Challenge series: “Cheat” meals

What if I told you girls, that you could cheat, guilt-free, and it would actually be good for you?

That’s because under the right circumstances, a “cheat meal” has been proven to boost your metabolism and ward off feelings of deprivation—improving not only your ability to lose weight, but your ability to stick to your diet plan as well!

1 Planning

Having a strategy is a key part of a cheat meal. Plan when and what you’re going to eat. This also allows you to really pick a favorite food instead of wasting calories on something you didn’t enjoy.

Important with planning is also to make sure you eat one high-quality, high-protein meal before your cheat, preferably with high-fiber, low-starch veggies to slow down digestion. A big green salad with simple grilled chicken breast and a squeeze of lemon, for example, would be an ideal pre-cheat meal because it maximizes satiety for the lowest amount of calories.

You won’t be starving when it’s time to feast, and you’ll still have your entire daily “allowance” of carbohydrates and fats in the bank.

2 Earn the Burn

When your body senses a calorie deficit, leptin levels drop, prompting the metabolism to slow down and conserve energy. Throwing a calorie-rich cheat meal into the mix tricks your system into thinking food is plentiful and that it’s OK to burn through fat stores. In the context of strict dieting, cheat meals can aid weight loss by temporarily boosting leptin. Another trick to minimize fat gains from your cheat meal is to deplete your glycogen stores—the sugar in your system that your body burns up for energy.

Why does it work? The body won’t store carbohydrate as body fat until its glycogen reserves are full, so the emptier your tank, the more room you have for, say, spaghetti, before it ends up on your thighs. How do you do it? Hit the gym before your cheat meal (ideally before you eat anything that day). High-rep circuit style workouts are the best depletion workouts. Even 20 minutes can make a dent.

Want an extra boost? Have a cup of black coffee before your sweat-sesh. Studies show caffeine can increase fat metabolism when taken as a pre-workout supplement.

3 Cheat in Moderation

There’s a cheat meal and there’s a cheat day(s). And the latter—going nuts on the weekend because you’ve been on-point with your diet during the week—is never a good idea. If you’re serious about losing weight, limit yourself to one cheat meal per week. Pick a date, a meal time and a restaurant; and put it in the diary.

5 Order a Few Rounds

… A few rounds of water, that is. Restaurant meals tend to be high in sodium, which throws off antidiuretic hormones—chemicals that control how much you urinate—and can leave you feeling dehydrated and bloated. Start replenishing your body while you indulge with a few large glasses of water. Ask the waiter for a few lemon wedges, too. Citrus fruits are rich in the antioxidant de-limonene, a powerful compound found in the peel that stimulates liver enzymes to help flush toxins from the body and gives sluggish bowels a kick.

6 When to cheat?

Dragging in the Gym? Treat Yourself!

This tip might seem like the most counter intuitive of all. If you’ve had three or four bad workouts in a row, it may be that your body is glycogen depleted or in need of other nutrients. Cheat your face off, and see what happens. You might find that a plate of Alfredo will improve your morale and get you back in your groove. Just don’t treat every gym plateau with ice cream. It’s much healthier to try listening to a new Spotify playlist first.

 

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