Now that we’re all making smart choices, eating minimal processed foods, and loading up on healthy veggies and grains and lean protein, you might be wondering: am I ever going to eat pizza again? The answer is yes, but you STILL HAVE TO BE SMART. Let’s talk about cheat meals and what the deal is.
A “cheat meal” is a meal wherein you indulge, or “cheat” on your usual healthy diet. Sometimes it’s also called a “free meal” because you’re free from the typical constraints of your daily food choices. One thing you should NOT call it, as I have heard it referred, is a “reward meal.” You don’t reward being a fitnessing badass with eating a burger. That is not the mindset we’re going for. Your reward for that is being healthy and living longer and being able to do fun activities because you have so much energy and maybe even you get to wear shorts without looking like a sausage. Those are rewards. The Cheat Meal is a way of keeping you on track, long-term, in a realistic way. It helps most people to stick with their healthy lifestyles, because being healthy won’t mean NEVER having french fries again, or NEVER having a bowl of straight up regular pasta. Knowing you can indulge in those once in a while is what can keep most people making healthy choices the rest of the time.
HOW MANY CHEAT MEALS PER DAY DO I GET?
So you actually definitely never get these on a daily basis. Some people do one a week, or one every 2 weeks, or follow a general 90/10 rule for the week where 90% of the meals are healthy, clean eating, and the remaining 10% are less strict. Some athletes or marathoners will go 80/20, being strict only 80% of the time, and then get strict again within a few weeks of a big fitness event. In general, I find that doing the percentage measurement can get a little tricky, and lead people to be too lax when it comes to eating. It’s not hard for it to turn into “Well I’ll order a salad for the 90% and split a side of fries for the 10%!” and doing that on a daily basis can really fuck up your shit. Having one a week is typically a good benchmark for those who need it. It’s often enough that you don’t feel the need to go crazy on it when it happens, but rare enough that most of what you put in your body is good for you.
HOW MANY HOURS CAN A CHEAT MEAL LAST?
While I absolutely understand the instinct to game the system and have your cheat meal last several hours, turning Cheat Brunch into Cheat Dinner into Cheat Drunk Pizza, this is not how it works. Cheat Meal is one meal, and it is not a quest of eating to end all quests of eating. Like I said earlier, you still have to be smart about this. For some of us Eatin’ Kinds, it’s not hard to put away 3,000 – 5,000 calories in one sitting. This is not a Cheat Meal; this is a Disaster. Here in fitnessing land, we do not entertain Disasters. They are not welcome. Your Cheat Meal is not going to be ordering jalapeño poppers, and then a cheeseburger with fries, and then a sundae (also, WTF are you doing in a TGIFridays). It might even be helpful to think of it in terms of a Cheat Item as opposed to a Cheat Meal, if you have a tendency to go overboard.
SO WHAT CAN I ACTUALLY EAT?
You can eat the thing you love the most, just don’t eat it to death. If pizza is your jam, have two slices. That is enough of a cheat. You don’t need a whole pizza. If you just love love love cheeseburgers with a fried pineapple ring and duck egg on top, then get that, but get it with the salad. Save the fries for next week’s cheat meal, when you get a sensible sandwich, or a nice veggie frittata. If dessert is your thing, then eat clean the whole day, and then get an ice cream cone. Each item counts, so don’t just lump a bunch of bad choices into one day and call it a Cheat Meal. You’ll start to feel like shit and sabotage all the hard work you’re doing.
DO THESE HELP ME LOSE WEIGHT?
So, some people talk about how cheat meals kickstart your metabolism, or trick your body into burning more fat, or keep your body guessing, or whatever. Honestly this is a slippery slope, and I don’t recommend thinking of it this way at all. A Cheat Meal isn’t a weight loss tool, it’s a willpower tool. It helps you keep a long term healthy lifestyle by allowing for some normal and planned “life happens” moments. If you’re one of those people that doesn’t need these in order to stick to a healthy diet, then there is no reason to indulge on a regular basis. Putting bad things in your body, even if it’s only once a week, is still putting BAD THINGS into your BODY, . Also, if you are one of those people that doesn’t need Cheat Meals, then i have SO MANY QUESTIONS FOR YOU.
The other nice thing about eating clean for the vast majority of your week is that when you DO indulge, it actually tends to be a good reminder that clean eating is a better way to go. More likely than not, you aren’t going to feel especially GOOD after a Cheat Meal. Don’t get me wrong, DURING the Cheat Meal you will probably feel GREAT. Food like that is addictive by design. But afterwards, that sluggish and semi-queasy feeling usually kicks in and reminds you that eating this stuff isn’t so awesome after all. That kind of reminder is great motivation in keeping your nutrition on track for another week. Maybe you’ll even find yourself skipping your Cheat Meals every once in a while, because it just isn’t that worth it. That would be a great place to be. But in the meantime, just take it week by week, and plan for small ways of giving in to cravings, in a very controlled and scheduled manner.