One of the most common weight-loss mistakes is to cut your calories for consecutive weeks. The body will adapt to almost anything and will start using it's resources sparingly. To keep the engine running on all cylinders, it's good to bump up the calories once in a while. This theory brings on the widely spread belief that it would be beneficial to have a so called cheat meal. But already by calling it a cheat meal, your nose picks up the sweet scent of sugar and fat. And instead of, let's say doubling the carb intake around a training session by eating more rice, we super-size at McDonald's. We feast on the cheat meal with a good conscious. Will this type of carb-cycling pay-off? Our mind promised it would pay off. But we're still broke. And fat.
Altering your perception of a cheat meal
Altering your perception of a cheat meal, is one of the most helpful methods to stick to long-term nutrition goals. What is a cheat meal for you? Let me ask you again. Now, shorten your answer, please. Or, better yet, can you change your answer? If you can tighten up that answer every month, you can continue with the same effort but reach better results.
January - You tell your mind that desserts are off limits. Check. February - You remove that thick sauce from the main course. Check. March - You skip the alcohol. Check. April - You replace your regular soda with diet soda. Check. Now that's a lot of checks. Money in the bank. And we lost fat.
Preparation for a cheat meal
But what if it's not up to you to decide? Maybe you are going to eat a fatty pizza if you agree or not. Maybe it's your franchise interview for California Pizza Kitchen and denial would be a deal breaker. Then the question is: what should you consume prior to the cheat meal?
A recent study from the University of Toronto shows that consuming protein before a cheat meal, such as a fatty pizza, could decrease fat mobilization (ref 1).
According to the study, consumption of whey protein prior to a meal improves post-meal glycemia (presence of glucose in the blood) without an increase in post-meal insulin concentrations. So now you drink a protein shake AND eat the pizza? are you serious? But, but, but the study said...
Now we blew up the calorie count. So what about the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) strategy? Could we eat our pizza with a good conscious and celebrate Ramadan during daylight?
This is where we run into another problem. We can easily monitor the visible damage unhealthy food has on our body by looking in the mirror. But a mirror won't reveal the internal damage. Tracking macros is definitely a good way to ensure progress in dieting. But what about micro-nutrients? The benefit of avoiding processed foods is that you really can't avoid absorbing micronutrients. This is why it's good to for instance limit the intake of protein shakes.
Calories in vs calories out
One thing that no one mentions when calculating 'calories in' and 'calories out', is the skinny friend that can eat a horse and doesn't gain weight. A lot of people mistakenly think that 'calories out' only means how many calories you burn when you exercise. Let me explain.
What does the body do with things it does not need? It would seem that it either stores it for a rainy day, or gets rid of it. Our skinny friend's thyroid and digestive system is working and the extra calories end up in the toilet. The important thing is to keep this carb-cycling functional by not overfeeding yourself too frequently.
Consuming unhealthy food at one go also means that there might be less casualties. Let's say you allow your kids to eat candy only on Saturdays. Maybe the total amount of candy eaten during the week is therefore less. But more importantly, the toll on the teeth decreases significantly.
And what could be better than to get sick of something unhealthy because you ate too much of it at one go?
Good food makes you feel good
The best advice I can give regarding cheat meals is to ask yourself how it feels 15 minutes after consuming it. Memorize the answer. Use that to motivate, brainwash and guide yourself in your food choices. Let your body, and not your taste buds, call the shots.
1.Tina Akhavan, Bohdan L. Luhovyy, Shirin Panahi, Ruslan Kubant, Peter H. Brown, G. Harvey Anderson Mechanism of action of pre-meal consumption of whey protein on glycemic control in young adults. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 25 (2014) 36-43. http://download.journals.elsevierhealth.com/pdfs/journals/0955-2863/PIIS0955286313001836.pdf