Let’s talk about the “cheat meal”.
Many people get stressed when dieting or restricting calories. The mental strength required to stay on the straight and narrow path can take its toll on diet participants, especially those not accustomed to such restrictions.
In these cases, sometimes the dieter needs a break, even if for a short time. They need a reprieve from the grind of daily tracking, counting, and ultimately, staying the course, which can be taxing.
Enter the cheat meal.
What Is A Cheat Meal?
If you have done any sort of diet, whether on your own or via a trainer, you most likely have been told to treat yourself to a meal during the process, perhaps once a week or every two weeks, that goes against the rules of the diet.
It’s a meal that throws calorie concerns aside and permits you to break all the dietary rules. To be bad. To cheat.
Enter the cheat meal.
The frequency can vary depending on your nutrition plan, but the rules are typically the same.
There are none.
Well, that’s not entirely true. There is usually a cap of time allowed for this meal, i.e., eat whatever you want for an hour once a week. But really, that’s about it.
So cram it in; the clock is ticking.
Are Cheat Meals Good For You?
There are definite benefits, even scientifically, to a well-timed and adequately planned cheat meal. A cheat meal can increase your metabolism and raise your leptin levels. This can help keep your hormone levels in check, allowing you to return to your dietary plan in good bodily standing successfully.
Mentally, the benefits are just as potent and possibly more noticeable.
Cheat meals typically contain ingredients that, frankly, make us happy. The sugars and carbs of ice creams, and pizza, you name it, just feel good to eat, especially after feeling like you have been restricted on what you are allowed to eat. The cheat meal gives us both a moment of relief from the restriction and a moment of satiety and satisfaction by eating something we love to eat.
Cheat meals make us feel normal in the middle of a diet that may seem foreign and uncomfortable. It’s an opportunity to breathe easy and ease up on the strictness of the rest of the diet rules.
A cheat meal can make you feel human again.
So do cheat meals work? Yes, they do.
2 Main Pitfalls To A Cheat Meal
So, are there any reasons not to do a cheat meal?
Perhaps a few, and it might surprise you as to why.
1 The Calorie Deficit Eraser
From a nutritional standpoint, a cheat meal could potentially wipe out the calorie deficit you worked so hard for. Let’s look at how.
Let’s say you have put together a step-by-step weight loss plan to lose weight, and you are going to count your calories. Monday through Saturday, your daily calorie target was 2500 calories, and you only at 2300 calories a day.
By the time Sunday morning rolls around, you have successfully created a calorie deficit for the week of 1200 calories. Great job!
Sunday is your cheat meal day. So let’s say your cheat meal was 1900 calories. But you also ate breakfast and lunch. You ended up eating 3100 calories, 600 calories over your daily allotment.
You just wiped out half of your weekly calorie deficit in one meal!
Or worse, if you REALLY went wild on your cheat meal, it’s possible to completely erase all your progress from the entire week before simply by indulging in 1 meal.
And if you aren’t counting your calories, you might not even realize you are sabotaging yourself. All you know is that you can’t seem to lose weight and become frustrated.
This happens all the time and is a significant reason so many people give up trying to lose weight.
2. Eating Past The Point Of No Return
But even more of an issue is that eating a cheat meal looks like an oasis in the desert, something they are dying without for many people.
But in reality, it’s trouble waiting in the wings. One of the most challenging aspects of the cheat meal is that if you are not careful, it opens a Pandora’s Box that you may not be able to close.
The rush of sugar and carbs hits your bloodstream, bringing a tidal wave of all those wonderful feelings you used to have before you started dieting. You feel alive again. You have energy. You feel great.
And many people are emotional eaters. Eating these kinds of foods is just as much about how it makes them feel emotionally and mentally as it makes them feel physically. Many people feel “safe” or “balanced” when eating certain foods.
In both cases above, the cheat meal almost acts like a drug. It quickly changes how we feel, often with euphoria as we take each bite. Our body has physical spikes in levels that it hasn’t had for quite some time.
The cheat meal, if not careful, can act almost like a drug that becomes difficult to stop using.
It requires an obscene amount of strength to eat a meal such as this and then turn on a dime when it’s over and get back on the right path.
If you are not careful, you can lose your motivation to resume the rest of the diet, and getting re-motivated after losing all motivation, even if for a short time, is no easy feat.
In both cases above, a cheat meal could sabotage your progress and motivation to move forward.
And for many, at this point, we feel we have gone too far. We have broken the rules too much, and going back to the plan isn’t possible.
Time To Think About The Cheat Meal Differently
Approaching the cheat meal with the right mindset can mean the difference between a cheat meal that benefits versus a cheat meal that busts.
First off, the name is horrible and gives a bad connotation to something that could be beneficial.
According to Merriam-Webster, one of the definitions of “cheating” is “to violate rules dishonestly.”
Dishonestly? That’s not what a cheat meal is supposed to be, and this is where we need to redefine it.
We need to see the cheat meal not as a cheat but as an essential part of the plan, a part of the foundation of what we are trying to achieve overall. For many, without the cheat meal, without feeling human from time to time, they will lose interest in continuing forward. The feelings of being deprived and “not enjoying food” can overwhelm and derail even the most motivated people.
The cheat meal doesn’t violate the rules…it IS one of the rules for many people’s dietary plans. It’s the fuel needed to advance further, to get us closer to our goal and destination.
It isn’t a deviation from the process. It is part of the process.
So let’s start thinking of it for the good that it is.
A cheat, it is not.
A Few Tips For A Successful Cheat Meal
Here are a few ideas to help you get the most out of your cheat meals without sabotaging your progress:
- When you make your overall meal plan, make your cheat meal plan. Decide the exact day and what you will be allowed to eat. When the day comes, you have a plan to execute. Winging it can lead to danger.
- Put a time limit on it, or it will turn into a cheat day. Everyone will have a different number, but I recommend no more than 2 hours. When the time is up, the meal is over.
- Track your calories. Going into the cheat meal and knowing your deficit for the week will allow you to better plan your meal.
- Don’t worry about proteins, carbs, or fats. Eat what makes you happy.
- No leftovers allowed!
- If possible, eat as few calories that day as you can, and save most, if not all, for your cheat meal. This will allow you to eat more of what you love during your allotted time.
Someday, perhaps we will change the name of the cheat meal to something more suitable. We will have to redefine it and make it our own until then.