HOW OFTEN CAN I HAVE CHEAT MEALS?
Let me be the first to tell you that a perfect diet isn’t going to happen. Not unless you have super human willpower or are living on a desert island where the only thing you can eat is fish. At some point or another, we all succumb to the calling of our favorite comfort foods, sugary desserts or tasty buzz inducing beverages.
And that’s okay.
Cheat meals are actually a good way to keep you motivated to your overall healthier eating plan. Now of course, having a cheat day every single day is going to get you nowhere fast.
But cheating strategically can actually be good for you. Especially if you typically follow a lower carb nutrition plan.
If you follow a mostly low carb nutrition plan and then splurge on a high calorie, high carb meal, a few cool things happen that set you up for long-term success.
- People who eat lower carbs typically get lower levels of T3 and T4 hormones. Now the names of the hormones aren’t that important, but what happens overtime is that these hormone levels decrease. The longer you go low carb, the lower they get. And when these drop too low, they actually start slowing down you metabolism. The occasional cheat meal gives them a big surge to rev your metabolism back up.
- When you eat a cheat meal, you give yourself a pretty big calorie surplus. Because your body has all of these extra calories, it knows it has tons of extra energy and doesn’t need to store any for later. Instead of trying to store the extras, it can use it all up immediately giving you a solid energy burn for the rest of the day. Some studies show that a strategic cheat meal can increase your metabolic burn by about 9% for the next 24 hours. Which is part of the reason that occasional cheat meals don’t make you gain a ton of weight – it spikes our metabolic burn.
- Cheat meals increase your leptin levels, which tell our brain when we’re full and don’t need any more food. If we following a long term diet, most of us will feel restricted and always hungry. That’s because long term dieting gives you low leptin levels – the hormone that tells your brain you’re full. But giving your body strategic cheat meals gives you periodic leptin boosts that can last about 72 hours. That means that one cheat meal can help cut cravings for the next few days.
- But the biggest benefit of cheat meals is your psychological health. Following a diet or nutrition plan can be daunting on your willpower and your psychological function. Instead of always feeling restricted, you can instead look forward to your cheat meal in the next few days. Dieters who ate regular cheat meals were 70% more likely to stick to their diets and lasted 80% longer on their plan than the non-cheating weight loss seekers.
So how often should you splurge on your diet? It all depends on what nutrition plan you follow. If you’re on a specific plan, low the slow carb diet, then there are probably standard guidelines for when and how to splurge.
But for the general population that just tends to eat healthier and follow a mostly low carb plan, here’s a good rule of thumb for cheating:
Eat 1 cheat meal for every 20-30 meals.
At first glance that doesn’t sound like much! But let me break it down for you because it actually gives you frequent cheat splurges.
Let’s say you usually eat three square meals and two snacks everyday. That’s 5 “meals” each day. So if your goal is 20 healthy meals and then splurge, you’ll be indulging every 4th day.
That means 3 days of solid, committed, healthy eating and then give yourself a high calorie, eat whatever you want, meal. This ratio is short enough that those cheat meals are never too far away, but long enough to give you results. But remember, when that meal is over, the cheat is over and it’s time to get back to your healthy plan.