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I Quit Using “Cheat Meals” and Maybe You Should Too

This week we are taking a break from the usual Monday Recipe blog post, and switching instead to the psychology behind fueling your body and making healthy choices. Up first on that list is the idea of “cheat meals” and their place in any diet. My own experience with them has been pretty up and down, as I tend to have a slight problem with this whole moderation business. In this post, I’ll discuss common thoughts on cheat meals, when they can be useful, and how I eventually decided planning them is a bad choice for my own nutrition plan.

The idea behind cheat meals is that if you look forward to one meal every week in which you will simply go crazy (pizza, donuts, and ice cream all in one sitting, for example) the rest of your food choices will be more nutritious. This is due to a concept known as delayed satisfaction. You know that eventually you will be able to indulge in all of your favorite treats, so you are better able to say no to each individual temptation. That logically makes a ton of sense, and for many people it appears to work.

One of our first clients, Jon, told me a story about a friend of his who ate one large bowl of ice cream every single Sunday while watching Netflix but was completely clean with his choices the rest of the week. He is definitely an example of someone who benefits from this outlook. Additionally, those who simply need a mental break from counting calories and macros, or just from making healthy choices, can certainly benefit from a cheat meal. I find this is particularly helpful to those who are just starting out on a new style of healthy eating. If your day to day diet has been to stop for a pastry and coffee in the morning, McDonald’s at lunch, and a pizza for dinner, it is going to be understandably hard to just start eating clean all the time. That is tantamount to quitting smoking. For these people in particular, the 90/10 rule, outlined here, is awesome. Even 80/20 (read the link) would be a great step. Asking anyone to just cut an entire part of their life out cold turkey is just not going to work.

After reading those situations in which cheat meals can be a great tool to help you with your fitness goals, you probably are curious about the title. Yes, I quit having cheat meals. That does not mean that I never have any junk food, but rather that I don’t plan that every Sunday night I’m going to eat a pizza and smash back a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. For me, food is definitely a social tool. Somehow tipping back a glass of water just isn’t as bonding as having a beer with friends and loved ones. Telling your grandma or mom that “no, sorry, I won’t have even one slice of pie because that doesn’t fit my macros, bro” is pretty lame, as well. Are there times when you simply have to say no? Absolutely. If you label every temptation as a social experience you’ll fall off track, for sure. But, I had gotten to a point where I stressed so hard about what was going into my body that I probably caused greater fat gain due to cortisol increase (read about that here) than if I had just chilled out and eaten whatever it was that I was “being good and staying away from.” Nowadays, I just plan on eating healthy all the time and if something comes up and I want to have a beer with my dad, or I walk in my fiance is making pancakes, or it is Halloween and I’m totally having that Reese’s, it doesn’t bother me at all.

 

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