To cheat or not to cheat?

To cheat or not to cheat?

Eating a perfectly clean diet day after day takes an incredible amount of discipline. Even though I’ve completely adjusted to it by now, I still have the occasional craving and that’s why cheat meals are so important for my sanity. However, I know that not everyone shares my sentiment.

I strictly adhere to my diet plan throughout the week, but on the weekends it is definitely harder to stay on track considering my routine is always thrown off. Nonetheless, I try to prepare my meals in advance and always make sure I have a snack on me. While I may deviate from my diet and eat out once or twice, I always make sure I try to make the healthiest choice with lots of protein and complex carbs.

That is, except for my cheat meal – the one meal a week where I allow myself to eat anything I want. Note that I said cheat meal, not cheat day or cheat week. If you go all out and eat everything in sight all day long, any benefits gained will be quickly lost as you will have to spend the rest of the week burning it off!

I believe cheat meals are both physically and mentally important. When you start a new diet, you typically lose weight. After a while, though, your diet becomes the new ‘normal’ and you tend to plateau. Instead of constantly dropping your calories lower, shake up your metabolism by hitting your body with something it’s not expecting. When you raise your calories and carbs for a short period of time it will actually raise your metabolism as your body has to work harder to burn off the extra food, allowing you to continue burning fat.

On the psychological side, it makes it so much easier to follow my diet when I know that on Saturday night I can eat whatever I want. If I didn’t have that knowledge, I think it would be a lot easier for me to fall off the wagon and binge out during the week. Cheat meals prevent you from feeling deprived, they provide a balance to your life and still allow you to enjoy meals with family and friends.

Some people prefer to abide by what is called the 80/20 rule: eat healthy 80 per cent of the time, and your body will be able to deal with the remaining, imperfect 20 per cent of time. However, I believe there are too many ways this can be interpreted.

For example, eat healthy 5.5 days a week and pig out for 1.5 days? Eat four healthy meals a day and one bowl of ice cream? Have 80 per cent of your meal as something healthy, and 20 per cent chocolate? If you let yourself indulge a tiny bit every day, I think this is just setting yourself up for disaster: you will constantly be teasing yourself and more likely to let the small treat into another and another.

In my opinion, your body will suffer negative consequences (i.e. gain weight) if you do any of these things. If I had to put a percentage on the diet I follow, I would have to say it’s closer to a 90/10 ratio.

Some others (such as my husband) believe cheat meals are completely unnecessary and only hinder your progress. There are arguments that you should not be cheating at all if you are trying to lose weight. Put simply, the fatter you are, the more likely it is that extra food will be stored as fat rather than muscle mass. The leaner you are, the more you can get away with.

But there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to go about cheat meals:

  • Don’t binge out on thousands of calories and then dismiss the consequences as okay within the realm of cheat meals.
  • Use high-quality and fresh ingredients to prepare your cheat meal. You should always make your own meals so you know what you’re putting into your body.
  • Always use healthier alternatives where possible. For example, if I’m making a burger, I will use wholewheat bread; if I’m making pasta, I’ll have wholegrain noodles; and if I’m making a pizza, I’ll use Lebanese bread instead of dough.
  • The best time of day to have your cheat meal is at the end of the day. It prevents you from looking at the meal as a diet failure and subsequently eating poorly for the remainder of the day.
  • Make sure you have your other planned meals. Don’t try to compensate by eating less throughout the day, and don’t skip any meals. The next morning, wake up and get straight back into your clean eating routine.
  • Finally, don’t feel as though you have to have a cheat meal. Ultimately, you should be able to get to a point where you don’t need to have cheat meals at all. Instead, you will only be flexible when the situation calls for it.

I don’t usually have a lot of cravings (you shouldn’t if your diet is filled with lots of healthy, whole foods) so I usually decide on the day what I’m going to have, but it’s usually pasta, pizza, mashed potato or a burger (all homemade!). Sometimes my sweet tooth will rear its head and I’ll have some icecream.

Other times I will have cravings, most of which are completely random. For example, this whole week I’ve been craving oatmeal. I have no idea why considering I eat it every single day for breakfast. But unlike my usual small serving of watery oats, I’m craving a massive bowl made with creamy milk and topped with tonnes of honey and blueberries.

What do you think about cheat meals? Do you have them? What are your favourite indulgences?

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