Cheat Meals provide a great psychological edge to strict dieting but is there a physical advantage to them and should you use cheat meals while cutting up and getting your body fat down into single digits?
Before I get to the issue of cheat meals while cutting, let’s discuss cheat meals in general, what they mean to most people and the psychological and physical implications of indulging in them.
The Movie Trivia Challenge
Let’s test your ability to recall movies that most people don’t remember at all…
What 1980s movie was predicated on a great void of darkness, consuming all in it’s path?
[tick tock tick tock…]
If that was enough information for you to guess the right answer, I’m impressed (ask around – most people don’t seem to know).
In “The Never Ending Story”, young Bastian has to take on this evil force and in the end (spoiler alert), he saves himself and the world, by speaking his wishes aloud to make them known.
Junk food is “The Nothing”. You can run and hide for a little while but the ‘void of darkness’ will keep seeking you out with it’s singular goal of destroying you.
There’s really no safe place and you’ve got to keep acting fast to avoid the ultimate fate that the Night Hob and Teeny-Weeny (those were the Rock Biter’s friends consumed by ‘The Nothing’) met with. If junk food takes over and controls your daily life, your fate is sealed.
Junk Food vs. Cheat Meals
So we’ve established that junk food is evil incarnate. It’s clearly an ominous, malevolent presence lurking around every corner, waiting to consume and destroy you.
With this knowledge, it’s clear what needs to be done to fight the daily urge for junk food consumption. We need to plan special meals, or even whole days, where we feed our lust with our addiction.
Let’s continually look forward to a day where we can devour fried foods, high-carb cereals, breads, sugars, jelly filled Krispy Kremes, hot chocoloate chip cookies, syrup drenched pancakes or a James Brownie Funkie Jackhammer (where I live, it doesn’t get much better than that one).
We need.. Cheat Meals! Let’s all indulge and classify it as “socially accepted behavior”.
It’s a strange paradox, isn’t it? Cheat meals have become the norm for almost all diets. Only in dieting (and especially American diets) can you find the behavior of “feeding your addiction to fight your addiction” the norm.
Can you imagine an alcoholic living a life where he drinks a beer every couple days to stave off the overwhelming desire to drink constantly?
(Wow, I really shouldn’t have rattled the above list of foods off. The Nothing is closing in on me again.)
But wait.. Is Junk Food Good For You?
Is it possible that junk food provides a physical benefit and not just psychological? The National Institutes of Health cites a scientific study where 26 overweight women actually reduced both body weight and fat mass after an 18 week program of ingesting dark chocolate and sweet snacks on a daily basis, in conjunction with a low calorie diet!
That study gave me a good chuckle. It’s just a bit more proof that you calories in/calories out plays one of the most crucial roles in weight loss. The honest truth is that there is no clear winner when it comes to selecting the best diet. You can make almost any diet work (though I would highly suggest you stay away from this one) with a bit of perseverance and the mindset that you want to drop a few pounds.
We’re Talking About Cutting Up!
Losing a few pounds is actually pretty easy, be it fat or weight in general (though you should always be shooting for fat loss). But for those individuals who have gotten down to around 10% and are trying to get extremely lean, the rules all change.
Cutting up takes an enormous amount of focus and for most people, it gets difficult right about the time that they are trying to hit single digits for body fat percentage. That’s when the body really starts trying to hold on to the last bit of fat it has. Carb cycling is the most successful method I have found for getting past this plateau but it also requires extreme discipline.
Truth be told, I know a lot of lean dudes but I don’t know of anyone who has went into single digits (body fat percentage) while eating cheat meals at a high frequency. It’s typically what separates the those who do and those who wish they could. Lean bodies and rock hard abs are made in the kitchen.
So can you have cheat meals while cutting?
First.. what exactly are we considering a cheat meal?
What does a cheat meal mean to you?
For most of this year, I would indulge in a cheat meal only once (sometimes twice) a month. For me, the cheat meal was a dinner with my wife at a restaurant where they served somewhat healthy food. Instead of counting every calorie and macro-nutrient, I would order the steak, steamed broccoli and loaded mashed potatoes (as an example) and not even worry about the number of calories. That’s clearly not cheating too terribly bad but it was well outside the terms of the eating rules I had set for myself all year long and it was cheating.
July was the first time I went crazy on food in a manner unintended for mortal man. I indulged in Springfield’s greatest pizza (The Pizza House) and I devoured what would have taken your average dude a few days of leftover eating to consume. Not only that, but all that delicious fat and all those carbs triggered something in me that toyed with my ability to reason and further convinced me that it was okay to go ahead and take the rest of the day to eat for enjoyment. It was the only day that this year that I layed logic to rest and ate for pleasure. It was yummy, and I especially enjoyed the evening protein bar that I dipped in nutella.
As I wrote about in an earlier post, the end result was gaining 10 pounds overnight. Now that was likely mostly glycogen and water weight but it was exactly a week before I was back to the pre-pizza weight and was able to get back on track with cutting up.
