Why I'm Not A Fan Of Cheat Meals
How many of you restrict yourself throughout the week just to make it to your cheat day on the weekend? Is that the light at the end of the tunnel for you? The word cheat has a negative connotation in itself and the effects of them can be negative, too.
Cheat meals exhibit the all-or-nothing behavior. If you have a little bit of pie, you have to eat the whole thing. If you want a little bit of ice cream, you have to eat the whole thing. It isn't a very good habit to eat well throughout the week only to eat everything in sight come the weekend. That's not a sustainable way of living!
Negative Physical Effects
- Severe bloating
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
- Weight gain depending on weekly caloric intake
Negative Psychological Effects
- Poor relationship with food
- Feeling of lack of control
One thing that some people are lacking throughout the week that causes them to want a cheat meal is balance. With a flexible dieting/nutrition approach, one should be able to have smaller portions of things that they enjoy while fitting it into their allotted macros without feeling the need to devour the whole thing.
If you are craving something, have some! It's better to treat that craving when you are actually craving it instead of telling yourself you will have it on your next cheat day. It's likely that you won't even be craving it that day and you are just eating it because you already planned to cheat.
Another reason I'm not fond of cheat meals/days is because it is rewarding healthy behavior of balanced nutrition with unhealthy behavior through lack of quantity control with eating whatever you want just because you feel like it.
While I don't like cheat meals, I do highly suggest structured refeeds. Structured refeeds are simply increasing the carbohydrate intake by x amount and lowering fat intake for that day. I implement these with most clients because
1. It's controlled
2. Clients can fit in more of their "treat" foods
3. Positive hormone response - increased leptin levels (satiety and energy balancing hormone )
4. Enhanced performance with increased energy (caloric/carbohydrate) intake
5. CARBS ARE YOUR FRIEND.. especially if you're an athlete. ;)
I also incorporate free meals into some clients' plans only if this client has been tracking macros for a while and is in a maintenance or massing phase. On a day with a free meal, the client will typically track their food intake all day up until that free meal and then that meal won't be tracked. It's sort of just a mental break from having to plug in macros and weigh/measure things.
To finish it off, I have had some questions from friends that I wanted to address here.
Is it okay to have days to eat unnatural foods? If so, should we plan them?
If by unnatural, you mean processed, I think it's okay to eat things that are processed in moderation as long as most of your diet consists of whole, nutrient dense foods. Even dairy is processed and greek yogurt is deemed "healthy".. so as long as your daily food intake doesn't ONLY come from packaged/processed things, you'll be fine.
How far does eating a "cheat meal/day" set me back?
It's hard to know how much a "cheat meal/day" will set you back only because it isn't structured. One day of eating bad will not ruin all of your progress. You won't get fat overnight from eating one bad meal or for "falling off your nutrition plan" for one day. However, I personally think it creates an unhealthy relationship with food and it could lead to multiple days of "free for alls" depending on the person because of feeling guilty.
Cheating on your significant other = unhealthy relationship
Cheating on.. food? = unhealthy relationship ... *mic drop*