Sticking to a healthy diet can be very challenging. It is impossible to stick to it all the time. Cravings will always be there, especially if you are used to eating unhealthy foods. We all have our fair share of unhealthy cravings. High carbohydrates, fats, salt, and sugar – all these lead to excessive weight gain and a plethora of diseases.
As you grow old, you become more health-conscious and careful about the foods you eat and the things you do. Many people would resort to crash dieting and other forms of weight loss programs just to get rid of excess weight.
Many diet regimens require you to restrict your caloric intake. If you are on a strict diet, then one of the things you look forward to are cheat meals. That is the time of the week when you get to indulge in something you really want to eat. Cheat meals become a vital part of a healthy eater’s routine – a form of reward for eating clean the entire week.
While many people see it as a break from a strict diet or reward for being disciplined in eating, they don’t really know that cheat meals benefit the body in many ways. As a matter of fact, cheat meals can have a positive impact on one’s diet and overall well-being.
The Science Behind Cheat Meals
There is a science behind the success of cheat meals in helping you lose weight. Cheat meals, when done right, can boost the body’s metabolism by increasing the level of leptin, a hormone responsible for controlling hunger – sending hunger messages to the body. The level of leptin drops if the body senses a deficit in calories.
Hence, metabolism slows down as it attempts to conserve energy – as explained in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism study. By loading your cheat meal with calories, you will be able to trick your mind that there is plenty of food and it is okay to burn stored fats. It temporarily boosts the level of leptin. (1)
How can cheat meals help you lose weight?
It boosts your metabolism – Cheat meals increase the level of leptins; a hormone responsible for anti-starvation. The higher the level of leptin, the less hungry you feel. It will trick your body into thinking that food is aplenty and it’s okay to use the stored fats as a source of energy. Aside from the hormone leptin, there is another hormone that affects the body’s metabolism – ghrelin. It is a peptide hormone that signals when you are hungry. When you’re trying to lose weight, you’re consuming fewer calories therefore, the level of ghrelin in your body increases.
It wards off feelings of deprivation – Following a strict diet means depriving yourself of the foods you used to eat and that feeling is enough to entice you to quit. However, with a cheat meal, you get to have that one day when you can take a break from everything. Cheat meals help ward off feelings of deprivation. After a cheat meal, you have a new mindset where you are ready to face an entire week of strict dieting.
It lets you stick to your diet plan – A cheat meal does not only improve your ability to lose weight but also helps you stick to your diet plan. One of the problems commonly encountered by people who try to lose weight is sticking to the diet plan. The food restriction and eating a particular food group seems too difficult to follow. But having a break from it all, even if at least for a day, can actually help dieters not to feel the restriction that diet brings. They will look forward to that one day when they can have a break and reward themselves by eating what they feel like eating even just for a day.
It resets weight-regulating hormones – Don’t you know that cheat meals can reset weight-regulating hormones? It includes hormones responsible for metabolism and insulin regulation. Taking a break from strict dieting plays an important role in replenishing the level of glycogen leading to an increased energy level.
It addresses plateau issues – as you consume few calories, your body gradually loses weight. However, as time passes by your body will grow used to a low-calorie diet leading to a plateau. This means that you consume less calories but your body isn’t losing weight anymore. By having a cheat meal, you jumpstart your metabolism and regulate hormones that speed up the body’s metabolic functions. (5)
It keeps you motivated – Cheat meals motivate you to keep on sticking to your low-calorie diet. You diligently stick to your diet knowing that you will have an incentive waiting at the end, which is the cheat meal. One to two cheat meals a week isn’t bad at all. Cheat meal serves as the light at the end of the tunnel. You’ll be motivated to stick to your diet plan because in the end you’ll have a not-so-healthy, yet yummy meal.
