In our last piece regarding the cheat meal and questions regarding the cheat, we talked about the psychological de-load. In part II we would like to review how a structured cheat meal helps your metabolism. At our McLean gym, our personal trainers are well-versed and highly trained in the effects that nutrition has on the body. You simply can’t have a healthy lifestyle without both exercise and nutrition, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t cheat on your diet every now and then. In fact, we encourage it!
Why Cheat? Part II: The Metabolism Kickstart
Protracted calorie restriction in the pursuit of weight loss, whether deliberate (weighing, measuring, counting) or spontaneous low carb focus on nutrient density to promote satiety), can depress metabolic rate and stall weight loss.
A cheat meal can kickstart the metabolism and keep the weight loss going, not despite the massive influx of calories but because of it. When you eat a big meal, a few good things happen:
Fact 1: Leptin is increased.
What is Leptin? Leptin is a hormone that interacts with the hypothalamus to suppress food intake and increase energy expenditure. Leptin is reduced by low levels of body fat (body fat actually secretes leptin) and prolonged caloric restriction. This is why you feel like you can eat forever after you have dieted for a spell.
So if you’ve lost body fat in the past, stalled, and further reduced food intake to bust the plateau, you’re doing a double whammy on leptin. A big meal, especially if it’s high in carbs and even if it’s a cheat meal, can restore leptin levels so that weight loss can resume. This is a major reason why we allow the cheat. Leptin is so powerful that cheating allows you to restore the power of your will, and keep going.
How many people do you know that have been on a “diet” for 2 weeks that constantly complain how they just can’t do it anymore? We encounter this a lot with people at our gym, who have felt unsuccessful with weight loss and fitness in the past. They feel extreme hunger or say they have “hunger” pains, which seems uncontrollable. I bet you now possess the simple tools to help these people.
Fact 2: Thyroid Hormones are restored.
Ever feel cold in the morning when you are restricting calories? This is due to the actions of your thyroid.
Thyroid hormone increases. T3, the “active” thyroid hormone, is generally lowered during prolonged calorie restriction. This is normal, and as long as your energy levels are good and weight loss is maintained, a nominally-depressed T3 is physiological and expected and nothing to fret over. But extended calorie restriction accompanied by fatigue, malaise, and weight plateaus or gain is a sign of too low a T3. Reread that last sentence!
That’s where an acute bout of overfeeding — a cheat meal — can help by restoring your thyroid function to physiological levels.
Fact 3: Sugar stores are refilled.
When your sugar stores are refilled, this leads to harder workouts, more acute mental clarity and general psychological well-being. Cheat meals are a way to make this happen. If you’re coming off of a low-carb diet, a cheat meal full of carbs can restock your glycogen stores and make subsequent high-intensity, anaerobically-demanding fitness pursuits more fruitful.
Trying Out a Cheat Meal
Before you jump into a regimented cheat meal, keep a few things in mind:
Cheating is relative.
Cheating can be “healthy.” You don’t have to gorge on Hostess cupcakes, McDonald’s fries, and Pizza Hut for it to be a cheat meal. Maybe you cheat with a ridiculous amount of fresh strawberries in whipped cream and melted dark chocolate. Maybe you cheat with a pound of mashed sweet potatoes mixed with cinnamon and coconut oil. Maybe you cheat with a huge batch of homemade fries. Those are all examples of wholesome high-carb meals resembling (and often surpassing in taste) common junk foods that could provide a kickstart to your metabolic rate.
From our education on “Is Discipline a Myth?”, “Cheating isn’t cheating if you’re not in a committed relationship with a clean, wholesome diet.” Ask yourself: Would you let your children gorge uncontrollably on unhealthy food? If the answer is no, you should hold yourself to the same standards.
Additionally, you have to have something to cheat on. If you’re already eating fast food five times a week, that cheat meal isn’t a cheat meal anymore.
“Chronically consumed cheat meals elicit unfavorable metabolic effects and can undo an entire good week of eating.” In other words, cheat smart and don’t undo your progress.
Cheating should be done healthily and in a balanced way.
Cheat meals should only constitute 10% of your meals consumed in the week – no exception. Always try to keep something healthy in there as well.
For a quick tip from our gym, make sure you have your protein base at the meal. Remember your 1 or 2 palm rules. If you feel hemmed in on all sides by too much dietary purity, a cheat meal could even be a good idea. If you wind up hung over just because you tried one of your friend’s French fries last night, a regular cheat meal might be able to cultivate more robustness.
Also, some cheat meals will make you very hot at night, almost like severe hot flashes. This is normal. It’s your metabolism running wild. Don’t call the ambulance — it has happened!
Don’t think just because you read this that you “have to have a cheat meal.” It’s just a suggestion. Only do it if it makes sense and helps you stick to an overall healthy, enjoyable way of eating and living. But if you are interested, or are wanting to learn more, Cypress Fitness would be more than happy to consult with you! Contact our McLean gym to work with top-notch personal trainers, all of whom can help you get your fitness and nutrition into great shape.