Cheat meals are one of the most debated, complicated, misunderstood, and delicious fitness topics out there.
A cheat meal is something to appreciate. It can also be something we anticipate with glee while we are going about the grind of our daily habits.
Before we really dive in, I want you to become aware of the fact that the “grind” is as painful or as easy as you perceive it to be. The choice is yours :).
Cheat Meal Rule #1: A cheat meal should be significantly abnormal when compared to the vast majority of your meals.
It doesn’t mean going from regular pizza to triple meat lovers delight with extra cheese! I know this is common sense, but out goal is to make it common practice. Until you have established a solid foundation cheat meals can actually be off the table (literally and figuratively). It really only takes about 7 days of consistently healthy eating to get that foundation.
No matter what your plan says, if you don’t believe you have put enough of the good stuff down lately, you can always hold off on the cheat meal! This is the time you should listen to your body. Once you have done the healthy eating thing for a while, it gets easier and easier to recognize when you are in a good place digestively.
It’s never good to feel overstuffed or bloated and you should always keep the portions reasonable.
Cheat Meal Rule #2: Eat cheat meals to speed up your metabolism.
That’s right, cheat meals can actually help you lose weight!
They do so because of the hormone leptin. It’s also called the starvation hormone, a.k.a. the feel full hormone. It is produced ironically by your fat cells, and sufficient leptin in your bloodstream actually helps you lose weight. When you eat a high carb, high fat junk meal your leptin levels absolutely surge. This is a good thing every once in a while but don’t get too carried away because if you eat too much junk you can easily develop leptin resistance, but that’s for another post altogether.
When you make healthy changes by cutting your carbohydrate intake and other junk, your glycogen stores and fat stores (yay!) decrease which then makes you feel super hungry (think about the end of a long day when you haven’t eaten in 5-6 hours). In this state leptin is diminished which can cause the metabolism and your fat burning potential to slow down.
Fun fact: If you are stressed, sleep deprived, or (for some) anxious, leptin again signals the brain for more fuel (appetite increase).
Cheat meals serve the purpose of picking your leptin levels back up so your body doesn’t become accustomed to the slow metabolism. This allows your system to be comfortable with the fat burning idea once again because it’s not fearing the doom and gloom of you wasting away.
This beautiful touchy-feely game of push-pull never really ends :).
Cheat Meal Rule #3: Continue your regular eating schedule immediately after your cheat meal!
“Rebounding from a binge requires a little counterintuitive action,” says behavior change specialist Patrick Williams. “It’s not a good idea to just avoid eating or cut calories. The goal is to speed up both digestion and metabolism.” Doing a high intensity interval training workout, drinking a little apple cider vinegar mixed with water, and maintaining a regular healthy eating regimen will get you right back on track, he says. At the very least, take a walk”
The common instinct is to just stop eating for a while after a generous cheat meal. Clients tell me all the time that they go several hours without eating. The thought is that they have already consumed enough calories for the day I guess. What you have to remember is that the cheat meal actually speeds up the metabolism, remember?
Eating 4-5 meals a day also accomplishes this, so whatever you do don’t punish yourself after the cheat meal! An additional strategy to the couple listed above is to add an extra 10-15g of soluble fiber to speed things up.
Fun fact: Your fat loss and fitness success depends on getting enough of the good stuff, not “avoiding the bad”.
Cheat Meal Rule #4: Use cheat meals, not cheat days.
This point is as massive as Trump’s ego. Cheat days ruin fat loss success, cheat meals promote fat loss.
A full-blown cheat day with little to no restraint exercised can seriously hinder your progress.
Fat loss is predicated upon the hormonal environment of your body. When you go all out for 2 or 3 meals in one day it can quickly become your new normal. This spikes your insulin, screws with your leptin, and upsets your healthy ghrelin response (I’m full, I should stop eating).
These effects can be felt for 3-4 days AFTER your junk bonanza. When you become in tune with your fat burning signals and that good feeling you get when you’re “in the zone” you can literally feel this happen.
Let me give you an example: I, Patrick like sour candy. I mean I like it way too much. I also know that I am capable of flipping the screw it switch and devouring a giant bag of sour octopuses, worms, peaches, dolphins, and every other animal Noah took on the ark. Most of the time though, it’s just good ole sour patch.
Now scientifically speaking I somewhat understand the hormonal firestorm the delicious candies sparked on my insides but the feeling of not being able to burn hardly any fat for the next 1-2 days is hard to describe. I mean I could hit the weights and run 10 miles without cancelling the insulin effect out!
This is not meant to be a scare tactic, just a fact.
Cheat Meal Rule #5: Shoot for 1-3 cheat meals a week
You’re intelligent, and if you’ve read this far you really care :). With that being said, I’m sure the first thought that popped into your mind was “How many should I have?!”
I’m so glad you asked! Let me break it down like this….
This is the definitive,
Cheat Meal Frequency Recommendation Based On Your Level of Seriousness From 1-10
9-10: 1 Cheat meal/week
This is for you if you are fed up with where you are in terms of your health and body. You’re ready and willing (not in words alone, but in actions) to make sacrifices and do whatever it takes to be successful.
7-8.5: 2-3 Cheat meals/week
If the predominant thought or response to my voice is “Hey fit nut I still want to live my life!” then this is for you. You can still make dramatic changes to your body composition while indulging in 2-3 cheat meals a week.
No one below a 7 would actually read this far….
Woo! That concludes our cheat meal discourse. Please let me know what you think and if you have feedback or questions comment on this post!
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