Cheat meals…to have or not to have. Have! But there are Guidelines(Damn!!). Everyone is different so you must use your own judgment or enlist the help of a qualified professional.

Why have cheat meals?

First of all, mentally and emotionally you need to feed your body occasionally with a meal that you’ve been craving. No matter how much chicken breast, avocado, stevia or Mrs. Dash we use…there will be no substitute for pizza, sushi or glazed donuts. If you don’t have a delightful meal on occasion, you run the risk of depriving your body for too long and eventually falling off the wagon.

Feeding your cravings strategically and in moderation is good for you! It is so easy to begin to obsess over intense cravings. Once this nasty cycle begins, your body begins to secrete the Cortisol hormone in your body – this hormone plays a huge part in many necessary functions such as your immune system, blood pressure and – especially for those dieting for contests…glucose metabolism and maintaining the insulin that is released for blood sugar. If you remain in this stressed out, deprived state, Cortisol can wreak havoc on your body and start a handful of issues like hyperglycemia, muscle tissue and bone loss, belly fat and a weak immune system.

If you’re eating clean all the time, having cheat meals is really good for your metabolism. Just like changing up your workouts, sets and reps to keep your body guessing…throwing in a cheat meal occasionally will also keep your body on its toes wondering what’s coming next. As you diet or eat a caloric deficit, your metabolism will always try to acclimate itself to what it thinks you are doing. If you continuously keep your body in a calorie deficit, your body will adjust to operating on less fuel. Throwing in a cheat meal can help you reload glycogen, allowing your body to continue to fuel those great workouts you’re having! This reloading of glycogen helps tremendously in maintaining all of your hard-earned muscle. The more muscle you burn by depriving your body…the slower your metabolism becomes and eventually, your body needs hardly any energy to scrape by each day. See the cycle? There have been a lot of articles written lately on metabolic damage – you see it a lot with figure competitors that have been dieting for insane amounts of time without giving their body a break and without allowing themselves to reload glycogen. They’re scared to cheat…so they just keep going and going and going. Not good!

So, here’s my theory that I use and that I would like to see you use:

The first question I always want you to ask yourself is… “do I deserve a cheat meal?” Now, I’m sure you can think of a million ways to justify having one…but think about it just in terms of food. If you’ve been eating clean and following your plan for 1, 2 or 3+ weeks without a single cheat meal…YOU DESERVE ONE! Even if you’re the type to have little tiny cheat snacks (ex: a square of dark chocolate here and there) you still can have a cheat meal. Cheat meals are not effective unless they are a full-blown amazing meal after many days straight of not cheating on your diet. Common sense applies…if you’re eating a cookie with lunch every day, a pumpkin spice latte every day, etc…your cheat meals become less and less effective and I can assure you that over time, your body fat percentage will slowly increase and you will not get the results you want.

Plan them out in advanced

I personally believe in planning them out, it works for me. i.e date night with your husband/wife on sat nights. You can also, just let them flow but make sure you know what the rest of your week looks like! The great thing about letting them happen when you need them is you can have the cheat meal when you’re truly craving it, and you can even plan it for unavoidable social settings, family dinners, holidays, birthdays, etc.

What exactly is a cheat meal?

What is a cheat meal? It is not a 4-hour ordeal of you stuffing your face full of anything you can get your hands on. It is not an all-day marathon. It is ONE, carbohydrate rich meal (remember, the major point of the cheat is to replenish glycogen to your muscles – we do this by eating rich, starchy carbs) and you should try to keep the party to about 45 minutes-1 Hour. But DO NOT forget the protein with it. Just a coconut cream pie will not be the best choice. Make sure the meal still has sufficient amount of protein! Do whatever you want in that 60 minutes – all you can eat sushi followed by an ice cream sundae, for example. Eat to the point of being really full, NOT SICK. You don’t want to wreck your system.

Any other rules apply to it?

Yes. In my experience, I believe it is best to make it replace your last meal of the day (My last meal of the day is usually a casein protein shake…so, this cheat meal would replace that) and make sure that you get in ALL of your other 4-5 meals that day. If you put your cheat meal first, it can be VERY hard to do that after a gigantic breakfast full of pancakes and bacon. Your insulin levels will be through the roof after the large breakfast, you’ll feel stuffed and will most likely not want to eat the rest of your meals on schedule. If you save your cheat meal as a replacement for your last meal on your menu that day, you won’t have to worry about missing the meals that fall after it and you can just hit the sheets and avoid thinking about that wonderful meal and wanting more.

Are there any foods I should avoid in a cheat meal?

Perhaps. You definitely don’t want to make yourself sick. If you know you are lactose intolerant, for example, you probably shouldn’t have a giant bowl of ice cream. Also – don’t hold back! Cinnamon flavored almonds instead of plain almonds do not constitute a successful cheat meal. I know it can be scary to think that a cheeseburger, fries and a milkshake aren’t going to wreck everything you’ve been working your butt off for…but really…your body and soul with thank you!…remember – 45 minutes- 1 hour only!