Don’t Let A Cheat Meal Derail Your Progress

To cheat or not to cheat? It happens to even the most disciplined dieter. Will power is not infinite. But, a cheat meal doesn’t need to have a negative effect on your physique. It can mean enjoying your anniversary dinner with your spouse or celebrating a friend’s birthday or wedding. Let’s look at cheat meals as just meals that are off your current, normal routine plan of eating, but can still keep you on track to reach your health and wellness goals.

I like to call it a free meal which can be used as a psychological and physiological break from dieting, taking a break from looking at food as calories and just ordering what you’ve been craving all week.

But, eating too much dietary fat and drinking alcohol while indulging can hurt your goals. With the right diet and exercise program, you can lose 1 to 2 pounds per week, but one massive cheat day can destroy the progress.

The best cheat meal is high in carbs and low in dietary fat, causing less fat storage. Dietary fat is stored more efficiently as body fat than carbohydrates. When dieting to lose fat, Leptin, the satiety hormone helps regulate energy balance by inhibiting hunger. When Leptin levels are too low from periods of calorie restriction, your metabolic rate slows, increases in appetite occur, and you just start feeling in a bad mood much of the time from eating less food. A free meal done right can spike your Leptin levels and give you motivation to continue your diet for the following days and weeks ahead.

Alcohol inhibits Leptin levels. Alcohol also blocks fat oxidation, accelerating the rate at which your body stores dietary fat as body fat. Come into the meal by eating mainly lean protein sources and vegetables throughout the early part of the day and save a majority of your carbs ad fats for dinner. This creates a nice buffer since most restaurant dishes add a lot of butter, cream and oil, which add extra calories for taste and flavor.

Also, try incorporating a high intensity weight training or cardiovascular workout a few hours before the meal and deplete glycogen stores. Glycogen is the sugar in your system that your body burns up for energy. Another trick is to have black coffee 30-45 minutes before your workout, which can increase fat mobilization. This creates a nice “carb sync” where more of the calories you eat have a chance to be stored in your muscle cells rather than as adipose tissue or body fat.

Free meal frequency depends on your goals:

If you’re dieting to lose fat, I recommend one free meal per week
If you’re dieting to maintain your current physique or lean bulking, try two free meals per week.

Great free meal options:

1. Some sushi rolls
2. Pancakes and an omelette
3. Spaghetti and meatballs
4. Steak and potatoes

Order some water with lemon as you indulge since foods at restaurants are high in sodium. This will help to keep you hydrated and less feeling of bloat. The lemon will stimulate your liver enzymes to help flush toxins.

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Jordan Gross

Registered Dietitian