The Infamous Cheat Meal
So you’ve started a new workout program and diet, everything is going great and you’re feeling fan-freaking-tastic that you’ve been good alllll week long… until your friends ask you to go out to get dinner and drinks with them on a Saturday night… UH OH! What now? I can’t cheat, can I? Can I bring my own prepared food into the restaurant? Can I get plain chicken breast and use my food scale?! Can I still be a fun person at the bar without getting drinks?! (I realized I'm way less fun when attempting to do this)
I know how you feel, I’ve been there many times before. The LAST thing I want to do is “ruin” my diet with a horrible meal out at a restaurant. But, like everything else in this world, its just not that simple. There are right and wrong ways to do a cheat meal, and plenty of points to cover on the topic.
- Will a cheat meal ruin my progress?
- How often should I enjoy a cheat meal?
- How to plan ahead if you know you’ll be going out to eat.
- Is drinking once and a while okay?
- Should I feel bad about my cheat meal?
- What are some benefits of a cheat meal?
- The final word.
1. Will a cheat meal ruin my progress?
Lets start out plain and simple, a cheat meal will NOT ruin your progress, assuming all else is right with your diet and workout plan. I would advise against devouring 2 large pizza’s by yourself, but theres no reason why your cheat meal would ruin progress if you do it right. The goal of your cheat meal should not be to ingest as many calories as possible, but to enjoy a delectable food that you can’t eat every day. If you keep the calories within reason, and ensure your cheat meal still has a good combination of carbs protein and fats, then you’ll be a-ok!
2. How often should I enjoy a cheat meal?
A cheat meal is something you should look forward to, a maximum of twice per week but preferably once per week. One thing to make sure of, is that your cheat meal does not turn into a “cheat day,” where the entire day is spent eating whatever you want because you figure you’ve already ruined your day because of the one cheat meal. An entire cheat day can be, and will be, highly detrimental to your progress… especially if your main goal is weight loss or gaining muscle tone. I personally like to save mine sometime for the weekend, Saturday night for example. Throughout the week I rarely, if ever, go out to eat so its much easier to stick to my diet and workout routine. Then when Saturday comes along, and I’ve already gone to the gym 5-6 times and I know that Sunday is my rest day, I do not feel guilty about indulging in some restaurant food and/or a couple drinks.
3. How to plan ahead if you know you’ll be going out to eat.
There have literally been times in the past where I didn’t go out to eat with my friends because I was so gung-ho about my diet that I didn’t want to go over my daily calorie goal. Looking back now, that was foolish of me. If you know you’re going to go out to eat just plan ahead! Know that you’ll have a meal thats roughly 600-1000 calories (depending on what you get of course.) So on the day you’ll be going out, make sure you eat a little less throughout the day, specifically carbs (usually when dining out most meals are much higher on carbs than they are with protein). Also, look for healthy options when dining out if possible. Avoid high carb pasta dishes, dishes soaked in sauces and butters, and instead opt for a nice steak or chicken dish, add in a side of veggies and some rice and you’ve got a very healthy meal!
4. Is drinking once and a while okay?
Plain and simple, drinking alcohol is not the best idea when exercising, unless you’re capable of only having 1 or 2 drinks then stopping. In reality, thats just not the case for most people. As if the calories from the alcoholic beverage wasn’t enough, most times people are drinking they also crave bad late night foods when drunk, and greasy fast food the next day when they are hung-over. So from one night of drinking you can easily be adding over 1500 unwanted calories to your diet, which is very BAD especially if you’re trying to lose fat and tone! You know the saying, “everything in moderation?” ..that applies to alcohol as well. While its not going to be beneficial, it won’t hurt your progress if you can drink in moderation (1-2 drinks), and only drink once or twice per week maximum.
5. Should I feel bad about my cheat meal?
You should look forward to your cheat meal almost as much as your birthday each year. Kidding, but you get the idea. Use the cheat meal to congratulate yourself on a great week of following your diet and exercise routine! Savor it and enjoy it! If you allow yourself to feel guilty you are missing the point of the cheat meal!
6. What are some benefits of a cheat meal?
Believe it or not, the cheat meal has many benefits! If you have been dieting for a while and are eating in a calorie deficit its likely that you’ve started to notice you have less energy than you used to, either in the gym or in everyday life. This is because you have low glycogen stores in your body. The excess calories and primarily excess carbohydrates will not only refill these glycogen stores, but also “supercharge” you for a day or two. Have you ever gone to the gym a day after ingesting very large amounts of carbohydrates and felt absolutely unstoppable and very strong? Well now you know why! Cheat meals can also provide psychological relief, it can help to relieve stress and make you look forward to the next week keeping on track. Last but not least, the option of a cheat meal can ensure that you maintain some semblance of a social life! Who wants to be the guy/girl who never goes out and has fun with their friends just because they’re on a diet? Certainly not me :)
7. The final word
What it all comes down to is that a cheat meal can very well be beneficial, for the right person in the right situation. If you’re a bodybuilder who has a show in a week, you’re clearly not going to be having cheat meals. However, for the average person trying to maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine, a cheat meal once per week can help overall and in no way should be looked upon as a bad thing! Again, moderation will always be key when it comes to cheat meals and drinking, so don’t expect it to be a free pass to eat and drink whatever you want for as long as you want!
Until next time, keep it healthy...
Brian Lepine CPT