Cheat days and cheat meals have been something I have disagreed with since I became a trainer. I have been in this industry for 10 years and not a day goes by where I don’t hear someone mention their cheat meal or cheat day. Although this idea of allowing yourself whatever you want one time a week does work for some, it can be detrimental to so many.
The inspiration for this article came from a discussion I had with one of my clients. She recently had a change in her work schedule which meant she could spend less time at the gym and less time with me coaching her and holding her accountable. Her once old habits of drive-thrus and fast food were new again and cheat meals simply became meals. All of her hard work she had done, both in cleaning up her nutrition and coming to the gym on a very regular basis had been wasted. And then her husband said something to her which resonated, and when she told me I knew I had to share it.
What he said to her was “Just make sure you if you are no longer colouring within the lines, make sure you can still see them”. What does this mean? If you are going to be “bad” don’t be “that bad” and make sure you haven’t deviated too far away from what is considered healthy. This is the exact opposite of how most people view cheat meals.
To most, a cheat meal is a time where you feel like you have a free pass in the food department and you no longer have to care about what you put into your body. Eat an entire pizza to yourself or finish a carton of ice cream in one sitting. Forget sharing nachos with a large group on a sunny patio, you order one for yourself. It doesn’t matter, right? It’s your cheat meal. The problem with this is that one cheat meal can actually undo all of your good behaviour in a week.
It is not uncommon for us to overestimate the caloric deficit we have created in a week and we don’t actually realize how hard it really is to lose one pound. If you have spent Sunday to Thursday doing cardio every day and living off of salads, you may be down about 2000 calories. But, when Friday arrives, you put your blinders on and eat whatever you like, this may actually result in you gaining back all of the energy you burned over the last 5 days.
On average, one pint of beer contains about 200 calories. Have 2 of those on a patio, a glass of wine or two, a few appetizers, dinner and dessert and you are looking at a meal of well over 2000 calories. That’s just one meal. Add in the rest of your food intake for that day and you could be consuming close to 4000 calories, which almost puts you up 1 pound in one day. The lines here are so far away there is no chance of seeing them.
On the flip side, you need to make sure that your “diet” isn’t so far within the lines that you are depriving yourself, which is likely why you are overindulging come your cheat day. Trust me, nobody can live off of salad and chicken, no matter how hard they try. So when you are trying to clean up your diet, don’t cut everything out. Of course you need to cut back on things like sugar and alcohol (the more of this you cut out the quicker you will see results) but it is ok to have balance in your life. If you want the muffin with your coffee in the morning then that means no wine with dinner. If you want the wine with dinner, then stay away from dessert. Make sense? You can’t have it all, all the time.
If you are struggling with losing weight and find yourself over indulging more often than you would like, remind yourself that it is ok to deviate away from the lines, but just a little bit and do not spent too much time on the outside before reigning yourself back in.
Attached - Hilary Duff leaving the gym today in LA.