What is a Cheat Meal?
Depending on how… optimistic your New Year’s resolutions were, a “cheat meal” may seem like a really good idea right now. For the uninitiated, cheat meals are when you have a meal that isn’t part of your plan or diet, and is generally a huge meal of highly processed foods. It’s been made popular by gym bros and fitness models posting their insane meals of multiple burgers or gallons of ice-cream to social media. These people are not very good people to take health and fitness advice from.
Instead, we need to bury the idea of having a cheat meal in the same dark hole we’re going to bury the phrase “carbs make you fat”. Here’s why.
It’s The Wrong Way To Think About Food
The word cheat implies that some foods are bad, and by having these foods in your diet you are somehow doing something wrong. This is a very unhealthy way to view foods, and is simply not true. All foods can be included as part of a healthy and sustainable diet. You’re not cheating if you have a burger, you’re just having a burger and everything’s going to be ok.
Unless you and your diet have exchanged vows, maybe it’s time to spice things up with an open relationship.
It Can Stuff Up Your Whole Week
You can be in a calorie deficit for six and a half days of the week but, if you go hard enough, your cheat meal can bump your weekly total calories out of a deficit, which means no progress. All so you could take an Instagram photo of yourself covered in cookies.
It Doesn’t Reset Your Hunger Hormones
One of the main arguments for cheat meals is their supposed ability to reset leptin. Leptin is a hormone involved in the regulation of appetite and your metabolic rate, and as you lose weight your total amount of leptin goes down. This can effect our metabolism and also increase our appetite. Smashing a burger and chips apparently resets this whole system (I heard it in a gym once so it must be true).
The idea that one single meal could meaningfully impact this system is very outdated. In reality, you’d need longer periods of increased calories before it would start to recover, something like a refeed or diet break. Speaking of which…
The relatively new kid on the block, these diet strategies are designed to reduce the physiological and psychological stress of dieting and help your hunger hormones start to recover.
A refeed is 24-72 hour period of increased calories (primarily from carbs), whilst a diet break is a full 1-2 weeks back at maintenance calories. These strategies are perfect for those long, arduous diets required by bodybuilding, to help maintain progress, sanity and muscle throughout your long prep. But if you’re not looking to jump up on stage…
Don’t Be So Aggressive
If your current plan has you daydreaming of cheat meals, it’s clearly not a good plan. Again, all foods can be included as part of a healthy and sustainable diet. Rather than falling into a cycle of super restriction followed by weekend cheat meals, include sensible amounts of your favourite foods throughout the week and you won’t feel the need to eat like a teenager every weekend.
And please stop using the phrase “cheat meal.”
If you’re still confused and need some clarity, book a consult with Jono (our Dietitian).