Sometimes it just feels good to be ‘human’ and to let go of controlling everything. No calorie counting, no food weighing, no foods that are ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Just you and this long-awaited bag full of snickers. But the opinions on whether to cheat or not are split, and it’s getting more difficult to know what to do and what not.
What if I tell you, you can occasionally have your chocolate bar. What if I tell you there is no black and white filter for food. You just have to do it the right way. And I can help you with that!
What actually is ‘cheating’ and what is it not?
Cheating means eating more calories than you normally eat on your fat loss plan.
Fitting in a few drinks or a burger in your meal plan and still hitting your calorie target isn’t a cheat.
It doesn’t matter what you eat to cheat, or what the nutritional content of the food is. All that matters is, that you’re eating more calories than you burn. And with that, you cheated on your diet.
Cheat vs. re-feed
Well, the difference between those two is quite simple.
Cheating means not tracking or caring about what your calorie or macronutrient intake is. You basically stuff your face with as much as you physically can, to satisfy your cravings.
Re-feeds, on the other hand, are days where you aim to load up on carbs, but do track food intake and slightly increase calories above maintenance levels. Basically, on a refeed-day you increase your carbohydrate intake and decrease the intake to fat and protein to a minimum, because you’re depleted of carbs after several days/weeks of dieting.
Re-feeds are also used to increase leptin levels, which will improve diet adherence throughout the following days.
Always aim to do a re-feed instead of a cheat meal. Don’t get me wrong. I love a great cheat meal and I enjoy every bite of it, but when it comes to fat loss, cheat meals will do more harm than good.
If you want to do a cheat meal, please don’t do it, because you read about how helpful it is online, or some bro at the gym told you so.
The truth is: There simply is nothing scientific, nothing advantageous and nothing groundbreaking about heaving cheat meals. It’s simply just fun.
However, if you’re still going to have a cheat meal, enjoy it, but be aware of the fact that you will most likely reverse all the progress you’ve made so far.
But if you do it anyway, stay safe-ish with these 7 tips:
7 biggest cheat meal mistakes to avoid
1. Cheating too frequently
In order to reach your goals you need to diet properly. Cheating too often won’t help you to adopt a healthy lifestyle. You might keep or develop an addiction to sugar and junk foods, though and you might develop even more cravings.
The less you cheat, the easier it will be to maintain a healthy diet.
Also, some people get into a vicious circle of cheating, restricting and cheating again. That’s the worst state to be in, since you’ll make zero progress AND feel bad all the time (either because of very low calories or remorse).
Yes, I’m guilty, too! You often don’t realise how many calories the food you eat actually has. Especially when eating sweets or eating out, you can easily get 3000-5000 extra calories in just one cheat meal. This can easily ruin a whole week of dieting!
Food in restaurants is extremely delicious, but cooked in huge amounts of butter, oil and even sugar to make it so. Yes, you read that right: sugar. Even the taste of sauces and salads often gets refined with sugar.
Here’s a good tip to minimise the damage: Fill all the the food you want to eat on a 9 inch (23cm) plate. Limit your cheat meal to this plate.
3. Eating too much fat
No, dietary fat is not evil. But most of the fat you’ll eat in a cheat meal, are trans fats – which aren’t healthy at all. Since you will be in a caloric surplus, it makes way more sense to focus on carbs and just very little fat and protein.
Why? Fat is more likely to be stored as body fat. Plus, carbs have a higher thermic effect of food. Meaning, you burn more calories while your body digests carbs than fat. And your workout the next day will be amazing, when you’re fuelled by those carbs.
4. Drinking too much alcohol
It’s totally fine to drink every now and then. But as with everything, moderation is key. And combined with a high calorie cheat meal, alcohol acts like a catalyst and diminishes your inhibition and decreases fat oxidation for up to 3 days after a good drinking session. Yes, 72 hours.
It’s like pressing the ‘pause’-button on your metabolism and your body is now in a ‘fat-storing’ mode for the next 3 days. Basically, the best way to gain as much body fat as possible in one sitting, is to eat mostly fat combined with alcohol!
However, if you can’t stand the urge to drink, but don’t want to ruin your progress so far, focus on low-carb alcohol like vodka, gin, rum or tequila. The worst choices would be cream based drinks. Dry white wines are also decent.
5. Skipping your workout on that day
If you know you’re going to have a cheat meal, lift extra hard on that day, to empty your glycogen-stores as much as possible. Plus, you burn some extra calories and ‘earn’ your meal.
The best course of action would be, to have your cheat meal around your ‘heavy’ training days for a lagging body part, like back day or leg day for instance.
Those additional calories might also help you with muscle recovery.
6. Ending in cheat days
Lots of people misunderstand the sense of a cheat meal. Sticking to a diet during the week doesn’t mean that you can go nuts on the weekends.
If even one cheat MEAL can throw over your progress of the whole week, what do you think will one or more cheat DAYS do for you? You’re not doing yourself any favours, by completely giving up the control.
Plus, you wouldn’t really enjoy it. You’d just stuff your face with everything that’s in sight.
7. Turning on the auto-pilot
The most useful reason behind a cheat meal is to calm your mind and stop your cravings. If you now start to mindlessly eat all the sh*t you can possibly find in your house, where’s the benefit?
Sit down and enjoy every bite of it.
How to ‘cheat’ the right way
Fat is the most calorie dense macronutrient. Keeping the intake of dietary fat low on cheat meal days will not only keep your calories lower, but will also minimise fat storage.
Choose high-carb meals instead and skip on your favourite fatty treat.
Furthermore, you can eat some protein as a starter to your cheat meal. It’s a very good way to decrease appetite and to ensure that you won’t start binge eating.
Rule of thumb: Try to keep your fat intake under 100g/day, preferably less than 20g. Load up mainly on carbs.
Save some calories
Mind, that this doesn’t mean you should starve yourself until your cheat meal! But if you go slightly lower with your calories and focus on lean protein on cheat meal days, you create a calorie buffer.
However, if you know how to practice moderation, this tip doesn’t apply to you.
This can be very beneficial and fun. It gives you something to look forward to and you’ll less likely go overboard, if you’re prepared.
Sit down, focus on the meal itself and actually enjoy it. This will not only increase satiety, but also satisfaction.
Don’t eat while watching TV. Enjoy the meal with somebody and talk. You’ll eat less and have some quality time with another person on top.
Don’t reward the good with the bad. Don’t have cheat meals as a reward for your healthy behaviour.
So many people talk about how bad cheat meals are, or unnecessary, or create an unhealthy relationship with food. In my opinion, it all depends on you. If you think, they’re going to help you and you can get back on track the next day, do it. But do it smart!
Sometimes it’s just nice to eat until you’re full and take a break from counting calories and restricting yourself. I’m not saying you should chew yourself into a food coma or eat like it’s the last meal you’ll ever get, though.