Think one doughnut will destroy all of your progress? Always feel guilty 5 minutes after you finish the plate of nachos? Think your favorite foods are permanently on the “Do Not Eat” list? Then it’s time to rethink “cheat” foods – what they are, when you eat them, and how you can enjoy them and still see awesome results!
Pizza, ice cream, wings, cheeseburgers, burritos, candy bars, cookies, fries: Most of our favorite cheat foods typically rank high in sugar, fat (and saturated fat), and carbs. However, there isn’t anything that we would recommend banning forever from your diet! It’s possible to “cheat” and still win with your fitness progress. “Cheating” on your diet may even help you get there with more success! Here’s why:
1. You’re less likely to binge.
Now’s a good time to make it clear that “cheating” on a diet doesn’t mean having a full-on binge fest at the all-you-can-eat buffet. A cheat meal should be a conscious decision to enjoy the foods you’re craving. Bingeing is uncontrolled, rapid, and excessive eating. A cheat meal should not leave you feeling like you’re too full to stand or leave you feeling guilty and ashamed of what/how much you just ate.
So how do cheat meals make binges less likely? For the same reason that diets fail so often! Banning certain foods outright can lead to major rebounds later on. Allowing yourself to have the foods and special treats you crave from time to time, can reduce the chances of a major, progress-stalling binge that is prompted by stress, exhaustion, or even just boredom with your current diet. In short, a small treat now can help you avoid a 2,000 calorie binge later.
2. You’re more likely to stick to your diet plan (and for longer!).
Picture a plate of leftover brownies on your kitchen countertop. Now imagine that your strict diet forbids you from ever eating anything as sweet and delicious as a brownie ever again. Every time you walk past that plate of brownies they call out to you. How long are you going to stick to that diet?
Even if there is no plate of brownies on the counter, there are always temptations. Whether its passing a bakery on the way to work, going to a steakhouse for dinner with clients, or just going out for drinks with friends, it’s impossible to isolate yourself from unhealthy (but delicious) foods. No one can avoid all temptations, so cut yourself some slack and indulge a little. You’re in great shape if you stick to a clean diet 90% of the time. Occasional cheat meals allow you to have your favorites when you need to without quitting the whole plan for good.
3. You’ll get extra energy for the gym.
Feeling sluggish? Your commitment to restricting calories may be to blame. If you have been dieting for a few weeks, then your fatigue may be the result of low levels of glycogen stored in your muscles. Your muscles need stored glycogen for energy to propel them through exercise. Low levels can lead to feeling tired and weak during your workouts. A cheat meal provides extra calories and carbs to your body. This can replenish some of your glycogen stores and help give you the extra energy you need to train harder and longer!
4. You’ll rev up your metabolism.
When you’re following a strict diet, your body can sense starvation and slow down your metabolism. Even though you know you’re trying to lose some body fat, your body may be working against you by trying to function at a lower level to expend fewer calories. Providing extra calories with a cheat meal can confuse your body and help kick your metabolism back into gear. This helps your body get less accustomed to running on low calories and make getting leaner easier.
Tips for successful cheating:
- Schedule your cheat meal.
Keeping track of it can keep you motivated to be on track the other 90% of the time and prevent you from enjoying too many extra cheat meals during the week. Try making it a specific time like Sunday dinner or Friday night out.
- Still feeling guilty?
Fight it with 20 minutes of extra cardio the next day.
- Portion control.
Take a small piece, put the rest back. Chew slowly. Focus on what you’re eating and enjoying. Then step away! It’s about enjoying your favorites and satisfying a craving, not about filling yourself up until you feel sick and never want to see a French fry again.
- Went overboard?
If a cheat meal turned into a binge, try to identify the reasons why (e.g. too hungry, no healthy alternatives available, stress). Learn your triggers so that you can be more prepared next time.
- Don’t starve yourself after a cheat meal.
Just get back to your regular program. Skipping meals can slow down the metabolism – the opposite reaction of what you want.
- Not craving anything?
Then skip your cheat meal and save it for later. You never know when a plate of brownies will pop up.