Whenever someone is trying to lose weight, they often ask about cheat meals. Going on a “diet” is hard for some people, especially those who used to eat junk food on a daily basis (myself included). How you handle your cheat meals can really make a difference when it comes to long-term progress. However, are those extra calories worth it? Let’s find out.
Why Cheat meals are bad for you
The reason why people become overweight in the first place is due to junk food. The food is often tastier (and cheaper) than the usual “healthy” food which leads to people getting used to eating junk food on a regular basis. Therefore, when they do come to a healthier diet, they crave the unhealthy food they used to eat.
That’s why it’s known as a cheat meal because we deviate from our regular diet to satisfy our cravings. However, it may not be that bad if done correctly. The problem starts from the fact that people often have highly unhealthy and calorie-dense foods as their cheat meals. Therefore, if the portion size is too much, you might just end up going backward instead of forward with your progress.
That’s the main criticism and general concern with a cheat meal. Those cheat meals turn into cheat days, and eventually, the whole diet is thrown out of the window. That’s a real concern and a situation people often find themselves in. However, it’s all about moderation and the willingness to stick to a program. Cheat meals do have their benefits as well.
The benefits of cheat meals
There are several benefits associated with cheat meals. Some directly have an effect on your body that aids weight loss, some effects are indirect. For starters, as a person who’s gone through the whole ordeal of weight loss, I know that it’s very hard to switch from the junk-food lifestyle to a healthier one.
Therefore, when you do make the switch, the cravings always haunt you. A cheat meal per week is a good way to stay motivated. Even though you might be enjoying the current plan you have and the healthy food might be tasty, there’s no way to get rid of the cravings for good. It can become really demotivating and people often lose motivation because of this. That’s where cheat meals come in.
Once a week, reward yourself with your favorite snack. This way, you stay motivated and get ready for your next week. Take your weight loss journey week by week. The day after your cheat meal, workout a bit extra to burn those extra calories you consumed. It goes a long way in helping you stick to your routine which is everything when it comes to weight loss, consistency is key.
The more direct benefit of a cheat meal is that when you go on a caloric deficit diet, your body goes into survival mode. What this means is that it starts to adapt to the changes you’re making to your diet. As a result, the metabolism starts to slow down to burn fewer calories due to lesser calories being consumed. Your leptin hormone levels drop too. As someone wanting to lose weight, that is the last thing you would need.
What a cheat meal does is it spikes your leptin levels. You suddenly eat a lot more calories due to your cheat meal which tricks the body into thinking everything’s fine. As a result, the whole process of going into survival mode doesn’t come into effect. Increase in leptin also plays a big role. That’s because leptin is responsible for many tasks such as satiety, and letting the brain know if it needs to store food as fat or not.
If leptin levels are low, then more food is stored as fat and vice versa. Therefore, when the cheat meals increase leptin levels, the food isn’t stored as fat so in fact, the damage done is not that much. Of course, if you eat above your caloric requirement that’s a different story, so always be wary about portion sizes and calories.
A few tips regarding cheat meals
Now that we’ve seen the benefits of cheat meals, how do we actually use them to our benefit? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that any quantity of cheat meals is good for you. The frequency and quantity of cheat meals can make a huge difference.
Deciding the frequency of the meal
This depends on a lot of factors. It depends on your motivation level, your activity level and of course your metabolism. If your metabolism is high and you are highly active, then you can even go for one cheat day per week where you can do two big cheat meals. However, even then, try to stay within your daily caloric limit.
However, if you are highly motivated and can go without a cheat meal for more than a week, then just have a meal once every two weeks. If you want to have a cheat meal once a week, then you’ll need to increase the activity level too in order to compensate for the extra calories coming in. Therefore, you need to make decisions based on this criteria. One important thing to note here is that regardless of the frequency you choose, never go beyond your daily caloric requirement.
For example, my daily requirement was 2600 calories. Even when I would have my cheat meal, I would try to stay at a deficit or at least within my requirements. Otherwise our body just uses the excess food and stores it as fat. Therefore, keep your daily caloric needs in mind before having your favorite cheat meal.
Have a high protein meal before your cheat meal
You might know by now that protein is a highly valuable macronutrient for our body. It’s not only required by our muscles to grow, but it also helps in keeping you full because it’s hard to break down. Therefore, if you eat a high-protein meal before your eventual cheat meal, you will be less hungry when you do it. As a result, you will likely eat a smaller portion size and hence, consume fewer calories.
Don’t overdo it
Remember that the cheat meal is there just to keep you motivated and on track. You’re allowed only a limited number per week or every two weeks, do not abuse it. Otherwise, the cheat meal will turn into a cheat day, which will then become a cheat week and you will end up losing weeks of progress in just a few bad days.
Therefore, always remember your end goal when having a cheat meal and consider everything discussed above when your next craving hits. Otherwise, it’s a very slippery slope which can end up doing more damage than harm if done wrong.