It gives you a mental break – sticking to a low-calorie diet will not only be physically draining but mentally exhausting too. By having a cheat meal, you get to have a much-needed mental break. You will be able to relax and pause thinking about calories. It is having one enjoyable meal at least once a week. (4)
Things to consider regarding cheat meals
- Planning – Just because you are having a cheat meal does not necessarily mean you can be less extra careful with your health. You can still eat the foods you are dying to eat guilt-free. It all starts with planning. Choose a cheat meal you really enjoy – something that you won’t feel totally restricted to eat a particular type of food but not really compromising your calorie intake.
- Be very careful not to let cheat meal turn into a cheat day – just because you are having a cheat meal does not necessarily mean you can have it for the rest of the day. Be very careful not to let cheat meals get out of hand. eating too much could undo any hard work real quick. You can have what you want but do not have so much of it (too much binging). Doing so can dramatically affect your weekly progress. You will have a hard time getting back on track.
- Have extra water during a cheat meal – your body is primarily made up of water. For every gram of carbohydrate, you eat the body holds about 3 grams of water. So, a day after your cheat meal make sure you drink a lot of water.
- A cheat meal should make up only 10% of the diet – It is impossible to stick to a healthy diet at all times. You can give in to your cravings but see to it that it only consists of 10% of your diet.
- Be willing to compromise – just because you are having a cheat meal does not necessarily mean you can eat everything you crave for, known as the “all or nothing” mentality. If you already have the pizza, then you should ditch the fries and soft drinks. It is called responsible craving.
- Focus on high-quality food – You can have your favorite food but with caution in the kind of ingredients used. If you are craving for burgers, you can opt for a healthy bun such as whole wheat bun. If you are craving for pizza, then you can create your own dough or go somewhere that serves diet-friendly pizzas. If you are craving for cookies or bread, choose the one that is made from almond flour or coconut flour. They cost more but they’re healthy and won’t jeopardize your weight loss goal.
- Stick to the usual guilty pleasures – there should be a consistency in your diet and it includes cheat meals as it helps support a healthy gut microbiome. It eases the disturbances it might cause in your gastrointestinal tract.
- Eat detoxifying foods after cheat meals – After indulging in the foods you love to eat you might feel the guilt thinking that it could jeopardize your weight loss goal. To somehow lessen the guilt, you can increase your intake of foods with a detoxifying effect such as broccoli, water, avocados, bananas, and dark green leafy vegetables.
- Cheat in moderation – Make sure you do not overdo your cheat meal or else it could turn into a cheat day and that is never a good idea. A cheat meal gone wrong could undo your weight loss efforts in just a few hours. If you are keen on losing weight, then you should limit your cheat meal to one meal a week. You could increase that to a maximum of two cheat meals a week but you have to be very careful about what you include in your cheat meals. (2)
- Have the best type of cheat meals – Not all cheat meals are the same; some are better than others. It may sound odd but a high carbohydrate and moderate protein meal will help you stay on track with your weight loss goal. Carbs have a direct effect on the level of leptin while protein influences satiety level.
- Avoid bad cheat meals – If there are best cheat meals, then there are bad ones too. Avoid foods containing high levels of fat such as fried foods, desserts, and creamy pasta dishes, to name a few. (3)
Should you have a regular cheat meal?
Just because you are dieting does not necessarily mean you can’t have something you have been craving for. It is okay to indulge occasionally even when you are trying to lose weight. A restrictive diet may work for some but not always for everybody.
A restrictive diet can cause physical and mental exhaustion, the very reason why many people quit their diet too quickly. A regular cheat meal once a week won’t hurt your weight loss goal.
Why is it a must to have a cheat meal?
Although it may sound like havoc to your diet, cheat meals can actually make your diet more effective. Sticking to a healthy diet can be really difficult even for a chiseled gym rat. Indulging in a cheat meal once a week makes your weight loss goal more attainable. Cheat meals act as a reward while following a mundane healthy lifestyle.
What is the best time for cheat meals?
One thing to keep in mind, cheat meals still require some sort of moderation and compromise. Think of your cheat meal as the best time for you to enjoy a few carbs, fats, and some type of bad protein (fried chicken and fish). The ideal time to have a cheat meal is after having an intense workout because that is the time the body uses every macro-component, good and bad.