Someone explain something to me: why is everything good in this world illegal, immoral, or fattening? Okay maybe not illegal or immoral but fattening for sure. Doughnuts are good, nachos are good, and cheesecake is fantastic. Unfortunately, all of those things are fattening and you will probably never see them on any kind of diet plan.
However, it is becoming more common for people who claim to be on a “diet” or eating clean to have a cheat meal once or twice a week. When I first heard about this theory, I thought it was ridiculous. What’s the point of eating like an angel all week then blowing everything on a greasy burger, fries, and cake when Friday night rolls around? I kept hearing about this cheat meal thing, so I decided to do some digging.
When you change your diet and start putting healthy foods in your body, it’s a bit of a shock to your system (I know this from doing research and my own personal experience). There is something to be said when you go from eating like a broke college student and living on peanut butter, to eating like a world class athlete who gobbles grilled chicken and drinks protein shakes three times a day. We all know the benefits of clean eating: it improves your overall health, decreases toxins, gives you more energy, and it helps your performance when you train or workout. Studies have also shown that healthy eating helps you sleep better, improves your brain function, and it gives you an all around healthy glow. Once your body has adjusted to having healthy food, it’s another shock to your system when you eat something unhealthy. I can’t begin to tell you how awful pizza was the first time I had it after I’d eaten clean for a summer. I felt sick and I didn’t even want to go try and run it off because I felt so gross. I think you all understand a little better now why I was stunned to hear about the cheat meal theory. That being said here’s a few pros and cons of cheat meals:
Cheat meals can be good for you psychologically. Yes people, there is a psychological side to food. Those who claim to be emotional eaters, stress eaters, and cravers are all living proof that there is indeed food psychology. When you eat healthy and eat clean, you can’t help but tell yourself how good you’re doing and how impressed you are that you have had the willpower not to cheat. But the way I see it, clean eating is taxing on your willpower, similar to a long run being hard on you. You don’t keep sprinting until you collapse (and if you do that, stop), so why constantly keep your sense of willpower on high alert? A cheat meal once a week, and a moderated one at that, gives your mind a chance for some rest and relaxation. You also can enjoy something you normally wouldn’t without undoing all your hard work.
Cheat meals can fuel your bad food addiction. Everyone, I have a confession. I really, really love chocolate. If you put chocolate in front of me, it’s going to disappear. White, milk, dark, or rainbow, it literally does not matter. I have an addiction to chocolate. When I put my best foot forward and eat clean it is nearly impossible for me to cut out chocolate. When your body is familiar with having something on a daily basis it is quite challenging to cut back or cut it out of your diet. The idea of a cheat meal is that you can consume one of those addiction foods. If you go a week without eating chocolate and then suddenly have it, you’re back where you started. Odds are, your body was in the process of detoxifying from that vice and you just put it back at square one. Just like repeat offenders wind up back in jail, fueling your junk food addiction with a cheat meal sets you up for a setback.
Cheat meals can boost your metabolism. This one is true, if you don’t go crazy with your cheat meals. Your metabolism adjusts to the consistent amount of calories you take in when you eat clean and essentially gets into a routine. When you suddenly take in a higher amount of calories and carbohydrates, your metabolism has to adjust. For example, if your cheat meal is a lean cut steak, baked potato, and sautéed vegetables, your calorie and carb counts are going to be rather high. Your body recognizes those increased amounts and revs your metabolism to help burn it off. The key to a cheat meal is to not over indulge in something that will leave you hungry later. Unless you just really overdo it, ice cream and brownies are not going to make you feel full. A steak dinner however, will make you feel full and won’t have you sneaking into your kitchen at midnight in search for more unnecessary calories.
Cheat meals can be confused with cheat days. A cheat meal is exactly what it says it is: one meal. Some people opt to take a cheat day each week. There is a world of difference between one meal a week and a whole day devoted to cake and cookies. I read an article recently that talked about said cheat days. I loved the idea that it suggested. You should only have four cheat “days” per year: your birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and one other holiday where you know you’re bound to overeat. I admit I definitely “cheat” on those days, whether I’ve been eating super clean or not. The point is, overall, you are not going to make the kind of progress you want to make in the time frame you want if you cheat for a whole day. Cheating a little bit once a week though, you can work with that.
There you have it folks. My insight on cheat meals, along with some tidbits I’ve picked up from others along my fitness journey. I know how hard it is to eat clean and how easy it is to not. But if you really commit to being healthier, your body will thank you in the long run. And who knows…maybe you’ll end up looking really athletic or something.
Good luck, and may the dieting odds be ever in your favor!
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