Let’s first touch base with the word “cheat”. Cheating is a wrong thing to do, right?
The word itself is associated with guilt, regret, shame and self-judgement, All in all negative feelings!
For many years, in the beginning of my fitness journey, I was influenced by so many bodybuilders’ & fitness-models’ posts that I created a sort of disordered thinking regarding food.
I would label it as “allowed” or “forbidden”, “good” or “bad”, “clean” or “cheat”.
But as I grew wiser & learned more from the “better” sources, I found the “flexible dieting” school.
Since then, so many “advices” I used to follow & apply, turned out simply to be myths or unwise decisions.
One of the major things I’m proud of accomplishing is seeing food as FOOD.
Food is fuel. The “poison” is in the quantity. By “poison” I mean, if a certain food will ruin your progress; then it’s all about the quantity consumed, not the food itself.
So, when you’re dieting down, you don’t need to label foods. You still can have the “yummy” treats here & there, in the quantities aligned with your weight-loss goal. Yes, you will be eating high-caloric food, yummy food, less frequently. Yes, you will eat them in smaller portions. But, if you decide to have them, YOU CAN! Just monitor the portions.
Thus why, “cheat meal” should not be in your dictionary. Better use the word: “Free meal”.
What is A (cheat) FREE meal?
It is NOT a (cheat) free DAY!
It’s ONE single FREE meal where the dieter chooses to eat anything they desire or crave.
A mental break, an exciting meal to look forward to during the hard dieting days & a way to feel more “normal”.
Dieter can go out to any restaurant, choose any meal, eat food outside of their diet-plan &and satisfy their cravings. The dream of eating the “forbidden” foods will become true.
We hear this often, that a Cheat meal will “boost the metabolism”. This is not a fact!
One meal is not going to have any physiological or metabolic effects, nor “fix” the hormones in any way.
Even the thermic effect of food, deriving from the higher calorie intake, is very minimal & not significant.
Downside of a (cheat) FREE meal?
It will reduce the dieter’s deficit of the day, as in slowing down the weight loss process a bit. But that’s all, unless the free-meal was worth of thousands & thousands of calories (binge eating).
Also, it might create a risk of getting the dieter out of the “diet mode”; meaning it might make it hard for them to get back on track & stick to their diet-food-plan.
How can this method be abused?
When a cheat meal turns into a food eating challenge, and one “happiness inducing meal” is turned into all-you-can eat meal till you get sick to your stomach.
Or, when the dieter takes the cheat meal concept and converts it into a cheat day!
When in the day is the best to have the free meal?
It’s best to have it later in the day, as in there’s less of a chance to “ruin” the rest of the day’s food-plan, after the free meal is eaten.
When a dieter gets their free meal for lunch or even earlier, they’ll end up having a full day ahead of them to fight temptations. Meaning, there’s more room to mess up during the day. And this could end up as a free-full-day of eating (which you want to avoid).
When to start implementing free meals? And how frequently?
It all depends on so many variables:
- Dieter’s body fat %
- The period of diet they’ve been on
- Their training levels
- If they do implement refeeds or not
So, in most cases, it should not be offered from the very beginning of the weight-loss journey.
It can be anywhere from once a week to more. Or, this strategy might be used even less than that, especially if adherence to the diet is being an issue.
What’s a refeed? It’s a full day of eating where the dieter raises their caloric intake to maintenance levels & sometimes even more.
With this strategy, source of Calories matters.
The extra calories will come mainly from one macro type: carbohydrates (in some rare cases, fat will also be increased).
- Glycogen replenishment: carbloading the depleted muscles
Dieting & training, both combined, will definitely cause some fatigue & recovery issues, also leaving the lifter feeling flat & tired.
This strategy of refeeding will fuel the workout, if done a day before a heavy training day. Or, aid in recovery from the workout, when done on the heavy training day (Usually, most of cals would be consumed post workout in this case).
- Fixing some of the diet’s negative effects on hormones:
Dieting, long & strict, will be harsh on hormones, we all know that. Refeeds might be helpful in this regard by balancing it out & reversing some of the imbalances.
Refeed will cause the Leptin to increase.
Cortisol will decrease which can result in a weight drop after a day or 2 from the refeed.
Thyroid function will be positively affected also (more conversion into active thyroid hormone).
The low Energy Availability (EA) is one of the downsides of dieting and have a negative effect on the Menstrual cycle. Refeeding is very important in this regard to help keep the menstrual cycle as healthy as possible.
A 2-DAY refeed has more accentuated benefits when it comes to these hormonal effects!
Refeeds, when to use them? How frequently? How long?
This strategy is implemented usually as a-one day-refeed or 2-day refeeds (consecutive).
When to implement refeeds & how frequently?
Again, so many variables to take into consideration:
- Dieter’s body fat %
- The diet’s severity & caloric deficit levels
- Training levels
A rule of thumb is:
A dieter who trains “seriously” should implement at least a “1-day refeed” every week for the “training purpose” mentioned earlier (glycogen storage, fueling the workout & workout recovery).
In addition to this “mandatory” 1- day refeed, other refeed days can be used depending on the factors above.
So, for example, a very lean individual with a strong deficit will need more frequent refeeds compared to a dieter who has more body fat & training levels are on the low side.
This means, the case 1 would need:
1-day refeed per week for training recovery purposes.
1 day refeed x twice a week (yes twice, non-consecutive days) OR a 2-day refeed (48hrs) every 2-week.
Again, it is very case specific.
Downside of refeed day
Just like the free meal concept, this can confuse the dieter’s mindset and remind them of how good food can taste & how much fun it is. So, it could be problematic to get back on track.
This risk sounds less worrisome when compared to a free meal (to some, it’s very personal); since, refeeding is done with tracked & calculated increase in calories, a set number of macros to reach. In a way, refeed is still structured! Where free meal is fully FREE thus can mess more easily with the diet mindset.
Choice of carbs: what source to use?
Priority should be complex carbs & starches as well as simple sugars. Fructose can be used moderately as well.
Fiber is good too, but too much of it can give digestive tract discomfort.
Trick: it’s good to end the day with fibrous carb choices. Some dieters have noticed that this trick can keep them full & make the transition to the next day much easier. You got to try it for yourself & decide.
I want to end this blog with the following message:
Weight loss or lower body fat percentage will not make you a happy person. If you’re seeking inner happiness & peace, this is not the solution for it. You should love yourself throughout all the stages. Part of loving yourself is taking care of yourself, your body, your look, your mind.
So, YES, go ahead & get that body of your dreams, be active, be fit & healthy!
Practice self-love <3