Cheat meals. They’re the content that’s become a renewable power source of untold numbers of likes and comments. Everyone loves to witness their idols feasting on the forbidden fruits. It’s click bait 101! Very relatable. Want some hope? Sure, just watch a fit person eat the foods they’re not supposed to. It’s the ultimate juxtaposition. The daisy in the barrel of a tank. We love it. We love so much they’ve spawned all sorts of alternative names. Treat meals. Refeeds. Reward meals. While similar in name, it’s the name that may unravel your best intentions.
Walk the fine line
Start with the definition of a cheat meal. It’s a plate of your favorite things that is untracked and probably does not resemble a whole food meal. This means this meal has no parameters for health. Dig into whatever the hell you feel like it. Take your tastebuds and stomach to Las Vegas because what happens there stays there. It has no bearing on the real world.
You can look a menu and punish anything on there with your teeth. How do you get to this point? By being very well behaved, nutritionally speaking, for several days beforehand. Sadly, it does present an opportunity to significantly overindulge which may cause a spiral of excessive eating for a longer period than originally planned. It also doesn’t allow you to understand what certain foods or amounts are doing to the body because this meal is untracked.
What does this dietary decadence do? A lot of bad stuff says the nutrition sleuths in the paper featured in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. They found a single one-off splurge of something like palm oil, reduces your body’s sensitively to insulin and can cause fat to be stored while changing the energy metabolism of your liver. Brutal consequences that seem as if they belong in medieval times. Yes, cheat meals can give you a psychological break from your diet and help you stick to it long term. Sadly, this means you shouldn’t eat until your stomach stretches. There are smarter options.
Reframe your cheats
A better option is to call your cheat meal a reward meal. This has stronger connotations that will help you stick to the routine over the long term. With a reward meal you should follow the refeed protocols where it’s tracked, planned for and not super unhealthy. Ideally, this meal should have whole and healthy foods but not necessarily ones that are bad for you. And if you can make it yourself, that’s even better because you’ll have a good idea of what’s inside of it.
You can probably even factor it in to your macro nutrient totals for the day, so it doesn’t negatively affect your balance. This means you can space out your carbohydrates throughout the day, allowing you to potentially reap the benefits of their higher caloric intake day. This can mean heavier lifts or higher intensity cardio regimes for example. It also lets you figure out how well your body is handling ‘carb up’ days. When doing it, rather choose cheat meals options that can be tracked. So, buy them yourself. Make your own desserts and always think of them as a reward meal, never a cheat meal. You’re not cheating yourself. You’re rewarding yourself for a job well done.