Why cheat meals / days aren't that great for you

Cheat meals or cheat days are something that has been around in the fitness industry for decades. This is basically a meal or day per week that you have ‘off’ your nutrition plan. And generally, it is a free for all, and you can eat whatever you like.

Many women and girls especially, claim that they psychologically need a cheat meal or cheat day to keep compliant with their nutrition plan throughout the week as it gives them something to look forward to and gives them a mental break from ‘dieting’. I used to be the exact same.

Now, after years of trial and error, working with clients, understanding nutritional physiology, hormones, and the female mindset. I never prescribe cheat meals or cheat days for my clients. 

Here are 4 main reasons for this;

1. I speak not only from personal experience but also from understanding the female mindset, that cheat meals and cheat days encourage a poor relationship with food, which leads to binging and emotional eating, and over-time cause weight gain. Some cheat meals will turn into cheat days, sometimes a cheat day turns into a cheat week, and often these meals or days are binges. 

2. It can throw you into a calorie surplus if it isn’t controlled. If you are eating in a calorie deficit (less than your maintenance) 6 days per week but one day you are eating 7000 calories, your total weekly calories will push you into a surplus. And a calorie surplus = weight gain.

3. Now more than ever almost every female I speak to will most likely have some sort of gut issues, this is what you need to work on before removing or adding in new types of foods. Cheat meals and cheat days place a huge amount of stress on the digestive system and often the food choices inflame the gut. Which makes the gut issues worse over time. Which will then affect you mentally and potentially trigger you into believing you are ‘too fat’, ‘regret every bite’ and ‘will never eat again’.

4. They almost always bring up feelings of guilt and regret.
Now, the theory behind cheat meals does have some favorable effects on our physiology. When we go into a calorie deficit, we will see hormonal down-regulation of the thyroid, leptin, female sex hormones, and testosterone (all hormones that can promote fat loss). We also see up regulations of hormones like cortisol and ghrelin which can promote fat storage. Cheat meals or days give an acute spike in calories and carbs to give the body a little hormonal reset and up-regulate those fat loss hormones again and down-regulate those fat storage hormones.

This is why instead of cheat meals I like refeeds and diet breaks.

A refeed, or diet break is a structured increase in calories and carbohydrates either 1-2 days or up to 7 days, this is usually on  a rest day. I personally find this works and where I will take my clients to base calories and around 40-50% of total calories from carbohydrates. However, we still structure all the meals and will keep the meals fairly like what they have been eating. But we will incorporate more bread, pasta, ice-cream, Nutella, and chocolate as they will have lots of extra carbs to play with.

The key difference here is we are still accounting for all calories during this period. Therefore, we are reducing stress on the digestive system. I will include these for a few reasons;

1. A psychological break from calorie restriction
2. Help with muscle recovery
3. Reduce stress
4. Alleviate any water retention we may be having due to prolonged fat loss
5. Increase energy levels

I always include / encourage refeeds or diet breaks in client's plans once we are going into a fat loss phase. More often than not they actually lose fat in this period (crazy right), they wake up leaner the next day, performance in the gym improves, they sleep better, their sex drive spikes, and their cravings reduce.

No comments:

Post a Comment