Are you craving a cheat meal?
You know, some dish you make at home or entrée from your favorite restaurant. One that doesn’t exactly fit your meal plan or your daily calorie and macro goals, but tastes really good.
You don’t have to have a cheat meal.
And for some people, you’re probably better off if you can go without one, especially if you have a history of turning a cheat meal into a cheat weekend, a whole week of eating off the rails, or letting one cheat meal send you spiraling back to your old ways.
But if you can handle one cheat meal, and then go back to following your meal plan, dig in and enjoy. There’s quite a few benefits to a one-meal diet detour.
Your Cheat Meal of Choice
There’s plenty of cheat meal food I can make at home or grill on the barbie in Australia. But I’m a fan of a good burger when I’m ready for a cheat meal.
Ever heard of the restaurant chain In-N-Out Burger? If you live in the states you probably have.
It’s got a massive following in Australia, without a single fixed location. But it’s been doing one-day pop-up restaurants here for about a year, and selling out in 30 minutes to massive crowds.
And that’s probably a good thing, at least for me, that there isn’t one on every corner. Makes me a little hungry just thinking about it.
What’s your cheat meal of choice?
If you go for the burger and fries, it’s far from anything on the typical meal plan to shred fat, build muscle, and transform your body.
If you get the full-meal deal, you could easily top 1,200 calories. And if you show up extra hungry, you might just eat all your calories for the day in a single sitting. Not to mention how many grams of carbs and fat are in one of these meals.
Pizza, a massive pasta meal, a restaurant buffet. More cheat meals loaded with calories, carbs and fat, and often short on protein that you should probably only eat once in a while.
Have I got you thinking about your favorite cheat meal?
Good. Keep that in the back of your mind while you’re eating clean and training hard. Then if you feel like it, reward your effort with a cheat meal no more than once a week. Here’s what you’ll get:
Benefit #1: Improved Self-Control
As soon as you declare your favorite dessert, cheat meal, or dessert completely and totally off limits, you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s why most restrictive diets don’t work.
It’s hard to sustain. You make it work for a week or two and tip the scale in the right direction. And then those cravings pop up. They get worse. And before you know it, you’re scraping the bottom of the ice cream carton.
Don’t do that. OK.
Making a cheat meal part of your diet makes it easier to handle eating clean most of the time.
In one recent study, researchers compared food choices and self-control between two groups of people.
One group was given a 1,500-calories-a-day meal plan. A second group ate 1,300 calories a day, six days a week, followed by a 2,700-calorie day at the end of the week.
Researchers found that the cheat meal group exercised greater self-control,did a better job regulating their diet during the week, and went about their business in a better mood.
Benefit #2: A Boost in Leptin Levels
It’s no secret that when you’re in the late stages of a cutting phase, or just eating fewer calories than you’re used to, you’re probably going to feel hungry.
Why? For most people, a calorie deficit typically requires limiting carbohydrates. And that can cause leptin (a hormone that suppresses appetite) levels to drop and ghrelin (a hormone that stimulates hunger) levels to rise.
But you can change that in a hurry with a cheat meal.
Take a break from dieting for a cheat meal with more calories and carbohydrates than you typically eat.
And voila! Leptin levels go up. Ghrelin levels drop. And resuming your clean eating plan doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.
Benefit #3: Motivation to Stick to the Plan
Give yourself a reason to stick to the plan. That’s what the psychology of incentives is all about.
It’s been used effectively in a long list of weight loss programs, challenges, and corporate wellness programs.
I even run contests periodically with cash and prizes on the line, because I know it’s one way to motivate people to eat right, train hard, and be consistent.
You can do this yourself, too, with a cheat meal.
Set a goal with a deadline (a week, two weeks, a month) to hit your daily calorie and macro goals, and train hard when you’re in the gym or doing cardio workouts.
If you hit your goal, reward yourself with your cheat meal of choice. It’s an incentive to help you stay on track.
Benefit #4: A Full Tank of Muscle Glycogen
When you’re dieting and training, your muscles need glycogen to run a sprint, curl a barbell, or set a PR on the squat rack.
But when you restrict calories and train hard, muscle glycogen doesn’t rapidly regenerate. Reach the point of depleted muscle glycogen stores, and you’ll feel tired and sluggish. And your last PR on the bench press might feel like an impossible weight to lift.[4}
How do you replenish muscle glycogen?
Have a carbohydrate-rich cheat meal. Your muscles need those extra carbs for glycogen. It’s also a great way to elevate insulin levels to support glycogen stores, promote muscle growth and repair, and regulate hormones linked to metabolism.
Ready to chow down on your next cheat meal?
If you’ve been eating clean and training hard, go ahead. Enjoy a cheat meal. Just keep in mind, it’s not meant to be your audition for a Major League Eating championship. Be reasonable. After all, you don’t want that cheat meal to turn into a cheat weekend, a cheat week, or completely derail all your hard work.
What’s your cheat meal of choice? Let’s discuss on Facebook.
1. Coelho do Vale, R., et al. (2016). The benefits of behaving badly on occasion: Successful regulation by planned hedonic deviations. Journal of Consumer Psychology. From: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1057740815000443?via%3Dihub
2. Jakobsdotir, S., et al. (2006). The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Obesity Reviews. From: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00270.x
3. Purnell, J.Q., et al. (2014). A systematic review of financial incentives for dietary behavior change. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24836967
4. Ivy, J. (2004). Regulation of muscle glycogen repletion, muscle protein synthesis and repair following exercise. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905295/