t know your diet goals – if you’re trying to gain muscle then obviously that’s different :)

    • 4 years ago by Nat

      Hey Alex,
      Thank you for your comment! This is something that I go back and forth on a lot too. Your math makes perfect sense, but I think there are other factors at play. The most important one in this case is that throughout the course of the day I also walked 18.1 miles through Disney World, which according to a couple websites means I burned ~1,500 above my BMR. Add to that the fact that most of the food wasn’t absorbed (believe me, it’s not hard to tell when this happens) and I don’t think the numbers necessarily translate into a caloric surplus. As for my diet goals, I’m mostly just trying to do recomp, so not trying to maintain a strict surplus or deficit but rather fluctuate between the two.