I have a love hate relationship with cheat meals. […mmmm… Chewy french baguette fresh out of the oven, slathered in butter! What’s not to love, right?…]
The idea of a cheat meal isn’t new. But is it just a catchy gimmick designed to sell diet programs?
Or is it a key factor for long term fat loss success?
I think it’s a bit of both. I reckon you can get by without cheat meals. A well thought out diet based on solid nutritional strategies shouldn’t require what’s commonly called a “re-feed.” But on the other hand…
There ARE a few very valid reasons to indulge in the occasional cheat meal.
1. You don’t live alone in a cave…
You have friends and family who want to share your company over a nice meal, a drink, or a coffee and desert. Is it realistic to think you’ll never partake in any of these simple pleasures again? Um, no frackin’ way!!
I was eaves dropping on a lady at the gym yesterday. […yeah, I do that sometimes…] And she was talking about the cheat meal she had the night before and how much she enjoyed it. Then she dropped a BOMB.
She hadn’t strayed from her strict diet for ELEVEN MONTHS before that. It’s not like she’s training for a show or anything. She’s just a regular person.
I mean, I totally applaud her discipline and work ethic. It’s impressive. But I can’t help thinking that she missed out on an awful pile of precious moments with friends and family. Like it or not, food is a very social experience…
2. Food tastes good.
Whether you “need” it or not, there are certain foods that most of us just aren’t willing to forgo for all eternity. Pretending you’ll be able to is a great way to set yourself up for failure. And once you “break” your diet, it’s a slippery slope to nutritional debauchery.
You’re better off to include those “cheat” foods as part of your overall nutritional strategy. But you need some rules. We’ll talk about those in a minute.
3. You’ll give your “metabolism” a boost
If you’re sticking to quality proteins, a plentiful variety of veggies and a few sources of good fats, then the occasional cheat meal should actually accelerate your progress.
Your body is well fed and all your metabolic machinery is humming along perfectly, when all of a sudden you dump a huge load of calories into the system.
Your body doesn’t know this is only one meal, so it ramps up capacity and gets ready to start dealing with this big excess. Except the next day you’re right back to your sensible nutritional practices.
But your metabolism stays stuck in high gear for a few days, burning more fat than it normally would. One of the most well known mechanisms for this is the increase of a hormone called Leptin.
Leptin regulates hunger and also plays a big role in how much fat the body stores or releases for fuel. As long as you aren’t “Leptin resistant”, the higher your leptin levels the better if you’re trying to lose fat and change your shape.
[…we’ll talk about Leptin resistance in another article…]
4. Sometimes you just need a psychological break
I look at cheat meals in much the same light. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the way I eat the rest of the time. It’s just nice to “get away” from time to time and live without any constraints for an hour or so.
OK, so there are some good reasons to include cheat meals in your diet strategy. But don’t hit the buffet table just yet there buckaroo.
Like I said at the beginning of this article, I have a love hate relationship with “cheating” on my diet. They can be extremely dangerous!
It’s so easy for a cheat meal to degenerate into a 5 hour session of complete nutritional debauchery. And if you’re not careful it can even spill over and last for days, or even derail your diet permanently.
Have I seen this happen? Yep. And I’ve done it to myself on many occasions.
That’s why I created…
Adam’s 6 Rules For Cheat Meals
- NEVER ever, ever eat a cheat meal on your own
- You’re allowed to cheat on 10% of your meals at MOST
- Your cheat meal window is exactly 1 hour
- Eat until full, but never more
- Put your fork down and chew your food
- Avoid foods that “give you trouble”
After years of struggling with cheat meals, I’ve found that following those 6 simple guidelines will allow you to get the maximum benefit from your cheat meal without slowing your progress or putting your long term nutritional strategy in harm’s way.
Let’s run through them quickly…
NEVER ever, ever eat a cheat meal on your own: The joy of food is tied very strongly to socialization. Don’t waste a cheat meal by eating it on your own. Also, eating with others provides a bit of natural constraint. You’re less likely to make a total pig of yourself if you’re in polite company. But when you’re on your own you’re more likely to turn into a bottomless pit.
You’re allowed to cheat on 10% of your meals at MOST: Out of every 10 meals you eat, only ONE can be a cheat meal. Ideally it’ll be even less, but that’s your max. At first, you can make a tally in your agenda just to make sure you don’t go over your limit. But eventually you’ll just get a feel for the natural rhythm of your cheats.
Your cheat meal window is exactly 1 hour: Just like the 10% rule, this rule quantifies your cheat meals for you. Look at your watch when you sit down and start your meal. When 60 minutes are up, close up the pie hole and get back to business. You won’t do too much damage in an hour. But it’s so easy to let one cheat meal turn into 5-6 hours of grazing on empty calories. And that can definitely dig into your progress and even set off days worth of cravings.
Eat until full, but never more: This one is tough for a lot of people—especially at first. You go into your cheat meal thinking you have to make the most of it, because you’ll be going back on your “diet” afterward. But that’s not what a cheat meal is about. It’s about variety and letting loose a bit, not about pigging out. At worst, only 9 meals will go by before you get to do it again! But more importantly, you’ll learn to enjoy the process of eating healthy whole foods 90% of the time. Remember, we’re building a new lifestyle, not going on a “diet.”
Put your fork down and chew your food: I don’t know about you, but I get downright excited over a cheat meal. So it’s easy to get carried away and scarf your food down like it’s going out’a style. But how dumb is that? Your delicious dining experience is done in 5 minutes flat! Drag it out a bit. Put your fork down between each bite. Savour each mouthful as you actually chew it rather than swallowing it whole. Take the time to consciously “taste” every bite.
Avoid foods that “give you trouble”: If you stop and think about it, you’ll come to realize that certain foods are problematic for you. Maybe you feel sluggish after you eat them. Or perhaps you get bloating or gas. Chances are, you’ve got some sort of food intolerance or even allergy related to that food. Eating it will cause irritation and lead to both an immune reaction and inflammation in your body. That’ll signal your body to store fat, especially around the belly. If you want to know exactly which foods give you trouble—some will be asymptomatic—get a food intolerance test done.
There you have it, 6 rules to live by if you want to cheat—guilt free. What about you? Share your stories—the good, the bad and the ugly—about your personal relationship with cheat meals. Any tips? Cautionary advice? Share with your fellow Shapeshifters in the comments below.