The Truth About the Cheat Meal

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We’d love to believe that as purveyors of healthy lifestyles, our willpower is impenetrable. But even the most avid kale enthusiast has their moment of snickerdoodle weakness…Enter the cheat meal.

Eating delicious, nutrient-rich meals keeps us full, satisfied, and impervious to trans fat beckonings of chili cheese fries. But research has shown that allowing ourselves moments of calculated indulgence can also help maintain our ivory tower of self-control.

Looking forward to a cheat meal can keep us focused and motivated to eat healthy in between. And small indulgences ensure we’ll never spin into a cycle of deprivation and binge.

Trainer Shannon Clark suggests that cheat meals can restore waning muscle glycogen. The caloric boost “refeeds” muscles and boosts metabolism. However, nutritionist Marjorie Nolan notes,

“For one person cheating could mean two chocolate squares; for someone else, it could be a cheesesteak and double fudge brownie sundae. Whether a cheat day can help or harm you depends, in part, on how you define it.”

If rare indulgences become everyday guilty pleasures, we can undo our healthy habits.

So how do we maintain balance?

Cheat, but don’t overeat: Nolan warns that overeating too much in one day can “affect your body’s level of ghrelin, the primary hunger hormone that works with leptin (the hormone that tells your brain you’re full).” This could actually make you hungrier. Keep cheat meals to proper portion sizes.

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Quality counts: Fitness author and athlete Mark Sisson says, “Eat a burger and fries from the restaurant that grinds their own chuck, not from McDonald’s. By eating quality, you’ll eliminate some of the bad stuff– like veggie oils and high fructose corn syrup.” This is less taxing on your body, and makes for a more enjoyable meal. Learn which fats are good for you.

Do you have a coveted “cheat meal”? What tricks do you have to eat cleaner and keep your indulgences in check?

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