Dieting can be really difficult, especially since in this day and age, instant gratification is at our fingertips. It can be quite the mental battle to stay away from fast and convenient burgers, desserts, and other tasty treats. But in your journey to better health and a better body, sacrifices must be made.
But we all know this, and I am not going to spend this post lecturing about staying on your diet. Instead, I want to discuss the importance of implementing 1-2 cheat meals per week into your diet. Cheat meals are meals in which the dietary rules that you have been following don't apply. You allow yourself to indulge shamelessly and without guilt into a meal of your choice, regardless of the nutritional value (or lack thereof). Cheat meals are really important when dieting because they allow you to take a break from the monotony of your dietary routine and provide relief in three major ways: psychologically, physically, and socially.
Deprivation is extremely challenging, even for the most dedicated fitness professionals. Staying on a restricted calorie diet with boring, plain, and repetitive meals can eventually cause you to wear down and go on an out-of-control, buffet style binge. Obviously, this isn't healthy and is not going to be advantageous to you in your weight loss goals. Therefore, in order to stay on track both physically and mentally, allow yourself to indulge in ONE (sometimes two depending on your fitness goals) cheat meals per week. This serves as an incentive to stay on your diet for the rest of the week, if you know that you will get to indulge your cravings at some point. Often times when I am craving a certain food (for me it is anything chocolate) I often to have to remind myself that I will get my reward soon! But I have to finish the week strong in order to truly enjoy my cheat meal.
In addition to the mental exhaustion that can be caused by dieting, it can often have some physical effects as well. Sometimes dieters start to feel run down or exhausted after an extended period of time. This is primarily caused by the low glycogen levels in your muscles. In addition to fatigue, this can cause decreased muscle strength as well. That is why cheat meals are so important because they help replenish the glycogen levels in the muscles and can fuel some really powerful workouts. Another downside of extended dieting without cheat meals is that it can negatively impact your metabolism by actually slowing it down because of the low caloric intake. But by allowing yourself a cheat meal, you will actually throw your body into shock therefore igniting your metabolism.
Lastly, dieting can be the most challenging when faced with friends and family who are not also on a diet. So many of our social activities revolve around food, and you should be able to go out and enjoy yourself. You want to continue living life and having full experiences with family and friends, not eating dry chicken and asparagus by yourself in a corner. So if you know of a big family function or a fun party with friends is coming up, then save your cheat meal for that event so you can attend without guilt and still have a great time.
How frequently you decide to indulge in a cheat meal should be determined based on your fitness goals and after you talk to your personal trainer. Personally, I would recommend one time per week and at the most, two times per week. Anything more will negatively impact the progress you are making towards your fitness goals.
In addition, be aware that it is called a cheat MEAL, not a cheat DAY. Be sure to limit your indulgence to a singular meal and then continue on with your diet as normal. Also, on your cheat meal, try to eat it sensibly. Meaning, don't scarf the whole plate of cookies and pizza down in one breath. Try to enjoy and experience each bite. This will lead to a much more rewarding experience for you and leave you feeling satisfied instead of sick. While the point of the cheat meal is to indulge, make sure you aren't eating so much that you do become sick. 2-3 slices of pizza is fine but maybe try not to eat the entire pie. At the end of the perfect cheat meal, you should feel satisfied and happy with what you just ate and confident that you can stay on track afterward.