Trying to lose weight? Well, I have bad news for you: it’s not going to be easy. Not that I’m discouraging you. In fact, I’m right behind you, cheering you on, hoping you can achieve your optimal weight.
But there’s just one little problem…
Dieting doesn’t work.
If you’ve ever tried the endless list of brand name diets, you know what I’m talking about. Most of these diets require you to deprive yourself of the foods you love. That may seem to make sense – initially. That is, until you realize that depending on willpower alone to maintain a healthy weight is NOT sustainable.
My advice: Forget about dieting.
“But how can I lose weight if I don’t diet?” you ask.
That’s a great question.
The key is making lasting changes to the way you eat. You see, “dieting” suggests you’re going to restrict certain types of foods or the amount of calories you consume for a few days or weeks. Then, when you’re diet is done, you’ll go right back to eating the way you do now.
Let me tell you, this is a perfect formula for failure.
But there is hope. What you need to do is to completely change the way you look at eating. And the good news is, you don’t have to give up eating the foods you love. In fact, recent research shows that one of the best kept secrets to long-term sustainable weight loss is eating cheat meals.
Why Cheat Meals Work
They are more than just a way to let yourself indulge in your favorite foods once in a while. Cheat meals can be used as a dietary tool. According to Dr. Brandy Segura, cheat meals can reset the hormones that are responsible for metabolism. They can help regulate insulin in the body to maintain a steady energy level throughout the day. And best of all, cheat meals can help you burn more calories[i].
Psychologically, you can also think of your cheat meal as wiggle room or your reward for being a good boy or girl for the entire week[ii].
How Cheat Meals Work
When you restrict your calorie intake, an energy deficit occurs. Calorie restriction also lowers insulin levels and this is believed to increase body fat burn rate. In other words, you lose weight by eating less. No surprise there.
But there’s a downside to eating less. You see, the body is an amazing machine. It can adapt to outside conditions, such as, say, food scarcity. When you eat less, the body can’t tell the difference whether there’s really a shortage of food or if you’re just dieting. It adapts by burning less calories.
By having cheat meals, you’ll be preventing the body to adapt to a low-calorie diet. In a sense, you’re telling the body that there’s no food shortage and it’s okay to turn off “scarcity mode”[iii].
How to Make the Best Out of Cheat Meals
Preparing the perfect cheat meal is not a science. However, there are a few helpful guidelines that may make it easier for you to make sure that you maximize the benefits you can get from your cheat meal. Here are four of them:
- Follow the 90/10 Rule
That is, stick to your diet for 90% of your meals and allow yourself to indulge a little more for the rest. Determine what exactly constitutes the remaining 10% in which you can be more liberal with your food choices.
As a rule of thumb, you should be eating something every three to four hours, which adds up to about four to five meals and snacks a day or 28-35 times a week. Do the math and you get approximately three times a week when you can have a cheat meal. Just make sure to space them out evenly within the week and not eat them all in one day.[iv]
- Smart Cheat Meals
Even if cheat meals are meant to give you a momentary break from your strict diet, don’t go overboard.
A smart cheat meal would be composed of lots of calories and carbohydrates. These will help stabilize the levels of those hormones which are affected by your restriction diet (including insulin)[v].
Here are some examples to give you a good idea:
- Sushi rolls
- Steak and potatoes
- Pancakes and egg white omelet
- Spaghetti and meat balls
Note: If you have diabetes, please discuss counting the carbohydrate content in your cheat meal with your nutritionist, dietician or certified diabetes educator.
- Schedule Your Cheat Meals
Plan ahead. Strategically schedule your cheat meals so they fit your pre-existing diet. Your cheat meals should never turn into cheat days, as this is the fastest way to really destroy all your progress losing weight and getting fit. Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., CNS, made it clear that he doesn’t believe in “cheat days”[vi].
As was previously mentioned, cheat meals are meant to replenish your body with the calories and carbohydrates it needs to function normally. This means that skipping meals before or after your cheat meal in order to compensate for the excess food is not going to work. So, don’t skip meals[vii].
- Cook Your Own Meals
You don’t have to be a master chef to be able to prepare your own cheat meals. Just a few simple ingredients and some online recipes can help you indulge yourself without sabotaging your diet. Make your own breakfast muffins with nuts and oats, or bake some pizza topped with fresh herbs, smoked salmon, and goat cheese. Making your own meals is great because it gives you complete control over what you put in your mouth[viii].
Cheat meals help you both physiologically and psychologically. They can help reset your body’s insulin production so it doesn’t go on “scarcity mode” and conserve energy. Cheat meals also allow you some wiggle room to enjoy the foods you love once in a while.
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[ii]How Does Having Regular Cheat Days Affect Your Weight Loss?, Casey Gueren, Women’s Health, Published November 13, 2015, Retrieved April 28, 2015.
[iv] The Cheat Meal – How To Use Cheat Meals To Stick To Your Diet, The Calorie Counter, Retrieved April 28, 2015.
[v] Cheat & Win: 10 Cheat Meal Strategies for Weight Loss, EATTHIS! WEIGHT LOSS, Retrieved April 28, 2015.
[vi] Why I Don’t Believe in “Cheat Day”, Jonny Bowden, jonnybowden.com, Retrieved April 28, 2015.
[vii] The Importance of Having One Cheat Day When Dieting, FitDay.com, Retrieved April 28, 2015.