While eating a healthy variety of good natural food is important, it is unrealistic to expect everyone to stick to such a strict regimen 100% of the time. Every once in awhile you should treat or reward yourself, be it for reaching a goal, rewarding for sticking to your plan, or maybe just to remind yourself what your favorite indulgence tastes like.
There are benefits to having the occasional cheat meal. Psychologically, the reward component of an upcoming cheat meal can keep you going during those long stretches where you don’t see much of a change in your measurements or on the scale. Scientifically, constant dieting will eventually lead to caloric deficits which can cause your energy levels to drop. The calorie bomb provided by your cheat meal can shake things up by encouraging your body to burn calories more rapidly instead of allowing it to adjust to a lower calorie lifestyle.
However, it is important to keep it under control. Follow these rules to keep your occasional deviation from derailing the whole train.
Plan your cheats.
There are no spontaneous cheats. Just like you plan your healthy meals, your cheats should be something you figured out in advance. Spur of the moment cheats tend to lead to overindulgence, and not having a plan can turn a cheat meal into a cheat weekend or worse. Make your cheat something worthwhile, not the random sample vendor you come upon in Costco.
There’s a negative connotation tied to the word “cheat”. It makes it seem bad, like you’re doing something wrong. Instead of calling it a cheat meal, call it a treat meal. I like to plan my treat meals to coincide with meeting certain goals.
Sticking to planned cheats also eliminates the guilt factor. Say on your drive home that Starbucks caught you in its tractor beam and you ended up spontaneously downing that large mocha crappachino. The rest of the day, or maybe even the weekend, you’re likely to feel guilty for drinking all those calories and may even write the whole time off as a loss. This can easily lead to you abandoning all the hard work you have done. Stick to a plan and you won’t feel guilty.
Limit it to one per week.
Shaking up the monotony of always eating clean can help you mentally and also physically, making your long-term plan sustainable. To lessen the impact, plan to consume your cheat soon after working out when your body will more easily burn off those carbs and sugars with less of a penalty to you later.
Portion it out.
It’s not an all out pass to go crazy. Choose your cheat and stick to the portion you pre-determined. Keep the caloric intake reasonable (actually take a look at the calories on the menus or packaging—make sure it’s worth it). No all-you-can-eat buffets and don’t park yourself in front of things you’ll pick at, like a party bowl of chips.
Make it social.
Eating alone at home could lead to a binge. Instead, go out to eat with friends. This way, there is a limit to the amount of food available to you (you’d need to order more once your portion is gone), and hopefully the friends you are with will keep you accountable. You’ll also eat your food more slowly with the distraction of conversation as opposed to how fast you will eat in front of the TV or tablet. This slower eating will allow your body the time it needs to signal you it’s full before you overindulge.
Get right back on plan.
Don’t let your cheat meals turn into cheat days, weekends, or weeks. Look forward to and enjoy your reward, but also plan to get right back into your healthy eating regimen at your following meal. This might mean giving away any leftover cheat food or tossing it out if you don’t have the willpower to keep your fingers out of it. Have your healthy food prepped so there are no excuses.
One thing you may want to do as you progress towards your diet and fitness goals is to keep track of how certain foods make you feel after eating them. A week ago, I had a soda and popcorn after going soda free for over two months. The cheat meal was disappointing. I just felt kind of blah afterwards. It wasn’t the awesome reward I hoped it would be. If you have a similar experience jot it down somewhere to remind yourself to skip that one and instead choose something your body will appreciate more.