This is a really common question amongst athletes and exercisers alike, should I be eating cheat meals?
What is a cheat meal?
Generally speaking, and for the purpose of this article, a cheat meal is a meal consumed by an individual with a complete disregard to calories or macros. It may be scheduled or random and may be undertaken daily weekly or monthly depending on the individual.
Cheat meals often consist of foods or drinks outside the scope of the persons daily diet, that they may limit or consider ‘out of bounds’.
Often people confuse refeeds with cheat meals, although a cheat meal can certainly serve the same purpose as a refeed in that it will more often than not replenish glycogen levels, rebalance hormones and potentially satisfy a person’s cravings.
A re-feed tends to be accounted for in terms of calorie content and macros and so is more regulated than a cheat meal.
The problem with cheat meals
Although personally I am a strong proponent of making memories and not macros, and I fully believe if you have a special occasion you should fully enjoy it and not feel under lock and key with food as frequent uncontrolled cheat meals can be an issue in some individuals.
Aside from the calorific surplus that can reach incredible heights if the cheat meal concept is abused, it can also encourage binge eating.
Cheat meals also encourage the demonization of certain foods and drinks. While of course ideally your diet should consist of healthy foods and full of fruit and vegetables, you can also fit in some treats too without going overboard and sending your calorific intake off the rails.
If you view certain foods as good or bad too idealistically, it can cause you to feel like a failure when you indulge in these things.
An issue that is quite common with cheat meals is the difficulty some people can have with getting back on track with their original eating plan. It is extremely easy to turn a meal that is considered a ‘cheat’ into a day of eating junk food then into a week and so forth.
If you can fit the food into your plan without it being considered a cheat meal, you will have a much more positive outlook on your food choices.
Flexible dieting and portion sizes
An alternative to frequent cheat meals (excluding special occasions of course) is to implement flexible dieting into your routine. This has a number of benefits with regards to food flexibility, but also means that you can tailor your portion sizes to include your favourite foods.
If you are cutting or dieting down, you can still implement refeed days into your nutritional plan as necessary without going overboard with unnecessary calories. This just makes it a lot easier to stay on track and hit your goals efficiently and effectively without creating any unnecessary speed bumps with extra fat gain from over eating.
It also means that you don’t have to be concerned with feelings of guilt for overdoing it or not sticking to a plan. Over all, flexible dieting aids in creating a healthier attitude towards food, and even if you do not track your food consistently, you will still get an idea of portion sizes and their calorie values making intuitive eating towards your goals more achievable.
✓ You can also ‘shift ‘your macros around to suit special occasions too if you so wish, this method can be especially suitable for those dieting that want to include certain foods or drinks that they are having difficulty to fit. Simply take some ‘macros’ away from the following day to allow for the calories.
You can also of course allow for the extra intake by consciously having a lower carbohydrate breakfast or lunch to accommodate the extra carbohydrates later on.
✓ Of course, it is important to emphasise, these methods should be used for treats and the majority of your dietary intake should consist of whole foods, fruit vegtables, complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats.
Take home message
Cheat meals work well for some people, but there are other ways of approaching your nutrition that will offer flexibility and keep you on track towards your results.
Consider flexible dieting as an approach to your nutrition that still allows you to incorporate treats that are tailored towards your individual goals and calorie allowance.