It’s Saturday night and you’re flopped on the couch in your sweats, Netflix is loading up your recently viewed shows. It’s been a huge week of training and good food- you have ticked off all workouts, weights have gone up on the bar and down on the scales. All meals were prepped, macros counted and consumption was timed perfectly.
You sit back and scan your eyes over your Deliveroo order consisting of three pieces of fried chicken, burgers, ice cream, block of chocolate and a thickshake. You’ve earned it after your glorious week- this is your cheat meal.
What a cheat meal it is too- a cheeky 4000 plus calories and all thrown down the hatch in one sitting. You force it down though- because you earned it. How often though, does the reward undo all of the weeks good work?
I’ve seen it before and I’ve also done it before. Start the week well, drop around a kilogram through everything being on point only to jump on the scales the next Monday a little heavier than the previous one.
There has to be a way to literally have your cake and eat it too right? That you can have the cheat meal but not the damage afterwards?
Unsurprisingly it comes back to that dirty C word that each of us curl up and cringe after hearing- compromise.
As far as I can see, there are two main options:
Cheat Meal Carnage Avoidance Strategy 1- Refeed.
The oldest trick in the book- the good ole changeroo.
When dieting, or at least in a calorie deficit- from time to time we want to bump calories back up a bit to keep the metabolism ticking along. There is strategy to it, it isn’t a case of “surprise 10,000 cals worth of pancakes coming in red hot!”
The frequency will come down to levels of adherence, it can be all too easy for one bad meal to become a day of binge eating and then a week of bye Felicia to good food altogether. Typically the leaner you are the more frequent you can “refeed” maybe it’s once a week, maybe once a fortnight or if you’re just starting out and there is a bit to lose once a month.
By rejigging the title from cheat meal to the somewhat more pleasant “refeed” we take a bit of the dirty out of it, even if it’s only a name change. A refeed looks to stock up on some vital nutrients and a bit of a surplus of calories- in particular carbohydrates to replenish glycogen storage in muscle tissue and liver.
Cheat Meal Carnage Avoidance Strategy 2- The Good, The Bad.
It is no secret, I enjoy burgers or pizza as much as the next person and happily make way for them in my week somewhere. I adhere to the ever simple 80/20 rule which for me means that a minimum of 80% of my meals are nutrient rich, healthy and tasty. No more than 20% is not so ideal.
This means not only do I allow myself to eat some of the less favourable foods, I plan for it. This takes out one of the nastier side effects of a cheat meal- the associated guilt.
It is a strange cycle when the combustion fuel is guilt- you do something you don’t like, you feel bad, feeling bad leads to feeling guilty and next thing you know, you’re back doing that bad thing again. In this case it’s a big cheat meal and feelings of guilt at whats been consumed and then consuming it again.
By planning it out you can plan the collateral around it. From time to time I’ll order a Perri Perri chicken pizza from crust- I don’t order sides, I don’t grab extra junk. It’s a Sunday night thing where I control what I’m eating by simply not ordering any extra. It’s not the healthiest meal in the world, but with a little planning around it the cheat meal is simply a surge in calories and carbohydrates- not a 10,000 calorie wrecking ball undoing the weeks good work.
Cheat Meal Carnage Avoidance Strategy 3- You’re Probably Too Hungry
This is something rarely spoken about I find- if you feel the need to reeeeeallly send it in your cheat meal then I would strongly recommend you try tracking your calories for a week or two throughout the week.
You have heard us talk about maintenance calories (no weight gain or loss) before, deficit (calorie deficit leads to weight loss), surplus (calorie surplus leads to weight gain).
It can be all too easy to strip calories back in an attempt to lose weight and in doing so slash a little too much off your daily consumption- think 600 calories under maintenance for six days, by the time you get to your cheat meal you’re essentially anywhere from 3600-4200 calories out of pocket- this translates to you probably being starving hungry.
I would argue this would be one of the easiest traps to fall in to and strongly suggest if something like this resonates with you, track calories for a couple weeks and if need be- don’t be afraid to up your maintenance calories during the week to curb the cravings by weeks end.
If you do it properly, the cheat meal refeed meal can be a beneficial tool- but for some it is much like Icarus, flying just a little too close to the sun. As with all other aspects of your nutrition, optimal results take a little bit of planning and as always, common sense rules apply.
Be smart, be happy and enjoy your food whether it’s a cheat meal or not.