I always hear people talking about “cheat days” or “cheat meals” and in the same breath hear people talking about how they’re frustrated not being able to loose weight or they’re struggling on their diet and I just shake my head.
The idea that you have to “cheat” on eating healthy breeds guilt, it trains your brain to think about your cheat foods as something forbidden and therefore encouraging cravings, which in turn lead to you “breaking your diet” causing you to feel a sense of failure and could lead to binge eating and resulting weight gain.
Just think about it; when you binge on your cheat day you probably consume around 3,000 – 5,000 calories in a single sitting because you can – you justify it as “it’s just one day, I’m going to the gym tomorrow”. But that amount of calories is more than the average grown man should consume in a day, in fact it is closer to two days worth.
Cheat meals are supposed to prevent you from feeling deprived, boost metabolism, and increase chances of success with a diet; at least that’s what they tell you. Sure the occasional indulgence is not going to kill you, in fact it could benefit you – even if that benefit is just a mental one – but that does not mean that pigging out on sugar and empty carbs until you feel like you’re going to pop is the right way to do it.
In fact, chances are that by over-indulging on the foods you’ve restricted yourself from you’re going to make your cravings worse, meaning you’re going to spend the whole week dreaming of that burger, pizza or milkshake waiting for you on Friday.
Thinking about cheat meals and cheat days increases the chance of you “falling of the wagon” and binging. If you’re spending your week waiting for your next cheat meal, you’re going to become obsessed, you will loose focus and it becomes almost like a self hypnosis, the more you think the more you crave, the more you crave the more you think.
Break the vicious cycle.
When you change the way that you eat your body will take some time to adjust. Your system needs a few months to adapt to the new way of eating and figure out where and when it needs to get its nutrients. This process can take up to three months, so by throwing “cheats” at it every week you are confusing yourself and you’ll find yourself struggling to loose weight or build muscle.
Things like transfats, gluten and various oils can linger in your body for longer than most other foods; so when you find yourself scarfing down a Burger King on a Friday afternoon, chances are that by the next week you will still be suffering from some of the effects of your cheat meal whether it’s obvious or not.
Instead of a cheat meal why not just find a healthy alternative to your favourite binge foods, yes without the sugar, empty carbs and grease, the chances are they won’t immediately fill the craving but it is all about training your body and mind. Fight the craving with homemade burgers topped with all your favourite bits and some homemade oven baked fries, wedges or sweet potato fries. Make a simple flat bread base, whip up a quick pizza sauce with tomato paste and spices and top it with a delicious cheese and the toppings you love the most and serve it with a salad.
Change your perception.
I’ve had people tell me that they have woken up craving a smoothie but because it was their cheat day, they knew that if they didn’t indulge in a full English breakfast, they wouldn’t be able to get their bacon, egg and beans fix for another week, so they forced themselves to have a full English, even though that wasn’t what they wanted.
Listen to your body, if you’re craving something, have it. If you feel like having a salad for lunch but it’s your cheat day, don’t force yourself to have a burger, you will end up feeling worse for it. In fact you should feel proud of yourself and your body that your commitment to a healthy lifestyle has paid off and your body and mind have started to learn what fuels them rather than hurts them – listen to them.
There’s a difference between wanting a small treat and a craving. Cravings are often a response to environmental triggers, habit or emotions and aren’t good reasons to eat. Take the time to learn to control cravings by figuring out what they are, what has triggered them and try work through it; cravings will often last about 20 minutes and you can normally encourage them to pass by distracting yourself with another task. But most importantly, in order to control cravings, stop making certain foods forbidden by labelling them as “good,” “bad” or a “cheat,” and you won’t feel deprived.