The cheat meal is what every dieter looks forward to. However it can be your best friend, or worst enemy, depending on how well you follow the guidelines. First of all the “cheat meal” or “free meal” is a planned break from your diet to eat whatever you want. Depending on the client I usually allow one once/week. Once a person leans out they can go with a full “cheat day” once/week and will probably not gain any weight. This happens because a person is more insulin sensitive and has better nutrient partitioning capabilities.
First and foremost the cheat meal provides the psychological benefit to following a strict diet. It is much easier to stick to a diet if you know that if you wait until the weekend or once a week you can eat whatever you want. If a person is to diet with no end in sight or no cheat meal it makes it seem like something that in all honesty is not going to work for the majority of the people.
For most of my overweight clients once/week works just fine.
The cheat meal also provides some physiological benefits to the dieter as well. Once you go on a calorie/carb restricted diet after a period of time your metabolism, fat burning hormones and fat burning enzymes will start to down regulate. The cheat meal will help to reverse this process. However usually a much longer period of eating more calories and carbs is needed to totally upregulate everything, which is why every 3-4 months I will give my clients a 1-2 week break, but they must also follow specific guidelines as well. This will usually bring everything back to normal and will lead to better weight loss in the future. This must be monitored carefully as well as I had some clients gain ALOT of weight back in 2 weeks, as much as 15 lbs. You must remember it is not a contest to see how much food you can eat. However that is a topic for a different time.
There are certain guidelines I find that work the best when it comes to weight loss. First of all a cheat meal is a meal, not a whole day. I have seen people actually gain weight if they go crazy on a cheat day. Even if they have been perfect all week and trained hard they can still gain weight.
So here are my rules for the cheat meal:
- Have your meal on Sunday night. If you have a cheat meal for breakfast you are more likely to cheat all day. If you have it at night you are more likely to start your diet again when you wake up in the morning. Also, Sunday night is preferred. If you have it on Friday night or Saturday night you are more likely to cheat all weekend. If you do it Sunday night you get up Monday morning and everything is back to routine. It should be noted that eating a cheat meal will make you slightly crave carbs again for a day or so.
- Eat your protein first in your cheat meal.
- Your cheat meal is just that, a meal. A good rule is once you get up from the dinner table your meal is over.
- I usually do not give a cheat meal when first starting the diet for at least 2-4 weeks. This allows the person to get in a good groove and destroy cravings.
- The cheat meal is given every 5-7 days depending on the persons social life or events. I prefer the cheat on Sunday night but if on Friday night the person has an event where they will be eating and drinking stuff that is not on the diet I will tell them just to have their cheat then.
It has been brought to my attention by some clients that the word “cheat meal” has a negative connotation to it and should be called a “free meal” instead. I don’t care if you call it a “Happy Meal” or whatever, it all means the same thing. Just do it. It is of my experience that the people who usually point out such things are usually the ones who have a higher failure rate with weight loss programs.