Many fitness coaches and nutritionists have different thoughts on cheat meals and how they play into your weight loss journey. Some programs do not allow cheat meals at all, which I find to only work for people short-term. If you don’t learn how to incorporate “bad food” into your diet on occasion without completely falling off the wagon and rolling down the hill, or you live your life terrified of ever eating a cupcake again, you will have a very difficult time maintaining your weight loss results long-term. While I don’t have a degree in nutrition, I have worked with many different clients over an extended period of time on their eating habits, and I have developed my own opinions on cheat meals based on my clients’ success. Cheat meals can be your friend or your foe, depending on how you choose to utilize them.
The bodybuilding school of thought is that a cheat meal sized and placed appropriately can actually speed up your metabolic rate if your metabolism is working effectively. I have seen this work with many fitness competitors and with my clients. The key terms here, though, are “sized and placed appropriately.” Here are some tips on how to do just that:
1) Make a cheat meal a cheat MEAL, not a cheat DAY! Your metabolism has the ability (if it’s working effectively) to rev up and burn off a cheat meal as energy, but a cheat day will most likely end up as stored fat. I like to use the analogy of your metabolism as a bonfire. If you throw one log on it, the fire will grow and burn up the log. If you keep throwing logs on it before it has a chance to burn them for energy, the fire will get smaller, and burn less efficiently.
2) Don’t have more than 2 cheat meals per week. If you love food and are feeling restricted, I find that 2 cheat meals allows you to space them out to psychologically keep you on track. It’s easier to talk yourself through eating well for 3 days than 6 days (or forever) until your next cheat meal. Or, if you like to go out on the weekends, you can allow yourself a small break on Friday and Saturday nights. If you’re going to have 2 cheat meals per week, though, that means the other 5 days must be CLEAN eating! If you allow small bits of cheat to scatter throughout the week, the 2 cheat meals will not work to your advantage, and you will have a much harder time reaching your goal.
3) LOG THEM! And don’t let them grow to more than a few hundred additional calories. Back to my point about not having cheat days, you’re more likely to keep control of your cheat meals if you log them in your food journal. Face the music and let the numbers stare you dead in the face – pizza calories add up quickly! Keep your cheats to a reasonable size and don’t eat the whole pizza because it’s a cheat meal. If you throw 20 logs on the fire all at once, the fire won’t be burning normally for quite some time. The goal is to always keep the fire burning strong!