Cheat Meals May Not Be So Bad After All

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Consuming a diet that is 100% healthy food is not the easiest way to live. Although some people do just fine cutting out all of the “bad” foods from their diets, the majority have a hard time. Daily stress surges, cravings kick in, and the temptation of indulging in a whole pizza pie or bag of cookies becomes impossible to dodge. It is known that one of the best ways to even start a diet is not necessary to go cold-turkey and cut everything out at once, but rather in a gradual manner over the course of weeks. It has been questioned whether including a cheat meal in a diet is harmful or not, but recent research has stated that it can be helpful in order to stick to your strict eating plan as long as you do it the right way.

Not a Cheat “Day”

It is important to note that cheat meals are only helpful to a diet if they are left as that— meals. Often times dieters use an entire day to indulge at every meal and this can wreak havoc on your weight loss goals. Although a cheat meal can rack up to a few thousand calories, it will not undo any of your dieting from earlier in the week. But an entire day of feasting will double or triple those few thousand calories. Having more than one cheat meal may make it hard to get back into your normal healthy eating habits.

Motivation

A cheat meal serves many purposes. Many times it is a source of motivation for someone on a strict diet. Eating plain chicken and vegetables day in and day out can get boring, but knowing that you have a night of burgers and fries or ice cream waiting for you at the end of the week can motivate you to keep strict. Cutting calories when trying to lose weight can lower overall energy levels, especially within the first few weeks of beginning a diet. One cheat meal will actually provide much needed energy to maintain a balance in the body.

Increased Metabolism

Consistently consuming a diet too low in calories will eventually slow down your metabolism, leading to slower weight loss. A cheat meal provides a boost in overall calorie consumption, which will cause a “shock” to the body’s digestion. This will increase your metabolism and help you burn more calories on a daily basis. It is hard to believe, but yes, a cheat meal will actually help you lose weight! There are diet plans that will fluctuate the number of calories you consume each day for this same reason.

The reason this works is because the seldom ‘jump’ in calorie consumption on one day will help regulate the hormones in charge of hunger and satiety. When on a weight loss diet we should be eating fewer calories than we burn, but over time our bodies end up adjusting to this new calorie amount. That is when we hit a plateau and stop losing weight. Adding in one day of a bit higher calories keeps the body in a burning state, helping with further weight loss. Leptin, the hormone in charge of controlling the sensation of feeling full dramatically decreases over time when on a low-calorie diet. Ghrelin, on the other hand, is the hormone that is responsible for telling you that you are hungry and will increase over time on a low-calorie diet. In order to keep burning calories, one should strive to keep the leptin hormone elevated and ghrelin on the lower end. A cheat meal assists with this regulation and aides in continued weight loss.

Keep the Balance

When choosing your cheat meal, it is best to not have the ‘all or nothing’ mentality. If you are going to splurge, make sure it is on something you actually care to eat. Do not waste calories on something that is not that satisfying to you. For example, when going to a restaurant and planning on having a big bowl of creamy pasta for dinner, and stick to just that. Your date or party may order a few appetizers that are far from being on the list of your favorite foods, so do not even grab a bite! You will enjoy your pasta dish much more if you steer clear from giving into calories you did not care for in the first place.

The best way to indulge in what you truly enjoy as a cheat meal, but not go overboard, is to cook at home. If you want pizza, make a homemade one—crust and all. This will ensure you know exactly what ingredients are going into every bite. If what you crave are a burger and fries, make your own at home using cooking spray rather than oil, whole grain burgers buns, and baked fries. You will most likely save about half the calories than eating this same meal at a restaurant or fast food joint. It is best to learn the most you can about healthier substitutions. You will be surprised as to how much you can still satisfy your cravings and not feel guilty when opting for healthier alternatives to those ‘bad’ foods.

Sources

  1. Rita Coelho do Valea, Rik Pieters, and Marcel Zeelenberg, The Benefits of Behaving Badly on Occasion: Successful Regulation by Planned Hedonic Deviations, Journal, May 28, 2018
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