You’ve been eating healthy all week, minding your calorie intake and getting to the gym. So you’re due a big “cheat” meal, right? It can’t hurt, can it?
The short answer is yes and no.
What is a cheat meal anyways? It’s basically a meal planned into your schedule that involves eating whatever you want, a splurge meal. For example, pizza.
Physiologically, there is no real need to have a cheat meal. Will it boost metabolism? Not necessarily. When someone is dieting for a long period of time, it is smart to include structured, planned refeeds, or a period of eating meals that are high in carbohydrates and low in fats to upregulate dietary hormones. It’s a powerful dieting tool, but not the same as a cheat meal.
Cheat meals are not planned or structured by definition and give someone the idea they are doing something scandalous. They give a green light to overindulgence and can often lead to psychological issues, such as feelings of remorse and a desire to overcompensate with a stricter diet or more exercise to “pay” for one’s dietary sins. It can feed the binge cycle rather than stave it off. Individuals who struggle with their relationship with food and/or have a past history with disordered eating should avoid having cheat meals in their nutrition plan.
If a cheat meal leaves you feeling physically ill because you ate your face off- aka, binged- then you need to rid yourself of it. Does that sound familiar to you? Are you an all or nothing person? The answer isn’t building yourself up for a weekly break from your meal plan, but rather to finding a way to eat what you enjoy in moderation.
Wouldn’t it be better to just find a way to budget a couple of slices of pizza into your daily caloric intake when you’re craving it instead of considering it a “cheat” meal? You can have the foods you love without it a deviation from your nutrition plan, just in controlled portions.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you are eating 6 small meals a day. Over the course of the week you have 42 meals. Will one meal, say perhaps two slices of pizza, set you back? No. Notice I said two slices and not an entire pizza with garlic fingers and soda.
When we remove the emotional attachment to certain foods and eat them in moderation, we can have the best of both worlds – the food we love and the body we’re striving for.
At the end of the week what matters most for weight loss is the calorie deficit average. If you are binging once a week, you most likely are setting yourself up for slow progress and disappointment. Those uncontrolled meals can end up being thousands of calories and can quickly undo all the hard work you put in throughout the week.
Remember, our number one priority is to create a healthy relationship with food and a balanced way of eating that you can sustain for life. Learning how to eat in moderation is a key piece of that puzzle. And so the moral of the story remains the same — it doesn’t pay to cheat.