The absolute best time to eat a cheat meal is right after a workout. Preferably you’d keep it within 1 hour and up to 3 hours after a workout. After a workout, your metabolism is higher for a few hours. Your muscles are rebuilding themselves, as well as replacing glucose used up during your workout. By consuming your cheat meal soon after, your body will use the nutrients right away, rather than converting them to fat and storing them for later. This is the best time to eat carbs, which will really help your body refuel after your workout.
Any workout will suffice, but I recommend strength training and plyometrics or interval training … so let’s say the harder the workout the better!
2. Earn It
This goes hand in hand with #1, but let’s start earning those cheat meals instead of being entitled to them. In order to maintain your weight, you should be consistent with healthy eating for about 85% of the week. So before you indulge in that burger and fries, let’s assess the previous week. Were you consistent the other days? Did you have any other cheats or splurges because of emotional choices, social events, or lack of planning, etc? Did you workout this week? If so, how often?
Your goals are your own, so this is ultimately up to you, but it’s important to decide them in advance, write them down, and stick to them. It’s also a good idea to educate yourself about what a healthy diet really is since there’s a chance you are following a diet recommended by mainstream media (Keto, Atkins, Low Carb, Paleo or some other fad), which is in fact is more often than not more detrimental to your permanent weight loss goals than not. I’d be happy to help you with that if you’re interested.
One main purpose of a cheat meal is to reset hormones that are responsible for metabolism and insulin regulation, to help replenish glycogen stores, and to help regulate leptin levels. Each can be affected by consuming fewer calories than your body needs or using exercise to create a calorie deficit. If you’re not restricting your calories or increasing your exercise, there’s a good chance your hormones and glycogen stores are fine, and your cheat meal is actually unnecessary.
3. Plan it out
Cheat meals shouldn’t be emotionally driven. They shouldn’t be the result of a long or hard day or a reward of some sort. They should be planned out and prepared for. You want to be in charge and in control as much as possible.
Ways you can plan out your cheat meal are to take probiotics, drink plenty of water (especially if your splurge involves foods high in sodium or consuming alcohol!), drink green tea or coffee the day of, make sure your other meals that day are healthy and portion-controlled, and you can also plan out specifically what you will eat. You can plan it based on cravings from the week, your favorite restaurant, your favorite foods, etc. If you’re going to a specific restaurant, you can check the menu ahead of time to determine what you’ll eat so it’s not a rash, hangry decision later! If you’re cooking, plan out your menu and list.
Planning it out will help you keep your cheat meal reasonable, from turning into a cheat day, and to keep you from regret or feeling guilty.
4. Eat Slowly and Enjoy Your Food
One reason for a cheat meal is to allow yourself foods that you enjoy, but that don’t necessarily help you reach your goals. Another reason is to help satisfy cravings, so you enjoy your healthy eating more throughout the week and don’t feel deprived or constantly craving. If you wolf down your food, there’s a pretty good chance you hardly tasted it, and you aren’t getting the full benefit of your cheat meal.
Eating slowly helps your body to recognize when it’s full, since it takes 20 minutes or so before your brain is sent signals that you’ve had enough to eat. This can prevent overdoing it, and if you don’t overdo it then you’ve consumed less calories and will feel better later than if you demolished the entire meal in 30 seconds flat!
5. Know Yourself
I cannot stress the importance of this enough. You are the variable that makes your cheat meal different. While your friend may be able to eat high sugar foods and be OK, that might not work well for you. You know that if you eat that sugary treat you will crave sweets every day for the next week, and you’re not pleasant when you’re having a sugar craving. Whatever your thing is, know it, work around it, and protect your goals.
If a cheat meal will totally wreck your diet, your willpower, or cause hard to manage cravings, then ask yourself “is it worth it?” If you’re on a strict low-calorie diet or carb-cycling, a re-feed day is needed to prevent a plateau, but if you’re not doing that then you most likely don’t need a cheat meal.
In order to be successful at almost anything, you need to know your limits. In this case, preventing something that could cause a bender, cravings, or for your brain to decide that these goals are lame and healthy is overrated is incredibly important! Know what indulgences you can and can’t handle and plan any cheat meal accordingly. On the flip side, if saying something is completely off limits causes you to lose your mind, make a plan for moderation, and keep #1-4 in mind.
I’ve been painfully referring to this as a cheat meal throughout this post so I can speak everyone’s language, but seriously… what are you cheating on? Who are you cheating on? What connotation does the word cheat have? The meaning of cheat is to act dishonestly and unfairly, and to deceive and trick. So you are doing that to 1. you, 2. your goals, 3. your health.
The term cheat meal makes my skin crawl. I like ‘splurge’ meal or ‘treat’ meal better. Some will call it a ‘refeed’ but a refeed is actually a much more calculated and precise increase in calories with strict limits still in place.
You can brainstorm a term that works well for you, but try to think about it differently ASAP so you can have a healthier relationship with food!