How To Get the Most Out of Cheat Meals
How To Get the most out of Cheat Meals
When it comes to getting fit, diet is the hardest part of fitness. Don’t get me wrong, trudging away on the treadmill before sunrise or squatting your body weight after a hard day of work can be rough, but not giving in to the urge to clean out half the pantry can be even harder. Trust me, I have a HUGE appetite, but I’m able to resist thanks to two wonderful words: cheat meals.
Don’t get me wrong, most of the week my steak and white rice post workout is my biggest treat. But, every weekend I let my belt buckle loose and chow down! Yes, that’s right, I cheat. The truth is, cheat meals can be a great tool to help you achieve your dream physique. They can “reset” the hormones that are responsible for the regulation of your metabolism, replenish glycogen, and keep calorie-burning and fat-torching mechanisms high.
Before you take that as a sign to rummage through your cupboards or head for the drive-thru, realize that cheat meals aren’t a free-for-all. Check out: How to get the Most out of Cheat meals!
1. UNDERSTAND THE SCIENCE BEHIND DIETING
Regardless of how healthy we intend to be, cutting calories comes at a cost. In order to produce extreme leanness, many diets inevitably utilize weeks and weeks of calorie deficits and lowering carbohydrates. Know the changes that happen to your body due to calorie restriction to help you understand why a cheat meal can actually be beneficial. Here’s a quick hormonal tour!
Leptin, a protein mainly produced by fat tissue, regulates appetite and energy. It acts on the brain’s hypothalamus to suppress food intake and stimulate the use of energy. Leptin plays a key role in regulating body weight and fat mass through its stimulating effect on the brain. In fact, studies have shown that within 24 hours of fasting, leptin levels decrease to 30 percent of their normal value.
But it doesn’t end with leptin. Ghrelin, a hormone mainly produced by the stomach, is an appetite stimulant that signals the release of growth hormone. Low-calorie diets and chronic exercise have been shown to result in increased ghrelin concentrations, which may lead to increasing food intake and body weight.
In addition to affecting appetite and energy use through leptin and ghrelin, on-going caloric-deficit diets also cause the body to attempt to conserve energy by decreasing levels of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4, which help regulate and maintain metabolism. Sustained low-carbohydrate diets deplete the body of glycogen stores and can leave you feeling sluggish and weak, which can negatively affect your training performance.
2. USE SCIENCE TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Since significant changes in the levels of leptin and ghrelin are seen after only 72 hours of a calorie-restricted diet, weekly cheat meals that are higher in calories and carbohydrates can help raise leptin levels and lower ghrelin. This is important because the return of your hormone levels to normal can help reverse or even prevent any negative effects on metabolism, and hunger levels. Also, the increased calories will help to increase thyroid function, further boosting metabolism.
This increase in metabolism can last for days after a cheat meal, and offset the drop in hormones that occurs when the calorie-deficit diet starts again. A scheduled cheat meal can actually help optimize our body’s hormones to avoid weight-loss plateaus and prevent it from entering starvation mode. That’s right, a well-rounded cheat can help you break through weight-loss plateaus!
Leptin concentrations typically reflect total body fat mass. With this in mind, the leaner your physique becomes, the less leptin your body produces. Therefore, as you get leaner and leaner you may actually need to cheat more often!
3. HAVE “SMART” CHEAT MEALS
If your idea of a cheat meal is a whole gallon of Ben and Jerry’s, rethink your weekly reward. When it comes to choosing a cheat, be realistic. Even though you’re allowed to break from your day-to-day diet, don’t use a cheat meal as an excuse to binge eat. While you can indulge in a small, sugary treat from time to time, I recommend trying to avoid sugar heavy, nutrient-poor foods that can ruin a whole week’s worth of progress.
Instead, eat a cheat meal that is well-balanced and higher in both calories and carbohydrates than your normal meal. Examples of cheat meals I typically utilize are a cheeseburger and fires, a medium size pizza, a pasta dish with a protein source, Pad Tai, or my all time favorite; pancakes, eggs and bacon.
These meals are both high in carbs and protein, but they’re also meals that I enjoy and leave me feeling satisfied.
I never count the macros of my cheat meals.
4. SCHEDULE YOUR CHEAT MEALS
The best way to cheat is to plan ahead! Remember that, while cheat meals need to fit into your current eating regimen. Cheat meals allow you to satisfy cravings and give you a chance to loosen the reigns a bit, but they shouldn’t turn into cheat DAYS. They also shouldn’t be a reason to eat less than you normally would at other meals.
I am guilty of this myself. The days before or after a cheat meal, I used to lower my normal calories to “make up” for it.
Maybe it’swas guilt of their cheating day or lack of knowledge, whatever it was, I and many others have struggled with this mistake.
But, Why do this?
By Cheating , You just forced a higher demand on your body to process the extra calories so if anything the days following the high day, you want to move in the higher direction. Avoid this potential pitfall by knowing the logistics behind your cheat meal. Pick a meal that will allow you to indulge without going overboard. Personally, I prefer to replace dinner with my cheat meal. I’ve found that this limits my tendency to want to snack the rest of the day.
Which brings me to my next point,
5. THE BEST WAY TO CHEAT IS TO PLAN AHEAD!
In addition to which meal you choose to replace, which day you choose to have your cheat meal is also a key factor. I find often that the mental and emotional aspects surrounding a cheat meal make it more fun and enjoyable. Instead of scarfing down a greasy takeout taco while driving home from work, build your cheat meals into social situations.
Try switching up your cheat day until you find one that best fits your lifestyle. If you have difficulty jumping back on track after a mid-weekend treat, consider moving it to Sunday night. After all, there’s nothing like Monday morning and the start of the workweek to ground you in reality and get you back on track.
6. KNOW YOUR CHEAT MEAL TOLERANCE
While I recommend cheat meals for the positive effects they can have on your metabolism, energy, and even your psyche, cheat meals do more harm than good for some people. Unfortunately, how they’ll pan out for you can only be discovered through a process of trial and error. If you find that you have difficulty sticking to your meal plan after a cheat meal or experience increased cravings that are difficult to manage, it could be a good time for you to reevaluate whether cheating is beneficial for your goals.
Sometimes deviating from your standard chicken breast and low-carb veggies to steak simply having a large baked potato instead of pizza can satisfy a craving to cheat without leading to total self-sabotage, but you have to discover and make that call. Everyone is different
When I’m in competition prep and close to a show, I choose cook my cheat meals at home. That way, I always know exactly what I consume. Restaurants are notorious for adding sugar, salt, butter, and cream to food and, although you can make requests, there’s no guarantee that they’re followed. Cooking at home leaves nothing to chance.
Honesty is always the best policy. Being honest with your coach about additional cheating can be a helpful tool. Knowing which food you were craving or cheating with can sometimes point to deficiencies in your diet that your body is attempting to correct. Cravings for particular foods often manifest when you’re too low on certain macronutrients. An experienced coach can take this information and make changes to your diet to help alleviate this.
Thanks for reading, How to Get the Most out of Cheat Meals! As always, I appreciate any likes and shares on social media!
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