Life is a series of compromises. We must all find our own balance of work and fun, of pleasure and enjoyment, of veggies and ice cream.
A frequent topic of discussion for those looking to lean out is the “cheat meal.” A cheat meal can be defined in many ways, but it’s generally a chance to eat something that’s not in line with a current health and hotness goal: it has too many calories, it’s too processed, or both. Many diets use cheat meals to give the dieter a mental and culinary break and, in many cases, to prevent the body from adjusting to the diet. There are several ways of employing cheat meals, so let’s take a look at our options, shall we?
Incidentally, Amsterdam has some delicious cheat foods.
1) The Cheat Day – Many folks who’ve tried Bill Phillips’s iconic Body-for-LIFE program have played with this before. Basically, you eat like fucking hotness war machine for six days (protein, veggies, water, unicorn blood), then one day a week, you go nuts and eat whatever you want (ice cream, pizza, candy, unicorn blood). Many folks enjoy this because it gives them a full day to gorge; usually it’s not enough to slow down the fat loss, but it allows them to hold out those six days when french fries and ice cream are on the way. Anecdotally, many people find they feel like shit after eating a full Papa John’s pizza, so it’s actually pretty easy to get back on the train the next day. For some, however, it encourages binge eating, and they actually manage to eat enough to slow (if not stop) their fat loss.
2) The Cheat Meal – The cheat meal is a more moderate version of the cheat day. Instead of taking a full day to eat whatever they want, dieters eat whatever they want for 1 to 3 meals a week. The advantage here is they’re usually only a day or two away from their next indulgence. The downside is that if they’re predisposed to binging, 3 binges a week are totally enough to throw a substantial wrench into all their hard work the rest of the week.
3) No Cheat Anything – Some folks like to just go hardcore when dieting. This is a great strategy for those who seem to be suffering actual addictions to food and need to take control of their life. It also prevents the binge eating relapses that the other two strategies might encourage. Furthermore, since willpower is a trainable quality, many people seem to develop psychospiritual super powers by claiming dominance over their food. On the downside, it requires a lot of discipline when one is going for several weeks without having any nutritional “fun”, and there is some research to suggest that carefully used cheat strategies can actually help fat loss by periodically letting the body know it’s not, in fact, actually starving it.
So which one is right for you? (wait for it… wait for it…) IT DEPENDS!!! (you totally knew that was coming.)
Truly, it depends. I say if you’re predisposed to binge eating, you want to be thoughtful when considering the periodic cheat meal route. In a perfect world, that’s probably the sanest option, but Health and Hotness Warrior, know thyself! If you’re gonna slide down a slippery slope and start housing entire cheesecakes, you may be better off just not going on that journey. In that case, you could either stay regimented for several weeks at a time, or give yourself a full day to eat whatever. However, the full day off seems to work best when one gorges themself to the point of being sick of crap food. And I must admit, I don’t know that I’m in love with that strategy. But to each their own!
The three things I do feel strongly about are this:
1) I much prefer the term “free meal” to “cheat meal.” Psychological framing matters. If you’re gonna eat some chips, fucking DO IT. Don’t feel bad about it. Enjoy that shit! Which leads me to my next point…
2) Plan your free meals. If you’re gonna go off the health and hotness menu, make sure it’s delicious! Nothing is worse than an unplanned free meal where you are just tired and didn’t plan right, so you breakdown and have something unhealthy that you don’t even enjoy that much.
3) Regardless of which strategy you do or do not employ, make sure you don’t diet too long without taking some sort of break. Now this nugget of wisdom is somewhat context dependent (for instance I don’t know that the clinically obese are served by this strategy), but if you’ve got 25 lbs to lose, you may want to plan to do it over 16 weeks, and include two 5 day “breaks” over that time. These are days where you will go back up to (or even above) the amount of calories you need to maintain your current bodyweight. I also recommend people allow themselves their favorite foods here, PARTICULARLY if they’ve had to restrict their favorite foods while losing bodyfat.
At the end of the day, my main concern will always be maximizing one’s quality of life. While I think dieting strictly is admirable and can teach folks about self discipline, health food can be yet another addiction for folks to obsess over (look up “orthorexia” (LINK TO BLOG POST)). Is there value in a shortened period of time where one goes “all in” and gets Snatched? Sure. But we must be careful not to yank our chains away from Master Junk Food only to hand them over to Master Health Food. I do not recommend an obsessive attitude about ANYTHING (though again, there may be value for short periods). Life is short dear reader. I encourage you to discover your own balance!
You can have your cake and eat it too. You just can’t eat the cake every fucking day, know what I’m sayin’?