When you are trying to shed pounds, sticking to a strict diet can be frustrating.
Sometimes even after all that willpower, you still might not be seeing the results you were hoping for. Learn how cheat meals can actually help you get over the hump and start burning more fat.
The Dreaded Plateau
It has happened to a lot of us. You’ve been bulking up and gaining muscle mass, and now it’s time to cut and start dropping fat.
You start a low-calorie diet with hopes of dropping weight, and you start seeing results fast.
About halfway to your goal, however, you notice that the deprivation and calorie cutting is no longer getting you anywhere and you’re staying at the same weight.
This is called plateauing. When you reach a plateau, you maintain results, and to go any lower is extremely difficult. On top of the frustration that comes along with the plateau, at this point, you are probably starving and battling food cravings.
Misconceptions Surrounding “Cheat Meals,” and What They Really Do
In the weightlifting world, it is pretty common knowledge that cutting equates to low caloric intake followed by low carb intake.
It is also commonly known that cutting this way only yields results for so long, and it’s usually only a matter of time until you start giving in to cravings, forgetting the diet, and start putting on weight again.
The good news is that cheating every once in a while can actually help you get past that plateau.
In a nutshell, weight loss happens when we burn more fuel than we have available, cutting into our fat stores. A restricting diet can only work for so long until it starts signaling our body that something is going on.
We start to think that we are in a period of famine, so our metabolism—the rate at which we burn fuel—slows down in order to prepare for prolonged fasting.
This fasting messes with our hormones and causes a reduction in leptin, ghrelin, and other hormones that play a role in weight loss.
This is where cheat meals can help. If you give in to that slice of pizza or ice cream cone in between periods of low-calorie dieting while cutting, you trick your body into starting the cycle all over again.
It temporarily forgets that it is in a period of famine, and your metabolism picks back up.
Ghrelin and leptin are essentially reactivated, and they encourage your body to start burning fat at a higher rate again.
How to Use Cheat Meals to Help You Reach Your Goals
Now that we can agree that cheat meals have a place in your cutting routine, that doesn’t mean you can go crazy and start eating cheeseburgers every day for your bedtime snack.
Just like calorie cutting, adding in cheat meals works only if you do it the right way.
You have to time them and plan for them, rather than letting your cravings decide if and when you’ll have a cheat meal. You also have to exhibit some control over portions, so you don’t fall down a slippery slope and erase all the work you’ve accomplished during cutting so far.
A cheat meal will work best if you do it once every week or so.
The cheat meal should be something higher in calories and carbs than what you had been eating during cutting.
After that meal, your metabolism will be kick started for the next few days, and you will potentially be able to dip below the plateau you’ve hit as your hunger hormones are revved back into overdrive.
When choosing your cheat meal, opt for something dense but still high in nutrients.
A family sized bag of chips should not be your indulgence of choice. Instead, try something like pasta loaded with veggies, meats, red sauce, and cheese, or a cheeseburger loaded with extras like bacon and all the veggies.
A well-rounded nutritious meal, even if it is higher in calories and fat, will make you feel better than something that is completely empty calories.
Also watch Rich piana’s interesting talk on cheat meals:
Be smart about your choices when implementing cheat meals. If done right and kept under control, they might just be your secret weapon against the dreaded plateau during cutting.