For some bodybuilders, dieters, and general fitness enthusiasts, having a cheat meal is akin to “falling off the wagon”. Many believe that indulging in cheat meals or simply having too many of them can open up the proverbial floodgates. According to this logic, cheat meals can trigger a near-instant return to eating junk food, processed food, and other low-value, high-calorie options all of the time. However, there’s some pretty solid evidence that a sporadic cheat meal may work for you rather than against you. Following are five reasons why you shouldn’t feel guilty about diet cheat meals.
1. Cheat Meals Are an Excellent Reminder of Why You Stopped Eating Certain Foods
If you’ve subsisted for months on less than 20 carbs a day, have cut all sugar from your diet, or haven’t had a fast food meal in over a year, indulging in a cheat meal is guaranteed to be less satisfying than you hope it will be. People who live on keto and paleo diets return to chocolate cake only to discover that this once decadent dessert now tastes cloyingly sweet and makes them feel off-kilter.
If you’ve forgone cheesy pizza in favor of whole grains and steamed vegetables, curling up with a cheeseburger and fries might taste good and feel good at the moment, but you’ll likely feel sick, sluggish, and low in energy shortly after.
Junk foods and high-sugar foods have an almost intoxicating effect on people who’ve been practicing clean eating for long stretches at a time. People who eat high-sugar and low-value foods all of the time have stopped being able to truly feel the consequences of their choices.
A good cheat meal every so often will remind you why you are committed to treating your body better. It will also reaffirm the knowledge that certain foods are meant for sporadic treats and not for daily sustenance.
2. There Are Ways to Offset the Ravages of Excessive Cheat Meals
Having hot wings slathered in a spicy, buttery, buffalo sauce isn’t the end of the world. However, if you pair your wings with cheese fries and finish your repast off with cheesecake, a pint of your favorite ale, and a handful of salty pretzels from the bar, you may feel like your cheat meal has set your progress back by several weeks or even months.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to offset even the most indulgent of cheat meals. For instance, you can instantly lower your blood sugar by drinking a tall glass of water with several dashes of apple cider vinegar. You can sip a hot glass of water that has fresh lemon juice in it to achieve this same effect.
Or else you can also rest a bit and complete your night with a rigorous cardio session. You can additionally take a glucose disposal agent before or immediately after your cheat meal to keep your glucose levels in check, and to reduce your body’s insulin response to an indulgent treat.
3. Cheat Meals Ramp up Your Leptin and Ghrelin Levels
Dieting for weight loss requires calorie deprivation. This means consuming fewer calories than your body burns so that stubborn fat stores are used instead. However, long-term deprivation has an impact on things like satiety, appetite regulation, and the body’s ability to use energy.
It does so by altering the production of hormones and appetite regulators like leptin and ghrelin. Within just 24 hours of fasting and just 72 hours of deprivation dieting, your body is no longer producing enough leptin to effectively regulate your appetite, keep you feeling full, or help your body use energy most optimally.
The body also produces more ghrelin, an appetite stimulator. The best way to combat these changes is by having a few carbs. Penciling in a regular cheat meal (or even a cheat day) will keep your leptin at peak levels and moderate the production of ghrelin.
4. Your Serotonin Levels Might Flag Without the Occasional Treat
Serotonin is a powerful neurotransmitter that acts as the driver for learning, memory, focus, cognition, and more. It’s also a potent “feel good” chemical that’s an active part of your brain’s reward system. When you do something good for your body, you get a flood of serotonin in response. The positive feelings that this flood incites motivate you to return to that same behavior in the future.
Enter the potato. Every time you eat a potato your body releases serotonin. This is true whether you eat a baked potato, a greasy serving of hash browns, potato chips, or cheesy chili fries.
Having a cheat meal that includes a mood-boosting tuber could be exactly what the doctor ordered, especially if you’re currently dealing with lots of stress, anxiety, or depression. Understanding that most overeating is emotionally driven, treating yourself to a cheat meal with potatoes every once in a while could keep you from falling completely off the rails.
5. Guilt Is a Driver for Unhealthy Eating
The most important reason for not feeling guilty about your cheat meals isn’t the benefit of having a little extra sugar, salt, or fat when you want or need it. Instead, it’s an inescapable truth of dieting. Most people don’t pack on extra pounds because they eat too much when they’re hungry.
Most people who carry a lot of excess body weight eat when they feel sad, lonely, depressed, or guilty. As such, guilt should never be a part of your weight loss plan. If you allow guilt to drive your eating decisions, it will drive you back to the same self-harming behaviors that you once regularly maintained.
Building cheat meals into your diet plan are just as conscientious, healthy, and smart as choosing to refine your everyday eating habits. Cheat meals foster higher levels of leptin and serotonin, and help regulate ghrelin. They can also keep intense and unmanageable food cravings at bay. Absent of guilt, cheat meals can actively push you closer to your fitness goals.