So this scenario plays out for a lot of people when they speak of a “cheat meal”. It’s eating anything and all they want, all day long, or at least within a few hours clumped closely together.
If your idea of cheating on your diet is consuming all the food you want on a particular day, and you’re really trying to achieve single digits for body fat, you need to rethink your strategy. Overeating to make up for the days when calories and carbs are controlled, is a bit nonsensical anyway, but when your body is trying everything to hold on to it’s last remaining fat as it does when delving down into single digit numbers, it’s absolutely going to stop your progress.
I understand it’s quite a treat for the taste buds (did you know the average person has about 9,000 taste buds?) but the rewards of further self sacrifice are far more gratifying and long lasting.
A cheat meal should be a meal. Get rid of the “cheat day” mentality and you’ll see results a come a lot faster. Simple as that.
Do I Indulge in Cheat Meals?
I’ll confess that the cheats got me through some rocky moments in my road from fat to lean this year. For the most part, I’ve abstained and I can brag that I could count my cheat meals for the year on both hands and I don’t think that’s too shabby for almost 7 months of dieting. However, I really don’t see an end in sight to my own personal addiction of carbs and this “treatment” of cheat meals seems to work so I envision a later time (after achieving my goals and just trying to maintain) where I indulge in the cheat meal a bit more often (though I will never be excessive again). In the end though, I attribute my cheat meals to living a balanced and happy life and I firmly believe they have a place in helping to achieve results and break plateaus in diet and exercise.
There are those who would disagree though. There are stronger men than I, some unrelenting in their willpower to fight the temptation of cheat meals, until their very last breath. Jack LaLanne never even once ate a twinkie. LaLanne bragged of 2 rules for nutrition, stating “if man made it, don’t eat it”, and “if it tastes good, spit it out.” He died in 2011 at the age of 96 and professed that he ate not even one dessert after the year 1929. Jack LaLanne was Atreyu. He was a warrior and “The Nothing” didn’t stand a chance against him. What a different society if we could all be so strong!
Should You Eat Cheat Meals While Cutting Up?
So let’s get to the meat of this discussion. If you’re in the process of completely transforming your body, you’re sitting at around 10-12% body fat and you’re trying to get into single digits and really get ripped and lean, are cheat meals okay?
The answer is, of course.. “Yes!”
It’s rare that a person won’t respond in a positive way when eating a cheat meal, if the individual is utilizing the the most beneficial window of frequency. That’s the key or “the secret” if you will. Every person has a different genetic makeup so one person might see greater results from one cheat meal every week and others can only allow one every two or even three weeks. There’s no formula for calculating this. You just have to experiment to find out.
Frequency is the key to cheat meals
and you must experiment to learn the optimum frequency at which your body most benefits from cheat meals.
The psychological advantage is easy to see but I’m talking about the physical response here and the advantage that a cheat meal provides to your body and how it assists in helping you to achieve your overall goal.
The physical advantage may not be as clear to see but it’s build on a solid premise. Even when carb cycling, the body gets used to eating the same things and it will ultimately stall, or at least slow, when repeating the same pattern over and over again. Carb cycling is definitely the best way to get around this but I’ve noticed that one good cheat meal (eating anything I want) every 3 weeks will tend to keep things moving along. It simply helps to keep the metabolism high. Repeated lower calories will always cause your metabolism to fall.
There are those who advocate a cheat meal every week (or an entire day every week) and I personally feel such a frequency is crossing over into being non-productive to a degree and by doing this, you spend a couple extra days every week playing catchup. If you’re looking to experiment, hit a cheat meal once every two weeks at the most. The “sweet spot” for me is once every three weeks.. as much as I wish I could do it more frequently. Hitting 6% simply requires a bit more dedication at times.
Planning Your Cheat Meals
Like any good addiction (and that’s exactly what causes excess eating for most people), you need a plan. The key, like your fitness and diet plan most all other days, is planning. Mark your cheat day on the calendar. If you’re currently carb cycling, make sure you cheat on a high carb day. When the moment arrives, go crazy. Enjoy yourself and eat away. Don’t be afraid to have two desserts at the end and add extra chocolate!
The body can only process so many calories at once. It can’t convert all those calories to fat any more than it can convert all of those calories to energy. After replenishing those glycogen stores, you’re going to simply have a lot of calories passing through you. You’ll have more energy for the next few workouts and your body will burn fat much more efficiently. All great news!
Get a friend like Falkor. The giant luck dragon was responsible for a large part of Atreyu’s success. When Atreyu started to finally fall prey to “The Nothing”, Falcor swooped down out of the blue and rescued him, reminding him of the hero he was and the chosen path he had to keep forging ahead on. Make sure you’ve got someone in your corner who will listen to your success stories and understands and believes in the goals you’re trying to achieve.
Enjoy those carbs and keep cutting!