Cheat meals are often considered to be both the boon and bane of countless fitness enthusiasts. It is a common and understandable craving that many of us get, especially after adhering to a strict diet for an extended period of time. Yet, many are often overcome with guilt, feeling that they don’t “deserve” the indulgence at all. Instead of avoiding cheat meals altogether, one can take a targeted approach to them to ensure that they work to your advantage instead of costing you your hard-won progress.
There is a universal rule that come with planning cheat meals: they must be earned.
As such, a person who is clinically obese has less cause to indulge in cheat meals than one who is lean but with just a bit of jiggle left. Those who have been on a calorie-controlled diet for months also have more reason to schedule in cheat meals due to the fact that their metabolism needs to be stoked every now and then to prevent things from getting too sluggish. If you’re only two weeks into your diet, there’s no real need to start thinking about cheat meals just yet.
A common approach for most people is to have their cheat meals over the weekend. This makes sense due to the fact that weekends are typically spent outside or in social gatherings, which makes the meal experience more enjoyable overall. With that being said, it is during these situations that things are most likely to get out of hand, so be sure that your cheat meal stays as a cheat “meal” and not an hour-long binge session.
Another way of planning cheat meals is around hard training sessions that involve multiple muscle groups, like a big squat or deadlift workout. Organising such meals post-workout allows you to rapidly replenish glycogen stores and speed up recovery. Even so, certain foods will be more effective at achieving this. If replenishment is the aim, go with higher-carbohydrate food like pasta or mashed potatoes instead of fried chicken (that doesn’t mean you can’t have any, just don’t stuff yourself with it).
Criticising yourself after overeating is unnecessary as one should not be penalized for indulging in the little joys in life. Do note that this is only applicable if your cheat meal remains strictly as a cheat meal, and does not morph into a cheat day, or an uncontrollable cheat week. If so, then you might as well be shooting yourself in the foot. As nutrition plays a larger role in determining your body composition than exercise, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to undo the damage with an intense workout the following day.
On the other end of the spectrum, some tend to deprive and starve themselves as a form of self-imposed punishment in the hopes of neutralising the negative effects of an out-of-control cheat session. However, this is just as unhealthy and can lead to serious consequences such as fainting and gastric pains.
Keeping your cheat meals to your own kitchen can also be a great way of making them healthier without losing out on the enjoyment! Getting food from outside tends to bring with it unwanted additives such as refined sugar and vegetable oil, so it makes sense to want to be in control of what goes into your long-awaited cheat meal. Doing so also allows you to indulge in a small (and we do mean small) treat on a daily basis without the guilt. Things like banana chips, kale crisps, a square of dark chocolate, and Greek yoghurt topped with blueberries are great for breaking up the daily monotony of a diet without derailing your progress.
Assuming you’ve earned it, don’t be afraid to have a treat every now and then. To make the best of it, remove all forms of distractions while eating. This means setting aside all forms of distractions, and focusing on your food. Chewing well and paying attention to the food can help you truly enjoy the moment. Having a pleasant conversation over your meal can also help extend the duration of it, giving your body time to actually register the feelings of satiety as they come.
Cheat meals deserved to be enjoyed - even when it’s a double fudge chocolate cake! Learn to listen to your body but don’t be the type that caves in every time a craving sets in. Simply remember to keep the cheat meals where they ought to be instead of where you want them to be! Remember the Pareto Principle: most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes. Don’t let your cheat meals trip you up!