Why You Can Have A “Cheat Meal”

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Yes, really. Pre-planned indulgences can lead to weight loss success.

Science shows the cheat meal method may be able to allow you to indulge without derailing your diet and in fact, may even boost your metabolism! Our June Motivator Of The Month, fitness model Olivia Rop, had amazing results when training for her competition by allowing for one cheat meal a week.

The main gist of a cheat is to eat clean for the better part of your week, stay active and release yourself from menu restrictions every so often. People of all shapes, sizes, and fitness levels can successfully implement cheat strategies, but self-evaluation is imperative. Consider your weight loss goals, your daily eating habits, and your previous dieting successes or failures. These factors impact how often – and, more importantly, IF – you can cheat without falling off track completely.

The cheat meal has two main purposes: one psychological, the other physical.

The psychological purpose is the obvious one: it keeps you from wanting to die of diet boredom and deprivation. The cheat gives you something to look forward to. Thursday night’s promise of creamy crab rangoons and a heaping plate of pad thai glistening in the distance somehow makes it easier for you confidently stride past the Chinese place next door for lunch at work on Tuesday.

If you know you have an upcoming graduation party or a wedding to attend (we see you, Pittsburgh cookie table!), then it’s easier to stay committed all week so you can avoid having to ask your plus one if he wants to split an already teeny slice of cake with you. Eat a whole piece of cake. Eat it with reckless abandon. Not because you’ve earned it, but because it tastes delicious and you want it. The mentality that comes along with “I can never eat another slice of cake for the rest of my life!” is one of the most detrimental outlooks when trying to lose weight.

Don’t be the dieter who beats him/herself up for giving in to one slice of pizza—and then eats the whole thing because today is already a “failure.” Planning to cheat gets rid of the “all or nothing” mindset. Seeing that indulgence as an intention, not a mistake or a slip-up, allows you to skip on the self-sabotage and get right back to your healthy habits. (Tweet this)

A cheat meal is not weak. Actually, you can think of it as a recovery day for your willpower, giving it the chance to rest and restore just like your muscles need to after strength training.

Now for the interesting part… The cheat meal actually serves a physical purpose, too. It’s been proven that you can build lean muscle and cut fat more easily with the cheat meal than you can with the cleanest, blandest diet imaginable.

The science behind “shocking the system”

When you start keeping count of your caloric intake, you’ll need to stick to (sufficient) daily restrictions on carbs and fats. If you’re not used to eating nutrient-dense foods, this is an excellent way to shift your body into weight loss mode, but it’s highly likely that after a month or so, your metabolism will adjust and you’ll land smack-dab on top of that dreaded plateau. That’s where the cheat meal comes in.

It keeps your body guessing for what’s next. It doesn’t get comfortable with how to burn calories – it has to continuously work hard to figure out new ways to function so that you don’t plateau. Much like with working out and how you should change your routine every four weeks to keep your body shocked, you need to do the same with your diet every so often. Many see success with one “cheat meal” each week. At the beginning of the week, plan for a meal you love and crave. Eat reasonably — until you’re not hungry anymore, not until you’re stuffed. The single cheat meal strategy should be easy for anyone with self control and focus.

Now, let’s get into the biology behind it. Jim White, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. After a few days of consuming fewer calories than you burn, a splurge can rev up your metabolism while stocking up glycogen for tomorrow’s workout. If you eat clean 6 days of the week and suddenly saturate your system with carbs and fats, your body will react by kicking your metabolism up into high gear again. The best part is, the jump in metabolism takes a few days to revert back to its comfort zone. So for the next few days when you’re back to eating clean, you’re still in a higher burning zone than normal. A great time for high-energy workouts!

Cheat Meal Effect-01

This is a very real depiction of the cheat meal’s effect on your body. If you let all food restrictions fall to the wayside for one meal a week, you will have more energy and burn more fat than if you stick to a strict “perfect” diet every day.

Finally, the “cheat meal” helps you to have a more positive relationship with food. Think of anything you’ve ever forbidden yourself from having. You want it even more, right? With food, this behavior can lead not only to weight gain, but even to an eating disorder. By allowing yourself exposure and indulgence in such foods, you teach yourself how to react and handle being around tempting delicacies.

The only thing better than a no-guilt cheat meal is just calling it a meal. Just like the rest. You’re enjoying an indulgent meal as part of a healthy lifestyle. It’s not cheating; It’s eating.

Have cheat meals worked for you? Give us some advice in the comments! 


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