Are you getting tired of dieting and do you miss your usual “dirty” foods? Do you feel like you can never cheat on your diet without messing it up completely? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The majority of people feel this way, but cheat meals can and should actually be a part of your diet because, believe it or not, there are actually benefits to having them once in awhile.
The difference between cheat days and cheat meals
First of all, you need to make the distinction between cheat days and cheat meals.
Cheat days are full days of “cheating”, where you may choose not to account for any calories or macronutrients for the entire day. These are more rare than cheat meals, which can be included in your diet more often during the month, since they are just one single “dirty” meal during the entire day.
The importance of allowing yourself to cheat
As mentioned, there can actually be benefits to cheating on your diet. By allowing yourself to eat the occasional cheat meal, you can actually shock or trick your metabolism in the sense that you expose it to a sudden spike in your caloric intake. By doing this, you can in some cases boost your metabolic rate, which is the rate at which your body burns calories. Another great benefit to having cheat meals is that it it can replenish your glycogen storage. Our glycogen storages in our muscles and liver function as a type of energy depot, which is made up by excess carbohydrates. During the late stages of diets, people often have a very low intake of carbohydrates, which will make their muscles seem flat and have them feeling that their energy levels are at a constant low. By including cheat meals in your diet, you can replenish these glycogen storages and regain much needed energy at times where you feel you are burning out. My advice to you is listen to your body. At first, this will seem cliché and abstract, but in time you will actually learn exactly what your body is saying, when it is trying to talk to you. You’ll learn to feel when your cravings are soaring and when your mood and morale is declining. If, during your diet, you’re weight lifting sessions, cardio sessions, day job, whatever is starting to tire you out beyond the usual, you probably need a cheat meal.
Plan your cheat meals like you would plan your diet
If you’re serious about your diet, you will have a pretty clear cut plan to back it up. Well planning is just as important for cheat meals, and they should be included in your actual diet plan. That being said, if you’re dieting for six months you don’t have to lay out every single cheat meal over that six month period, but every time you start a new month during your diet, you should know when and how often you plan to have a cheat meal during that specific month. Without a clear plan for you cheat meals, you increase the risk of slipping into a downward spiral full of setbacks, which will actually have you cheating on your diet, in the real sense of the word, more often. If you don’t satisfy a craving regularly and in a controlled manner, it will build up and often culminate in prolonged periods of fast food frenzies.
Be smart about it
Plan ahead, and make sure you work on identifying days where you are likely to be in a situation that calls for cheating on your diet. I advise doing this at the beginning of every month. Cheat meals are best suited for situations where you have things planned like restaurant visits, watching sports events with friends or visiting family for dinner for example. Cheat days are best suited for full-day-event situations like birthdays, traveling or holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas. Now be smart about it! If you sketch out your month, and you realize your calendar is packed with these situations, learn to prioritize which situations you are most likely to cheat in and which situations you know you can just stick to your diet and still have a great time. Be. Smart.
How to eat cheat meals without cheating on your diet
The more flexible your style of dieting is, the less you will actually feel the need to have cheat meals. Typical flexible dieting will allow you to eat around 70% “clean”, nutritious wholefoods and 30% “dirty”, less nutritious foods, of course according to your daily caloric intake and macronutrient makeup. Basically, this style of dieting satisfies your cravings in small portions on a daily basis, since it gives way for more of the foods that are typically viewed as forbidden. (Click here if you want to know more about flexible dieting…)
Know your cheat meals
Every time you’re going in for a cheat meal, know the actual caloric breakdown of the meal in terms of carbohydrates, fats and protein. In other words: know the macros of your cheat meal before you eat it. This can be done two ways, either by estimating or “guesstimating”. By estimating the macronutrients for you cheat meal, for example with the help of a calorie counter app, you’ll know the exact amount of carbohydrates, fats and protein in grams. By guesstimating the macronutrients of a cheat meal, with the help of your basic knowledge of what type of food elements contain certain type of macros, you’ll create a rough idea about the macros of the meal in terms of carbohydrates, fats and protein.
Know your diet
In order to decide how you want to include cheat meals into your diet, it’s a good idea to know your own caloric intake in terms of the macronutrients. Know how many carbohydrates, fats and protein you need in a day, to be in or around a calorie deficit.
Know your plan
Once you know your cheat meal and you know your diet structure, you need to develop a plan. You can do cheat meals two ways. You can either compensate in your diet and fit the meal in with the rest of your food (type 1), or you can add the meal in addition to your diet and eat it on top of the rest of your food (type 2). The latter option is the one that the most people go for, as it demands very little structure in terms of knowing macros and calories. It’s also the type of cheat meal that has most benefits in relation to boosting your metabolism, since it will actually spike you caloric intake. Bear in mind though, that this is a form of cheat meal that you need to be smart about, and it is not advised to include it more than once a week. Now, if you want to cheat more often, the first option, that has you including the cheat meal into your actual diet, is a viable option too. This type of cheat meal can’t really be considered a real cheat meal, since you don’t go over your macronutrients, but compensate in your diet instead. Compensating will mean knowing your cheat meal and knowing your diet. If you know you are going to have a cheat meal high in fats and carbohydrates later in the day and you only have x-amount of those macronutrients available in your diet, you’ll need to eat low-fat, low-carb, high-protein meals during the day, leading up to the cheat meal. This way, you can eat the cheat meal without actually cheating on your diet.
My advice is that you combine the two types of cheat meals and include type 2 around two-four times in the course of a month, and utilize type 1 if you are faced with a lot of situations that you want to be a part of and enjoy the food that comes with that situation.
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