Don’t you just love it when Sunday evening comes around and you get to indulge in your favorite fattiest, dirties food, and top it off with a dessert that easily exceeds your normal sugar allowance, we do too! A cheat meal is the one meal you allow yourself a week where you can eat whatever you want and satisfy all your cravings, on the basis you have been eating clean for the rest of the week. There is more than one way to implement diet cheats into your week so that you’re not restricted to one meal a week, we will discuss these in the article along with the benefits they can have.
Would you be shocked if we told you that having a cheat meal can help you lose weight and get to the physique you desire? Well, it can. Cheat meals are essential for a healthy diet and have multiple benefits, to the mind and to the body.
Leptin is a hormone made by adipose cells that helps to regulate energy balance by inhibiting hunger. During intense dieting and after being in a caloric deficit for a long period of time, leptin levels can begin to fall and hunger signals getting sent to the brain go through the roof. Temporarily upping calories can increase leptin levels by up to 30% for up to 24 hours. It’s the sudden increase in leptin levels that will boost the metabolism to burn those extra calories. Increased leptin levels will also help the body maintain energy levels, regulate appetite and can even affect the regulation of mood and emotion.
Leptin and ghrelin are the 2 most important hormones you need to control to be successful in losing weight. While leptin is responsible for long term regulation of energy balance and suppressing food intake; ghrelin is the faster acting hormone which plays the role of meal initiation. Low-calorie diets have been shown to increase ghrelin concentrations which may lead to increasing the amount of food you eat as the body is telling you that you need to eat.
The reduction of leptin levels during a calorie deficit prompts the metabolism to slow down to conserve energy. Having a high-calorie cheat meal tricks the body into thinking there will be a lot of food for energy available so the metabolism no longer needs to remain slow; as a result metabolism increases after a cheat meal for a number of days. Scheduling a weekly cheat meal can help reset hormones to a normal level and prevent any negative effects on metabolism, hunger drive and energy expenditure.
After a hard week of dieting and being in a calorie deficit, it is inevitable that glycogen stores are going to be low. Consuming a high-calorie cheat meal can help to increase glycogen stores for the following week's workouts. Increased glycogen will help perform in the gym and prevent you from feeling tired and sluggish.
Eating chicken rice and broccoli, or potentially even chicken sweet potato and asparagus is inevitably going to get boring after a while. Planning a cheat meal will give you the motivation to eat clean for 6 days of the week so that you can enjoy your favorite foods on the 7th day, as you’d feel a lot better eating clean every meal if you knew a fat ole burger was waiting for you at the end of the week!
Planning for the cheat meal will also stop you from feeling guilty when you eat dirty. A diet that compromises a cheat meal is thought to be more sustainable and enjoyable, if you deprive someone of eating the foods they enjoy then they are less likely to stick to the diet in the long run
In addition, a cheat meal may reduce cravings throughout the week. If you go all out on your cheat meal leaving yourself feeling so full that you need to lie down, you may not even want to experience that same feeling for another week, I know I don’t!
Although research has shown cheat meals to have positive effects on both the mind and the body it’s important to have self-control. For some individuals, incorporating a cheat meal into their diet can lead them down a slippery slope, turning their cheat meal into a cheat day and even a cheat week. For that reason, incorporating a diet break that works for you is extremely important.
Nutrition experts agree that a 90/10 rule is a sustainable rule enabling you to stick to your diet. As the name suggests, 90% of the time you will be sticking to whole, nutrient dense foods while the other 10% of the time you can allow your diet to be a bit more flexible, allowing you to eat the foods you enjoy. So let’s say you eat 5 meals a day (yeah you're trying to get build muscle) 5 x 7 (days) = 35 meals a week, 35 x 10% = 3.5 meals. This means you can have either 3 or 4 meals a week that are not on your normal diet menu.
A cheat day method for those with more self-control is the single cheat meal method. Again, as the name suggests, you only have one cheat meal a week and this will be enough to refrain you from cheating for the next 7 days. Planning a single cheat meal around a social event usually works well as it’s sometimes hard to find a healthy option whilst out and about, so you can have your cheat meal without having the feeling of guilt.
The cheat day method allows you to eat whatever you want throughout the whole day. Each meal will not be as high in calories as the single cheat meal as you may be having up to 4/5 meals that you wouldn’t usually have in your normal diet during the course of the day. This method should not usually be adopted by the average gym-goer as it is more suited to high-level athletes and off-season bodybuilders. A good way of incorporating a cheat day into your regime would be to have it on your harder training days, such as your leg or back day where you have done heavy squats or deadlifts. As these compound movements burn the most calories, the difference between the calories consumed against the calories burned can be reduced, thus reducing the chance of any unwanted weight gain.
The re-feed is the more strategic approach of the 4. It can be defined as a ‘short-term, planned period of overfeeding, usually focused on particular macronutrients- that surpasses current calorie intake, often incorporated during a fat-loss phase’. Essentially a refeed is eating more calories than you need than your body needs, a large proportion of which will be coming from carbohydrate sources. The influx of carbohydrates will boost leptin levels and increase glycogen to promote hard training in the days following the re-feed. In comparison to a cheat meal, a refeed will focus on healthy nutrient-dense foods, rather than the normal unhealthy options you would find in a cheat meal. During a re-feed you should reduce the amount of calories coming from fat sources to compensate for the extra calories coming from carb sources, to limit the opportunity for fat storage.
This method is favoured by individuals struggling to lose weight. You don’t want to work your ass of all week whilst being in a calorie deficit only to ruin it all by overindulging on your cheat meal. For example, an individual may be in a 300 calorie deficit for 6 days, totaling a deficit of 1800 calories, but when it comes to their cheat day they over consume by 2000 calories; making them in a weekly calorie surplus of 200 calories – and they wonder why they aren’t losing weight. A structured re-feed should be calculated to ensure you don’t exceed your weekly calorie deficit goals to allow for continued weight loss.
As you can see, a well-executed, planned cheat meal can have many benefits when it comes to losing body fat and can help overcome progress plateaus. Just make sure you are sensible and don’t allow the cheat meal to turn into a cheat week.