A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a client who couldn’t control her cheats. Although she followed my customized nutrition plan, worked out regularly and felt as if she was doing everything right, the numbers just weren’t adding up. She later admitted she was having 2 cheat meals per week, and sometimes 2 cheat snacks, and then it all made sense. Now, let me say, I AM NOT AGAINST CHEAT MEALS……
I love me a great “treat meal” “cheat meal” and they can be beneficial to your weight loss journey when done strategically and correctly, but there’s a science to incorporating cheats into your healthy lifestyle. You’ll want to cheat strategically to create and maintain a caloric deficit while balancing your hormones that control your appetite.
Here’s how it works:
- Our appetites are controlled by the ghrelin hormone which stimulates your appetite, and leptin hormone that suppresses your appetite.
- When you stick to your diet you’ll eventually decrease your leptin while increasing your ghrelin.
- When you follow, your meal plan your body’s natural appetite suppression decreases over time and triggers you to want to eat more, which is why we frequently eat smaller meals throughout the day.
- When you create that caloric deficit, your body begins to protect itself so it yearns to eat more.
- The extra calories/macros from a cheat meal allow your hormone levels to regulate and for your leptin hormone to get back to work.
- Leptin levels decrease within days of resuming a caloric deficit.
To sum it up, when you follow a caloric deficit for long periods of time you’ll increase your ghrelin hormone making you want to eat more, and decrease your leptin hormone that suppresses appetite. By having a treat meal once a week you’ll “reactivate” your leptin hormone (suppresses appetite) so that it work more efficiently. Because leptin decreases shortly after you get back to your nutrition plan (caloric deficit) you want to spike it back up to help suppress your appetite.
Rule No.1: Cheat Meal vs Cheat Day
I’m known for telling my clients, tt’s a cheat meal, not a cheat day, cheat week, cheat month, or cheat season. We use our cheat meals to “boost” and “reignite” our metabolism after we’ve created a caloric deficit. The idea is we want to fulfill our cravings without binging or derailing your progress. One weekend of binging of eating can be counterproductive to week of progress.
Rule No.2: How Many Cheat Meals A Week
I always suggest 1 cheat meal per week, or 2 cheat meals every 14 days. Remember, if you’re committed to your meal prep 90% of the time, this one cheat meal will help you sustain your weight loss. It’ll be important to track your fat loss, if your progress halts with weekly cheats, possibly a cheat meal every 15 days is best. Or, if you’re more petite and don’t want to drop as quickly, you may want to try 2 cheat meals per week
Rule No. 3: Plan Your Cheat Meals
We work best when we plan, so schedule a day and time that you’ll have your cheat meal. I generally plan treat meals around holidays birthday parties, social events, or date night. Eating post workout helps you recover, so plan to have cheat meals after an intense leg workout, plus the extra calories will go to that BOOTY!
Rule No. 4: When to Cheat
Nothing goes together better than, CARBS & FATS, and most cheat meals are high in carbs & fats. Because of this known fact it’s best to save your treat meal post workout. I know both carbs & fats supply our body with energy, but high fats before a workout will slow you down, where high carbs before your workout will make you more effective and energetic in the gym.
Rule No. 5: Cheat outside the house
Never, ever, ever, ever cook your own cheat meal. By cooking at home you may be tempted to eat more or have leftovers, and find yourself cheating well beyond that one meal. Allow yourself the liberty to eat whatever it is you’ve been craving, whether a burger and fries, pizza, spaghetti, tacos, Chinese food, or grilled cheese. Make 1 choice, and EAT IT! Cheat meal or not, overeating is never okay, and portion control is still very important, so when you do become full, stop, and ask the server to remove the plate.
These are rules I personally follow, and they’ve helped me drop my 65 pounds, and keep it off. But, I have always been honest with myself. If my nutrition didn’t go as planned during the week, I do not cheat. You have to earn your cheats, you cant eat everything you want, if you do, you will most definitely out cheat and out eat your workouts. The cleaner your diet, the leaner your body, if you don’t have cravings to have a treat meal, don’t have a cheat meal. And most importantly, challenge yourself, prove to yourself that you have self-control and discipline to not stray from what you said you would do, and then cheats will be less important.