Dieting is hard.
Seriously hard. Whatever dieting style you follow, be it low-carb, calorie counting, low-fat, a protein-sparring modified fast, Paleo – it’s still “dieting” and it’s still going to suck. Fear not, for the solution is here … and the solution is a cheat meal.
Even if you’re a flexible dieter, and you’re monitoring your macronutrients and not placing any restrictions on the types of food you eat, the fact that your calories will below and you’ll be in a deficit can sap you of energy and rob you of strength, leaving you feeling pretty low.
So what’s a guy or girl to do?
If you come off your diet, you can indulge your cravings again, eat more, and feel invigorated – but then if you’ve not reached your goals you’ll only feel disappointed.
Carry on dieting though, and you risk sacrificing friends and family, and going partially insane!
Fear not, for the solution is here … and the solution is a cheat meal.
What is a Cheat Meal?
A cheat meal involves eating foods that wouldn’t be included in your day-to-day diet.
So for someone on a low-carb plan that would mean plenty of bread, pasta, pretzels, muffins, and other lower-fat, but high-carb goodies.
If you’re a Paleo-er, you might indulge in some Neolithic fast foods and convenience foods.
Even those IIFYM-ers, while they can include any foods they like in their diets, might decide that their cheat day will simply consist of not tracking their calories, eating more than a normal day, or even lowering protein but increasing “fun calories” by eating more carbs and fats.
Bottom line is that a cheat meal is something that you wouldn’t do/ eat normally, and it’s a chance to indulge a little.
When Cheats Go Wrong
The main problem with a cheat meal, as tempting as it sounds, is that it’s incredibly easy to sabotage a whole week’s worth of progress with just one meal.
Actually, it’s quite hard to do it with a single meal, but trouble arises when you can’t stop at a sensible meal. You get a taste for those treats you’ve deprived yourself of, and so instead of just having a nice meal, you spread it out over a few hours, a whole day, or even a whole weekend.
Similarly, it can give you an unhealthy relationship with foods, by categorizing them as “good” or “bad.”
This is why, while cheat meals can be useful, they HAVE to be done right.
Benefits of Cheating
Aside from the mental benefit of feeling free of dieting for a day, and giving you a chance to let loose a little, what are the benefits of cheating?
One of the main ones is from a social aspect.
If you’re going out for some drinks with friends or hitting a restaurant for a meal, it makes it so much easier not to have any dietary restrictions for an evening, and you can eat and drink “normally.”
Physiologically too, a well-planned cheat can do your body the world of good.
When you diet, certain metabolism-regulating hormones (leptin and T3) tend to drop, and when this drops, your metabolic rate lowers, meaning you burn fewer calories, and feel pretty tired, lethargic, and run down.
A cheat meal with increased calories helps raise these hormones back up again, giving you a second wind of energy, and kicking that metabolism into gear again. The effects of this can last for 36 to 48 hours, even though you may only cheat for an hour or two.
How to Be a Good Cheater
The key to making your cheat meal work FOR, not AGAINST you is to do it right.
For one, you can’t go crazy on the calories.
Look at it this way –
If you’re in a 500 calorie per day deficit, (regardless of what dieting style you follow) and stick to this Monday to Saturday, that’s a total of a 3,000 calorie deficit – enough to lose nearly 1 pound of fat.
If your cheat meal (or cheat day) comes in at 3,000 calories, while your body might not process every single one of those calories, it will still absorb a lot of them, and virtually eradicate any deficit created at other times, meaning your fat loss progress for the week has gone.
Therefore, if you’re having a cheat meal, it’s crucial you follow certain guidelines …
- Make it just one meal. Don’t give yourself a whole day or whole weekend to cheat.
- Sit down at a table to eat this meal. Try to make it a social event by chatting with friends and family – don’t shovel down food in front of the TV.
- Only eat foods you want. Don’t eat anything for the sake of it.
- Make calorie cuts if you can. For instance, if you fancy a pizza, could you go for a thin crust chicken and veggie pizza with low-fat cheese over a stuffed crust, double meat affair? You still get your pizza, but you’re saving yourself a whole load of calories.
- Eat slowly and stop when you’re full. Be mindful of everything you eat.
- Avoid stocking up on lots of different treats beforehand. This only means you’re more likely to binge.
- Make your cheat meal predominantly carb-based. Carbs have the biggest impact on leptin and T3 and are great for boosting your energy.
- Lower calories over the rest of the day, and have your cheat in the evening if possible. A good strategy is to stick to protein and veggie-based meals for breakfast and lunch, then have a shake an hour or two before your cheat.
- Stick to one cheat meal every 5 to 10 days. Leaner folk can go a little more regularly, while if you’re just starting a diet you should try to stretch it out.
The bottom line is that a cheat meal can potentially save your diet as it stops you from binging when your motivation gives out. But you have to be smart about it – be moderate and be mindful, and make your cheating work for you.
Contact OBF Gyms for a complimentary assessment to get started with one of our trainers today!