• Demystifying the Cheat Meal

    Sticking to a healthy diet is hard enough without the temptation of cheating. Day in and day out, you eat the same meals - often meals unusual to your everyday diet. At some point, you'll dream of that decadent piece of cheesecake or the fresh slice of pizza. And if you're like most of us, at some point you'll give into that dream.

    If the time is right, a cheat meal is a great resource to help you stay on track. If it's not the right time, or if your cheats are abused, a cheat can guarantee you'll never reach your goals - perpetuating the cycle you're trying to break.

    Are Your Ready for a Cheat Meal?

    Before you get excited about having a cheeseburger once a week, let’s talk about whether cheat meals are something you need. Assessing your personal strengths and weaknesses as well as your health and current goals directly affects whether or not you should be indulging.

    If you are obese or experiencing health issues due to your weight, cheat meals should be the last thing on your mind. You have bad habits to break and your health to restore - cheating will exacerbate the problem. If you feel like you have been cheating for years with no way to stop, including a cheat meal too early is going to make it next to impossible to change. You'll need a full habit reset before incorporating dangerous additions like cheat meals.

    How to Cheat

    To keep it simple, don’t eat your workout. It's a cheat meal, not an all-you-can-eat contest. Instead of eating a full pizza and a Big Gulp soda, limit yourself to a few slices of pizza and leave it at that. Give yourself the opportunity to enjoy the meal without bringing back negative memories of overindulging. Start with a cheat meal every other week. Know exactly what you'll be eating so you don't overindulge. Then maybe work your way to giving yourself a set meal a week.

    Science Behind the Cheat

    The cheat meal can be a great tool in helping your meet your goals without feeling too deprived, but this is just a psychological tool to success. There are actual physical benefits to a proper cheat meal. One of the intentions of a cheat meal is to pre-load or replenish glycogen for pre- or post-workout, respectively. As long as your body fat is low (<15% for women, <12% for men), a good cheat meal can rev up your metabolism, helping you break through performance plateaus.

    The majority of cheat meals consist of high amounts of fat and carbohydrates, thus providing the perfect meal to prime you for an intense workout or restore the energy you’ve spent during a workout. Although this might be great news, this added benefit only applies to a properly conditioned body. Studies have shown that your body stores carbohydrates and fats differently depending on your lifestyle’s level of activity. Fit people tend to store more carbohydrates while they burn more fat. In contrast, sedentary/non-exercisers store more fat while burning more carbohydrates.

    The Bottom Line

    Knowing your goals, strengths, weaknesses, and current health will determine if a cheat meal is right for you. Even if you are in amazing shape and cheat meals are appropriate to incorporate, consider what Jim White, the registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, says, “[A cheat meal] is not a license to binge. We’re not trying to get drunk on food.”

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