Here’s the scenario: You’ve been dieting for about two weeks. You’ve heard about cheat meals and you kind of understand why people do it, but you’ve been doing so well with your workouts and eating right that you “just don’t want to mess up.” Right? Then, that time comes when your out with your the girls, or with the fellas, and you decide “What the heck?” you’ve been doing good anyways, and decide to have your cheat meal right then and there: at the bar, at the movies or at that restaurant. Welp, you’ve just set yourself a couple of workouts back.
I don’t know about many of the readers that this blog attracts, but if your anything like me — and something tells me we might have some things in common — you’ve been in some type of situation where you just say F it, or I’m going to reward myself, and quite frankly that’s not how cheat meals work. After doing some research on the science of cheat meals, the purpose and how to correctly execute an actual cheat meal (not a cheat day, or a binge meal); I realized that I’ve been literally cheating myself with my so called “cheat meals.” For starters, cheat meals aren’t for everyone!
WHO ARE CHEAT MEALS FOR?
I would say extreme dieters, but that would be too extreme. According Scooby Werkstatt, bodybuilder and creator of Scoobysworkshop, cheat meals are for a specific group of people: those who want to maximize strength and muscle mass (body builders), those wanting to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, and those who want to lose fat fast without losing muscle. This group is normally on a strict nutrition regimen where they take each and every calorie very seriously. He states, “A cheat meal is a safety pressure relief valve to keep you from binging.” And when your on a strict diet, its absolutely paramount.
John Berardi, writer for BodyBuilding.com and someone who specializes in human performance and nutrition consulting, addresses the issue and stays within the same aspect. In his article “Damage Control To Cheat Or Not To Cheat” he says, “Cheat meals should only be planned during periods of the year when you’re trying to gain mass. During this time, cheat meals eaten once per week or once every two weeks are fine, depending on your goals or your body-fat percentage. The leaner you are, the more often you can cheat.”
Of course, the leaner you are the more often you can cheat because you burn more fat with more muscle. Which brings me to my next section:
WHO CAN’T CHEAT ON THEIR MEALS?
Experts say its people who are just starting out on their fitness regimen, basically, trying to lose weight. Why? Because they are in the beginning and most of the foods being eaten by the individuals are being eaten in moderation (or at least they should be because less intake of calories throughout the day creates weight loss). It’s not like they’re hardcore dieting. It’s also a mental thing when you think about it. However, if they are hardcore dieting, while trying to lose weight (in the beginning) after a cheat meal, people are still more susceptible to reverting back to their old eating habits. Beradi from Bodybuilding.com states, “First, psychologically, it’s very difficult to stay disciplined after a cheat meal. After weeks of dieting, the taste buds, which have all but given up hope, are stirred back to life.” Oh, how I know that to be true.
If you are striving for that ideal body and you are cutting out foods and eating right, there is a correct way to have a cheat meal; especially if you know you shouldn’t but you feel like you absolutely must because your, basically, transitioning into a healthier lifestyle.
SO HOW DO YOU HAVE A CHEAT MEAL?
It simple, you plan. You plan a day that your going to cheat out of the week, you plan your meal and on that day you eat. You do not binge, you do not overeat, you just — like I like to say — “polite-fully” cheat. It’s a reward, and even if you don’t feel like you need it, you do. I can’t count how many times I skipped my cheat meals while attempting to build muscle mass, and then out of no where I just cheat and I’m completely thrown off of my mojo and set back on my gains. It sucks, that’s why you must plan and you must cheat. But remember, its a meal, meaning one serving, not a whole day of eating whatever you want or a “let’s go the buffet for my cheat meal” kind of thing.
In Adam Wynn’s article, “The Art and Science of “Cheat Meals“” for LiveStrong, he gives some creative options for cheat meal plans. The most interesting one to me, and most practical for anyone who is trying to lose weight and must transition by having a cheat meal, was the 90/10 plan. With 90/10 plan, people with sedentary lifestyles (like working behind a desk) eat clean 90% or the time never skipping a meal and cheat 10%, seems simple enough, especially if you don’t burn enough calories during the day.
Cheat meals can be a wonderful thing, for the right person. One word that really plays a huge role in cheat meals for whomever decides to incorporate it is discipline. If your just starting out on your fitness journey and you have much to lose discipline is key, and so is willpower. You must recognize that if your making small changes here and there, but gradually changing your eating habits, then there is no need for a cheat meal. If you are, however, starting off cold turkey by eating right 5 -6 meals a day, perfectly portioned and appropriately balanced with the nutrients, then I don’t see why you couldn’t have a cheat meal just remember to be discipline. It’s easy to eat a cheese burger, but its a little harder to stop.