The Skinny on Cheat Meals | What's the Science and How Do I Use Them?

Saturday, October 2 2021 12:00 AM
By Ellen Healy

When it comes to weight loss, the hardest part for most of us is diet. No questions asked. Point blank, period.

Why? Because we all have a HUGE sweet tooth, a need for heavy carbs, or those ooey-gooey meals we know we shouldn't have while trying to get fit or be healthy.

Cheat Meals Boost Your Metabolism... Say what?

With most diets and nutritional health in general, there is a time and a place for cheat meals. A little window to treat yourself as you try to cut down body fat percentage. Cheat meals can boost your metabolism and ward off feelings of deprivation, allowing you to not only lose the weight you want but also stick to your diet plan and continue on your fitness journey.

Whether you are a bodybuilder, competitor, or just someone following an 80/20 rule diet, cheat meals can be very beneficial when weight loss is the goal. Still, surprised? We are too, but don't let this news go to your head - where you cheat more or incorrectly.

Understanding the science behind cheat meals and why they work is key.


How to Use Cheat Meals Effectively For Weight Loss

cheat meal pasta

The facts:

Leptin, a protein mainly produced by adipose (fat) tissue, serves as a hormonal regulator of appetite and energy balance for the body. It acts on a part of the brain (hypothalamus) to suppress food intake and stimulate the use of energy (calories).

Studies have shown that within 24 hours of fasting, leptin levels decrease to 30% of their normal value and also show a significant decrease after 72 hours of a caloric deficit diet. With a decrease in leptin, the overall result is a decrease in metabolism and an increase in hunger signals.

Ghrelin, mainly produced by the stomach, is a stimulant of appetite. Low-calorie diets and chronic exercise have been shown to result in increased ghrelin concentrations. The resultant increased ghrelin leads to increased food intake and body weight.

In addition to affecting appetite and energy use through leptin and ghrelin, sustained caloric deficit diets also cause the body to attempt to conserve energy by decreasing levels of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4, which help regulate and maintain metabolism.

Sustained low carbohydrate diets deplete the body of glycogen stores and can leave you feeling sluggish, weak, and can negatively affect your training performance.

Weekly cheat meals that are higher in calories and carbohydrates can help to raise leptin levels and lower ghrelin. This return of your hormone levels to normal can help reverse and/or prevent the negative effects on metabolism, hunger drive, and energy expenditure.


Why do cheat meals work?

woman running outside

Increased calories from a cheat meal help to increase thyroid function, further supporting the metabolism. This increase in metabolism can last for days after your cheat meal, thus offsetting the drop in hormones that will occur as the calorie-deficit diet is again resumed.

As a result, a scheduled cheat meal can actually help optimize our body's hormones to avoid weight-loss plateaus and keep our bodies from entering a starvation-mode, allowing us to reach our weight loss goals.


How to cheat right:

Cheat with Carbs

Recall that leptin secretion is stimulated by the release of insulin, which in turn is initially secreted by the presence of simple sugar or complex carbohydrates consumed. Okay, what?

What this means to you is that your cheat meal should be rich in carbohydrates. So, go ahead and reach for that nice, warm piece of bread or order the pasta dish and know that it is, in fact, doctor recommended!

Plan Ahead!

The best way to cheat is to plan ahead and schedule it! Your cheat meal will replace one of your current meals and it’s important to eat all meals leading up to it as well as any planned meals that follow it.

You must use trial and error for which meal to replace, and which day to eat your cheat meal to find what works best for you. The main goal is to get back on track after your meal.

Make it Fun

It’s often the mental and emotional aspects surrounding a cheat meal that make it more fun and enjoyable. Eating out at a restaurant for your cheat meal allows for the socialization aspect to occur while enjoying your meal and can be very mentally satisfying.

Keep your Focus and Don't go Overboard

Keep your mind on the meal. Sit down, turn off the television, and enjoy the sight and smell of your food. This will maximize your enjoyment and leave you feeling more satisfied.

For a lot of people, it can be difficult to stop eating after a cheat meal. But this is an important part if you want to do it right: Know your limits.

Limiting your meal to a specific predetermined quantity is the easiest way to ensure that you don’t end up ruining a week’s worth of hard work. If you find that you have difficulty sticking to your meal plan after a cheat meal or have increased cravings that are difficult to manage, you may need to decide if having cheat meals is beneficial for your goals.


Cheat Meals and The Bottom Line:

scale for weight loss

Provided you use them correctly, cheat meals can be a great tool to help your physique by resetting body hormones that are responsible for metabolism and insulin regulation, by replenishing glycogen to keep your energy up, and by keeping the calorie-burning and fat-torching mechanisms high.

Ready for some well-deserved pizza slices on your journey to weight-loss? Who isn't?

 Happy cheating!!




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