CHEATING ON YOUR DIET
„Cheat meal / cheat day” has become a common concept in the fitness community. Should we have cheat meals or cheat days in our diet? What to do if we got off track?
First of all, let’s make it clear: based on psychological research, there are 2 types of people – moderators and abstainers. Moderators can decide that they are going to eat 10 cashews a day and no more – and they eat 10 cashews and no more. Abstainers can’t/won’t do that – for them, usually it’s an all or nothing scenario. They either eat all the cashews or don’t eat cashews at all. However, they can abtsain from cashews for weeks or months on end.
It is quite useful to know which group we belong to. I’m a superhard abstainer – I can diet, without a pause, without cheat meals or missing a meal for months. However, once I start doing something (like eating cashews) I do not stop. It’s not 10 pieces. It’s a whole god damn pack. So, I recoomend reading the following lines through the eyes of an extreme abstainer – this is my opinion, but it has worked quite well with my clients.
When I start dieting, the most frequent question I get asked is „how much do you cheat?”. When I prepare a nutritional plan for one of my trainee/client, their first question is usually the same: „When can I have a cheat meal?”
For me this is a loser’s mentality. We are just getting started and you already want to stop, already want to quit? Well, don’t even bother starting it!
Very few of my clients do stick to their meal plans – they take it so seriously like it was the ten commandments. They even stick to the stuff that they misunderstand and that they hate – like one of my clients ate oats with cottage cheese for 4 weeks before asking whether we can substitute it for something else. I was like, sure but what’s wrong? Bloating, gas, GI discomfort? No, it’s too dry. That was when I realized that he was eating it without any liquid! It was my fault, for me putting some hot water on the oats was completely natural, so I forgot to mention that to him. The point is, however, that he did what I asked him, no matter what – and that’s a winner’s mentality. That’s the kind of person who will achieve what he wants, who will get the body he wants. Sure, if you have been dieting for 5-6 weeks already, with 100 % compliance, then we can have a discussion about a cheat meal, etc.
Is it cheat meal or is it a refeeds?
I like to make the distinction between a cheat day and a refeed day.
Cheating is when you say „Fuck it!” and you eat whatever you want – pizza, beer, donuts, oreos, pasta, popcorn, coke, whatever. s when you say „Fuck it!” and you eat whatever you want – pizza, beer, donuts, oreos, pasta, popcorn, coke, whatever.
Refeeding is when you feel a decrease in your performance in the gym, because you are so depleted. During a refeed you chose foods that you normally eat in a diet you just eat more of them. You simply increase your caloric intake. The goal is to get your performance back, so that you can train hard enough.
It should be no surprise that a cheat day can cause a lot more damage to your physique than a refeed. Let’s be honest – nobody cares about refeeds. When you have been eating the trinity of chicken-rice-broccoli for 7 weeks straight, you don’t want a bit more rice… You want pizza and beer. So can we (and if yes, than how) incorporate cheat meals into our diet?
In the end, dieting is about numbers. The caloric deficit you’re in will determine the amount of weight you lose. You should monitor your bodyweight’s change through your weekly average bodyweight – so the caloric deficit we produce during a week will be the most relevant factor of our meal plan.
Why you should not cheat every week?
Let’s assume a daily caloric deficit of 500 calories. That is 3500 calories a week. However, we decide to have a cheat day every week. So the weekly deficit drops to 3000 calories (as we have a day where we do not eat in a deficit). The question is can you eat 3000 extra (that is: above maintenance) calories in a day? The answer is a definite YES. Having an „all in” cheat day and 6 days of hard dieting can lead to a stagnating bodyweight. That’s why I do not recommend cheating every week.
Actually, I do not recommend cheating on a regular basis at all. Do not plan the cheat days like, „yes, I will have a cheat day every other week…” That is a great way to make yourself suffer – to long for the next cheat meal for the entire time between those meals.
How should we cheat then?
Before every diet, I sit down with my calendar and check out all the programs I’m going to have – family get togethers, weddings, meeting with friends, birthday parties, etc. I know that I can go easily without a beer or any cheating when I meet my friends for a beer – I drink my zero soda and have a cigar maybe. However, If there is wedding, well, I’m not going to miss out on one of my freind’s greatest parties – I’m going to go all out, enjoy the meals, have a couple of drinks, etc. So, that is one day for cheating. I do not miss out on anything If I don’t drink when I meet my friends – we meet every other week, so I will have time to catch up on social drinking. But I do miss out on something If I do not party at a wedding (ideally your friend will have only 1 wedding in his/her life).
Last year my best friend had a wedding. I had 6 weeks of straight dieting before that. No cheating, no missing meals, nothing. When the wedding came, I could eat and drink whatever I wanted without any regret. And just to make sure, I tracked my macros up to the wedding that day. I ate about 4500 calories just for breakfast! That was on the morning of the wedding, before any of the meals. So, just to make it clear: you can out eat one week of dieting in a day.
Take home message: forget cheat meals and cheat days. They are not your friend. Limit the amount of cheat days in your diet – save them for the „unmissable” events.