If you are a foodie at heart, you probably look forward to your cheat meal every week (or two weeks). Cheat meals are a great way to give your body and hormones a break from the strain of weight loss, but it’s also something that can cause confusion and frustration to athletes looking to lose weight.
Cheat meals and cheat days are scheduled meals or days that allow you to indulge in foods that aren’t usually part of your diet; they allow you to consume your favourite unhealthy foods without guilt This serves as a method to keep dieters going without burning themselves up mentally. Other than the psychological benefits that come from cheat meals/days, there are also great benefits to your hormones, helping you bust plateaus by increasing your metabolism and rebalancing your hormones.
The frustration and confusion comes when people blindly incorporate a cheat day or a cheat meal in their diets, without planning or monitoring it. As mentioned in our Calories and Macronutrients Explained blog, a calorie deficit creates weight loss, which includes the weekly caloric deficit. Here’s an example; if you are in a 500 calorie deficit for 6 days, it adds up to a 3,000 caloric deficit at the end of the week. You’re progressing slowly, you’re getting the hang of it. On the 7th day, you decide to have a 3,000 calorie cheat day. You take your weight the next day and you’re right back where you first started a week ago! Yes, it’s water weight, but it also takes a toll on your motivation as you start the week off at the same weight you did last week. It’s as if all the hard work you put in amounts to nothing. That’s not what we want.
How can I enjoy a cheat meal or cheat day without worrying about it affecting my weight loss journey?
We recommend all our athletes to wait at least 10 to 14 days before having their first cheat meal. This not only allows us to learn how the body reacts to the new calorie intake and macros, but also helps us actually progress, taking two steps forward, before the water weight that can occur from eating a cheat meal.
It’s also best to plan your cheat meals by setting a calorie allowance. An example would be allowing yourself a 600 calorie meal for your cheat meal, thus ensuring that you’re not overdoing it. You can set your calorie allowance based on your caloric deficit and your maintenance calories; if you’re at a 600 daily caloric deficit, your cheat meal would bring your day to a maintenance level, allowing your hormones to balance and your cravings to subdue.
Another approach, is indulging without overdoing it and without calculating. The whole point of having cheat meals or days is to treat yourself without overthinking the whole calorie aspect of dieting, so that your mind can get a break. Of course, be conscious of what you’re eating as well, so you don’t overdo it.
If you want to have a big bowl of pasta as a cheat meal, chances are that the protein amount will be low while the carbs & fats will be high. To minimize the weight damage, have a decent amount of protein for breakfast and for lunch, prior to eating your cheat meal, with little carbs and fats. Then for supper, you can enjoy a big bowl of pasta without setting yourself back ten steps!
Cheat day vs. cheat meal
The difference is simple. A cheat meal is a single meal, usually a full course, meaning entree, main course, and dessert. A cheat day means a full day of eating anything and everything you want. If you choose to have a cheat day, chances are you will consume way more calories than a cheat meal. Are you where you want to be, weight-wise, to allow yourself a cheat day?
Most people will do a cheat meal every week and cheat day once a month, so that your body has time to reap the benefits of being in a caloric deficit. This limits the excess calories consumed and allows your body to shed fat and lose weight.
Binging vs Cheat Days
Some people use cheat days as an excuse to binge; eating copious amounts of calories without control. This not only leads to a bad relationship with food, but it can also throw you off track, losing weeks of progress in a single day. To avoid this, the perfect solution would be to view your diet as a “I can eat whatever I want, as long as it fits my caloric needs” approach rather than a “I can’t eat anything except blend boring food” approach. That’s why a flexible diet is what we preach most; it allows you to fit chocolate or sweets into your diet without guilt or problem.
If you experience heavy binging tendencies, please seek help with a professional.
Most importantly, don’t feel guilty for having a cheat meal or cheat day. Guilt and shame can lead to resentment, which can lead to eating disorders, frustrations, self-hatred, and lack of self-love. Forgive yourself and start over right away, if you have to, and learn from your mistakes.
There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” foods. This mindset will be your best friend throughout your fitness journey, as it promotes a healthier approach to dieting and a better relationship with food. This in turn allows you to sustain your weight loss results, helping you reach new goals in the long-term.