The Cheat Meal – That one off occasion most fitties look forward to every week…
Not EVERY fitness fanatic has cheats – many see healthy eating as a permanent change and have no qualms never eating a takeaway again.
Another argument against cheats is that it is encouraging your brain to see bad food as a reward, which inevitably leads to some psychological trip wires when you’re trying to actually ENJOY and settle int0 a more healthy lifestyle.
The purpose of the cheat is mental and physical; you get to give your brain (and probably your social life) a night off, and you get to feed your glycogen stores in the muscle and leptin (fat burning hormone) levels.
However, I have loads of clients who would rather not stuff their face with ice cream one night a week, and to these clients I recommend clean ‘Refeed Days‘. A refeed day is one day a week when you can have more CLEAN starchy carbohydrates than usual (think oats, sweet potato, brown rice etc), once again allowing your glycogen and leptin levels to sky rocket and assist the coming week’s training and results.
There’s no denying that Refeed Days are better. The problem with cheats is that they can often lead you down a naughty path that you never intended to go down…
For example, last week I met an old friend for lunch and ordered pasta – a pretty good cheat all things considered. However, after our meal she left me with a cigarette, and because I was still in ‘cheat mode’, I indulged. Later that afternoon, I was a few minutes into lifting when a pounding headache came crashing down on me, effecting my training and making me feel quite sick to be honest. My body was not used to my bad old habits, and I payed for it.
And this type of slip up is common. I’ve heard of nights out that have lead to 3am chocolate binges, and I have lost count of clients who’s bowl of pasta turned into 3.
None of the above are good. It really IS important to see healthy eating as a lifestyle change, and to see a cheat meal once a week as a little break – NOT a reward or an excuse to go completely off the rails.
So, here are some rules to help you stick to your cheat:
1. MAKE SURE YOUR CHEAT IS A LATE DINNER - I say this to clients all the time. If your cheat is a late dinner, then chances are you will eat, be full, and want to go to bed. There is no time to turn every meal that day into a cheat and consume 3000 calories that your body simply does NOT need.
2. HAVE YOUR CHEAT AS YOUR POST WORKOUT MEAL - After you train, your body is in Anabolic mode, which is a fat burning, muscle building state. If you have your cheat after a good workout, leg day for example, that takeaway is a lot less likely to store as fat.
3. HAVE YOUR CHEAT THE NIGHT BEFORE A SERIOUS WORKOUT - The morning after my cheat, I always get up and do 30 minutes of fasted cardio, then return later in the day and train a big muscle group, like back or chest. I really use all that glycogen to fuel my training, and I see a huge improvement in my energy levels for days after my cheat.
4. IF YOU DON’T NEED IT, DON’T DO IT! - If you don’t have a social event that week or a family / date night that requires a takeaway for old times sake, don’t have a cheat. Have a big old refeed meal of clean starchy carbohydrates instead.
5. STICK TO ONE NIGHT A WEEK! - I usually recommend my clients have their cheat on a Sunday night, so they can train and commit to a spotless diet all week, weigh in on a Sunday morning and then eat what they like that evening. To my more social clients, it’s usually a Saturday, allowing them to have a night out with friends. Plan what night works best for you, and then give 100% until that night arrives.
Remember that cheats are meant to HELP your results, NOT hinder them. The trick is to always remember your goals, and DO NOT STOP UNTIL YOU GET THERE.