A cheat meal might be the best thing for weight loss, reports dietitian Susie Burrell.
A cheat meal is where you ditch your strict diet and eat whatever you like for one meal. But besides sating a craving, what do cheats actually do? And how do you cheat the right way without going overboard?
Do cheats actually work?
Cheats have been a recurring theme in many popular diets, without us really knowing whether they work. New evidence now says that perhaps they do have benefits. One study found that dieters who included a regular cheat meal of significantly higher calories at the end of the week lost just as much weight as those who didn’t. Dieters with a cheat also reported higher levels of dieting motivation when they could look forward to a cheat meal at the end of each week.
How do cheats work?
After periods of calorie restriction, a cheat meal of greater calories actually helps your body to maintain its fat burn. After caloric deprivation, a flood of calories tells the body that it’s not starving and can continue to burn, not store, fat.
Psychologically, looking forward to a cheat has many benefits: it increases motivation to stay on the diet, helps ease the stress of continually maintaining the willpower to diet and it helps to balance the demands of a social life with the goal of weight loss and calorie restriction.
Should you cheat?
A well-balanced diet doesn’t require you to stick to it 100% of the time. Fat metabolism and physiology is much more complicated than that. Rather, dieting is about achieving the right conditions for fat metabolism while getting the right amount of calories, macronutrients and exercise. A one-off meal that doesn’t fit your regular diet shouldn’t be an issue. The issue comes with the idea of it being a “cheat”. Many people find it difficult to limit their cheats and end up cheating more often, which defeats the purpose.
How do you cheat correctly?
The key thing to remember is that a cheat is one meal, not a binge, and definitely not an entire cheat day! Limit yourself to one meal each week in which you can enjoy a few drinks, have an amazing burger or indulge in a restaurant meal. It helps you to factor in life events that come with extra calories, and if you don’t overdo it, a cheat may even boost your fat loss attempts.