When you are on a diet, it is quite normal to have a meal when you forget all about your eating plan and indulge in something you enjoy. Some diet plans even recommend this approach, suggesting that eating well 90% of the time give you the freedom to indulge in the last 10%.
So are cheat meals a good thing when you are on a diet? Or will they stop you from losing the weight you want?
Why can having a cheat meal or day help your weight loss?
Far from ruining your diet, a cheat meal every now and then can actually help you to lose weight, provided that you do it in a sensible way. Restricting your diet all the time takes the enjoyment out of food and can have a huge impact on your social life, so by allowing yourself to relax once in a while you will develop a healthier approach to food and life.
When you are restricting your intake and denying yourself your favourite treats without taking a break now and then, you are also more likely to go off the rails completely and binge.
Having a couple of cheat meals or a cheat day every week makes it a lot easier to do the right thing and eat the health options most of the time, and that is what counts for weight loss.
Why a cheat meal is not an excuse to binge
It should be noted that whilst a cheat meal or day may make it easier to follow a strict healthy diet the rest of the time, it should not be seen as an excuse to binge eat. If you overeat on unhealthy choices or binge until you can eat no more, you are likely to see the results in your weight loss.
Whilst a treat once in a while won’t do any harm, it is important to still be aware of what you are putting into your body and not go to extremes.
How to choose your cheats
A few cheat meals can make following a diet a lot easier, so how should you choose your cheats so as not to undo all your hard work.
1. Chose cheats you really love
When you do choose to cheat on your diet, make sure the food of your choice is one that you really love. Cheating on a food that you are not too fussed about can make you regret the cheat, so make sure it is the thing you really miss when you are on a diet that is the thing you cheat on it with.
The anticipation with which you think about that one special food and the pleasure you will derive from eating it can be a huge tool in motivating yourself to continue your diet throughout the week.
2. Eat smaller portions of your favourite cheats
When you are cheating, rather that binging on huge quantities of your favourites, keep the portions small so as not to add too many calories. Choose the best quality you can afford and take the time to sit and enjoy your cheat slowly.
Choosing smaller cheats means that you can have them more often without running the risk of undoing your weight loss.
3. Choose healthier sides
Remember that just because you are cheating, it doesn’t mean you have to go all out. For example, if your favourite cheat treat is a hamburger, have it, but go easy on the high calorie sides such as fries, soft drinks and extra toppings such as bacon.
By choosing a side of salad and a low calorie drink you are still getting the part of the meal you love, but also limiting the calories you are eating and adding more nutritional value to the meal.
4. Don’t save calories to compensate for treats
When you know you have a big food based event coming up where you are bound to overeat, it can be tempting to restrict your intake to extreme levels in the day or days leading up to this to compensate.
This is, however, one of the worst things you can do for your metabolism. Skipping meals or eating very little causes you body to go into starvation mode, slowing down your metabolism and causing the energy the body does get from food to be stored, rather than burned.
When you then hit your body with a large, calorie laden meal, you are more likely to store the energy.
A better idea is to eat healthy, portion controlled meals at regular intervals in the lead up to these events in order to keep your metabolism up and also to prevent going to the event so hungry that you are prone to overeating.
5. Eat larger portions of healthy foods to fill up
If you are planning a treat meal, it can be helpful to have a healthy snack or larger healthy meal prior to the cheat, encouraging you to eat less of the unhealthy food. A meal high in protein and fibre can be just the thing to encourage you to choose one scoop of ice cream rather than two.
6. Consider healthier treats
When choosing your cheats and treats it is important to have what your really love. However, do not discount healthier foods as legitimate treats. Something that you enjoy eating, but don’t eat that often perhaps due to expense or lack of availability can be an ideal treat that doesn’t even count as cheating.
Think about a tub of fresh berries, a fresh fruit salad or even oysters or slightly more exotic seafood or cuts of meat.