Last week one of my client’s asked me: “Do you ever eat cheat meals?”
I said “Nope”.
“So you NEVER eat ice cream, chocolate, etc.??”
“Actually, yes I do – pretty regularly actually!”
This stumped him for a moment while I tried to help him understand what I meant…
WHAT EXACTLY IS A “CHEAT MEAL”?
Cheat Days. Cheat Meals. Cheat Weeks. It’s all the same.
Normally, it’s periods of excessive junk food consumption sandwiched by restrictive eating and compensatory exercise.
Here is a typical cycle for someone who gets involved in the “Cheat Meal” fad.
Luis would love to be stronger, leaner, and better at managing what he eats. It’s just that a complete overhaul is too much to bear. He could never just eat healthy all the time.
A light goes off in his head.
What if he eats super clean all week, and let’s himself go hog wild on a Saturday. A-ha! Now that is a balanced approach, right?”
It starts off great – Luis eats boiled chicken breast and broccoli for his meals and is feeling pretty good despite some nearly constant low-level hunger. Saturday rolls around and he hits up his favourite fried chicken place for the wombo-combo sandwich.
He’s feeling a little sick after, but it was worth it he thinks – back to the boiled chicken now.
On the way home, the thought of that reheated, pale, rubbery, chicken starts to seep into his mind. His heart races, and he heads to the store for a quick “personal” sized ice cream.
“It’s still Saturday, Luis, you’re all good,” he tells himself.
Cravings hit Luis like a ton of bricks.
All he can think about is when his cheat day is coming. He starts to make plans about all the “bad” things he is going to get away with. After all, think of all these sacrifices he’s been making.
His 3 weekly workouts start to tank, because he’s eating like a barbie doll 6 days a week.
This Saturday’s blowout is even bigger, because he knows it’s only once a week, and he better make it count.
Disordered eating patterns have been taking shape in just a short couple weeks. How long do we think this will last?
Long-term, Luis is unsuccessful in his fat loss efforts, and goes back to his old ways.
THIS IS A MARATHON – NOT A SPRINT
Sorry to break it to you, but If you want to succeed at this game, you’ve got to find a strategy that keeps you satisfied and sane for a longer period.
Unless you’re struggling to gain weight, there really doesn’t seem to be any scientific evidence that having a regular “cheat meal” is going to help you…
In fact, more often than not, these meals simply cause you to enter a cycle that can end in limited progress, or even disordered eating patterns
It goes something like this:
“Cheat Meal” (also known as binge eating)
A Restriction Period – (either eating very limited amounts or types of food / exercising to compensate)
and so on…
Planning on having a regular blowout is likely not going to help you move towards a healthier, leaner version of yourself. It certainly won’t help your relationship with food.
Are you looking to improve your eating habits long-term, and move towards a sustainable approach that can keep you in control for the rest of your life?
If your answer is yes, then I’m not sure why you would want to throw fuel on the fire and put yourself in such a vulnerable position.
If you wanted to have the most durable and effective tires of all time, would you really drive over glass every week just to be sure that they are the best?
THE GOLDEN QUESTION
How do I manage to eat pizza, chocolate, and ice cream without having cheat meals?
The answer is really three-fold.
I’m not cheating on anything.
They’re part of the plan.
I know I’ll get invited to a family dinner where they’ll serve rhubarb crumble.
I’m sure someone will ask me to grab a beer with them on a Thursday afternoon.
I’ll get a hankering for that “Swedish Visiting Cake” my friend Carly makes.
I don’t need to go out of my way to find these things.
When they come, I enjoy them, savouring the moment and every bite. You could say I’m a bit of a snob like that. Selfishly indulging in the best things, with the best people, at the best of times.
The next day? I’m not much for beating myself up or punishing my behaviour with extra strict rules or exercise. It’s a long-term plan I’m running here, folks.
I’m generally physically active
Beyond improving your health, body composition, and mood, (also just about everything else under the sun) regular physical activity is really good at helping mitigate the effects of occasional indulgences.
I’m not trying to tell you that “if the fire is hot enough, anything will burn”.
You’re just much less likely to notice the effects of a couple Almond Cookies at Grandma’s if you’re walking 9000 steps every single day.
I eat mostly whole, minimally-processed foods
When I’m not eating pizza, chocolate, or ice cream, I’m eating other foods that I enjoy.
Steak. Beets. Potatoes. Artichokes. Olives. Whole Wheat Pitas. Blackberries. Beans.
You know, the stuff that is meant to nourish your body and give you fuel for all the things that you love to do.
It’s totally possible to eat the foods you love while on a diet – and it doesn’t even have to include binging once a week.
Play your days smart and you won’t be ruining any progress while still enjoying the foods you love.