Cheat Meals: How to Make Them Work For You & Not Against You!

One of the questions people always ask me is do I ever cheat on my diet.  Many people think that because I am so conscious of what I am eating and count all of my calories (AKA, I am a bit crazy when it comes to my diet) that I never cheat.  They could not be more WRONG!

I am a huge believer that the minute you cut something completely out of your diet, that’s the minute you want more.  You will crave and crave it until you finally give in; the problem with this is when you do finally give in, your mind tells you to binge because it thinks this is your one and only chance.  All of a sudden, you have downed 1000 extra calories without even thinking about it and you feel like crap (both mentally and physically) because of it.

My philosophy is this:  everything is okay in moderation and it is crucial to let yourself have a ‘cheat’ at least once a week.  (Obviously the one exception is any dietary, health problems with certain foods).  The trick is that if you plan ahead, you can get away with eating some of the so called ‘restricted foods’ in moderation.  Mentally, you need to allow yourself some of the editable luxuries in life.  You will drive yourself crazy if you don’t!  So much of our society is focused around meals and drinks and although as fitness enthusiasts we steer clear of much of it, we also deserve to enjoy some of it as well.

You can do a ‘cheat’ in one of two ways.  You can choose a ‘cheat day’ in which you eat perfect all day then give yourself one day off from your diet. Or, you can do a couple of ‘cheat meals’ during the week in which you eat perfect 90% of your meals, then you allow yourself a couple meals throughout the week off your diet.  Personally, the cheat meals work better for me as I find this allows me to enjoy more meals or sweets with my boyfriend.  If we know we are both free one night in the week we might plan to go out to dinner, but we still like to go to brunch one day on the weekend.  If I just cheat on individual meals, I can do both as long as I plan ahead.

In order to cheat and justify it, you need to figure your cheat meals/days into your weekly caloric intake.  Start by figuring this number out by taking the total number of calories you are eating each day and add up for each day of the week.    Now, if you are going to be doing cheat meals, pick the days in which you want to have these meals and add additional calories to those days while subtracting the needed calories from other days or other meals in the cheat meal day.  In the end, your total weekly caloric intake needs to be the same with the cheat meals added as it was before.

One of the worst things you can do when you are doing cheat meals is fast to accumulate your cheat calories.  If you are planning a cheat dinner, you should never fast all day to save those calories all for dinner – that is the worst!  If you wait until dinner to eat, your metabolism will have completely dropped throughout the course of the day making your body think it needs to hold onto every ounce of that cheat meal to make up for it.  Instead, plan to just watch your calories throughout the day.  Sure, you can cut a couple hundred out during the day but do it a little at a time, no more then 100 calories per meal.  This way, your metabolism is working all day and by the time your cheat meal comes around, it won’t think anything of it.

For those that choose to do cheat days, this works a little different.  The concept is the same in regards to alloting your weekly calorie intake and subtracting from other days.  However, in this case, you cannot take calories from other meals on the cheat day since they are all cheat meals that day.  The tricky thing with this one is that no women should go beneath 1200 calories per day.  So if you are planning a cheat day, it is crucial to stick with the lowest amount of calories your body needs (it could be much higher then 1200 for active women) for 6 days of the week and then take your cheat day up in calories to meet your total weekly intake.  The struggle I have with this is personally, if I eat too little during the week and then have a full day of cheating, I feel like by then I am starving and want to overeat that day.  Plus, for me, eating that low of calories all week while maintaing my hectic workout schedule zaps my energy.  For some people though, particularly those focusing on extreme weight loss, this stratagy works better for them as they can eat with their calorie deficit in mind all week (like they need to be to loose weight) then kick their calories up one day to remind their bodies they are not starving, thus also restarting their metabolism and forcing them to not plateau.

The one thing to keep in mind with a full cheat day is that empty calories add up fast!  If you were planning to go to your favorite Italian restaurant on your cheat day, one bowl of pasta can set you back over 1000 calories.  A few margaritas and the endless bowl of chips and salsa at your favorite Mexican Restaurant can do even more damage. If your total calorie intake for the day is 2000-2500, you are already over halfway done and you have only had one meal!  It is important to watch the calorie counts on your cheat foods and eat them in moderation.  You do NOT want to save all the calories in that day for one, large, fattening meal.  Again, this is BAD!  Rule of thumb is to eat in moderation and spread your cheat calories throughout the whole day.  Simple.

The bottom line is that however you do your cheat days or meals, they are important but you do have to keep your end result in mind.  No matter how you choose to do it, it is extremely important you count your calories of your cheat day/meal.  Just because you are cheating does NOT mean you can go wild!  You can enjoy your cheat foods in moderation while still sticking within your weekly alloted calories.  If you do this, you will find that you can stay within your diet while still enjoying the foods in life – you are just choosing to do it smarter then most. ♥