Most people are familiar with the term “cheat meals,” but I don’t actually like that term- at all. Cheating imposes you’re doing something WRONG- like cheating on a spouse, cheating on a test. Cheating on your diet. We are not even on a diet….
The idea of a “cheat day” is even worse. None of us need an entire day to binge on junk food. That’s a lot of damage being done- it essentially “un-does” all the hard work and calorie deficit you may have had leading up to that day. No bueno.
There are pros and cons to having occasional food splurges and they can be both physical and psychological.
- Pro: Give yourself a mental diet break. “Diet” meaning controlled calories. When you are in a deficit for a while, it can be tough mentally to keep up your momentum and stay on track. Having an occasional “freebie” meal where you purposely eat over deficit and even maintenance calories can be really enjoyable socially, (like eating out with family/friends) and let’s you relax for just one meal. And perhaps the next day you feel rejuvenated to get back to your goals.
- However, while it is a “freebie” meal, it does not mean those calories are free. They come at a price, and are likely to slow your progress.
- Pro: A “cheat meal” can be really beneficial if you’ve been dieting a while and/or are really lean. It prevents your metabolism from slowing. Your body likes to adapt to its current state, so it helps to switch things up to prevent a plateau. If you are not being consistent with your diet- not tracking your food or staying in a deficit, you are not at risk -by any means -of this happening, so you probably don’t “need” a cheat.
- A cheat meal might help if you feel tired, low of energy, sick, or your performance is suffering. Being in a calorie deficit doesn’t always feel good, so once in a while, it might be just what you need to feel more energized.
- Con: Cheat meals can spin out of control. Soooo many people do this (I also have in the past), of waiting all week for a cheat meal, then going absolutely crazy, eating everything and anything until they’re sick. (Because tomorrow, back to the plan!) No mindful, intuitive eating, at all, just an all-out binge which can total up to hundreds and even thousands of calories in one sitting. Part of why this happens is if you’re restricting certain foods throughout the week and your mind thinks it’s deprived. If you decide “no sugar” all week except Friday, there’s a good chance that on Friday, you’re not stopping at one cookie… you’ll eat the whole bag.
I strongly believe in this: “If you need a cheat meal then your plan isn’t sustainable. If your diet is so great, why do you feel the need to ‘cheat’?” -Sohee Lee
Less restrictions. More balance. Less “cheating.”
So what’s the take-away from all this? Many coaches and trainers incorporate refeeds into their clients’ plans. A refeed is a controlled surplus in calories, usually in carbohydrates that helps refuel physically, and recharge psychologically. When it’s planned, and allowed, and expected, it’s something to look forward to. It’s just not a free-for-all of endless calories until you’re sick 😉
Some people (especially the IIFYM’ers) have an untracked meal once in a while, where they are able to go out to eat, order whatever they feel like, and just be mindful. They enjoy it, stop when they’re full, there’s no guilt, and little “damage” to their goals.
Whatever splurge you think you need, just know what works for YOU. If “cheat meals” tend to derail you, then maybe it’s because your everyday diet is too strict. If you feel you need a mental break from tracking macros, then have a freebie meal every other weekend, just to enjoy yourself without counting or stressing.
I try to always remind myself when dieting- food will always be there. Restaurants, desserts, parties… there is no shortage, don’t feel like you have to indulge at every setting. Keep on making smarter choices that make you feel BETTER. And don’t be a cheater 😉