It depends on where you are in terms of understanding how certain foods work (or don’t work) with your body. Right out the gate: If you’re happy with your physique and ability to perform in your sport of choice, then cheat whenever you’d like. Congrats — you’ve got it all figured out. However, if you’ve been struggling a bit with your weight or aren’t feeling your best, then maybe it’s worth taking a closer look at what you’re doing.
For a complete beginner, there are probably two schools of thought for this particular instance.
The first thought is to give yourself a break from time to time. Let’s say a single cheat meal every week is acceptable. Maybe a cheat meal every two weeks. Maybe it’s more frequent than that, or less frequent than that. This particular approach might work for you if don’t want to deprive yourself of things you enjoy. However, things get difficult when it comes down to defining what depriving yourself is vs. simply doing what you need to do to make the changes you want to make. Are you depriving yourself? Or are you just making an excuse to eat the junk you want? Only you can truly answer that question. But if you’re not seeing the changes you want then your eating plan isn’t necessarily working. Could that be the “cheat meal”? It’s possible. But it’s also very possible it’s your overall approach to eating that needs reevaluating. Read our piece on intuitive eating for lean muscle and our piece on the 6 steps to make your diet work for you.
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The second thought (and my preferred thought) is to NOT CHEAT for a predetermined amount of time. Let’s say no cheat meals for two months. Again, this is for complete beginners or anyone that really can’t seem to figure the whole “eating right” thing out.
Here’s one reason why to take this approach:
If you’re a complete beginner and you’re not happy with the way you feel, perform, or look, then you need to learn how to use food as fuel and nourishment first, then the treats and indulgences can come. You should be figuring out how much food you should be eating, what the different macronutrients are, how those macronutrients work in the body, what’s the right ratio for you, etc., etc. When cheating is RESTRICTED for two months that gives you a significant period of time to figure things out on the most basic level without any random variables thrown in. For example, did you have a single cheat meal? Or was it in fact actually cheat meals? Do you have a ballpark idea on what was in those cheat meals? Do you know how any of that actually factors in? Honestly, you can make it two months eating the bare essentials, then slowly start reintroducing other things.
Here’s another reason to take this approach:
You will be amazed at how much you might stop craving certain things after you’ve stopped consuming them. Eating things like sugar or fat will make you want more sugar or fat. (Here’s a strong argument for why sugar and fat trick the brain into wanting more, if you don’t believe it.) Cut out “cheats” for two months, and you might not even care about a cheat meal. Or at least cheat a whole lot less and mindfully indulge instead. (See the pizza above, which came over a super-long day of working out. And yes, every bite was enjoyed.)
DISCLAIMER: This is a personal opinion. Like most things fitness and nutrition-related, there are many different approaches. Take it or leave it.
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