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The Cheat Meal 

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In this new weekly series, I will breakdown different dieting strategies, the pros and cons behind these diets, who they are best suited for, and practical applications for use in your own diet.  I will also give out a few different (very easy and simple) recipes to try that relate to the dietary technique being discussed.

There is a time and place for everything.  There’s a time to lie, a time to cry, a time to laugh, and a time to cheat.  “Cheat mealing” that is, and that time is specific, calculated, and devised.  You may be thinking “awesome, a diet my lazy ass can finally get behind.”  Wrongo.  Cheating is relative to many other factors within a diet. 

What Exactly is a Cheat Meal?

A cheat meal is a meal that is off your currently structured and stringent diet program.  What is not a cheat meal?  You are tired of eating chicken and broccoli for meals 1 and 2 so you eat a whole pizza for meal 3.  Once again, a cheat meal must be calculated. 

A cheat meal is more than just a lazy way of dieting and can actually be very beneficial and needed.  Let’s try to convince even the most hardcore out there (Matt Meinrod) where a cheat meal might be needed.

  • Ectomorphs in a dieting phase.  For those hard gainers out there, dieting is hard to hold onto the little bit of hard earned muscle mass you may have accrued. 
  • In a contest prep.  Yes, believe it or not a cheat meal may be needed during a contest prep.  The most extreme form of dieting, the body might need a reset from the stressors of constantly being in an intense caloric deficit.  Being “flat” is an inevitability when dieting, but being flat for too long may be a sign that the body’s glycogen stores have been depleted for too long.
  • When dieting for an extended period of time and you have reached a plateau in either body fat or total weight loss. 
  • When strength loss is falling too rapidly. 

Types of Cheats

Cheat Meal:  A singular cheat meal is one meal which is higher in carbs and fats than you would typically eat in your program.  This could be anything from a burger and fries to a Chipotle burrito. 
Shit Load or Carb Load:  A designated period of time in which you consume higher calories, mainly in the form of carbs.  A typical load can be as short as 4 hours and as long as 24 hours.  Salt and carb intake is extremely high during this period.

Now we know where cheat meals can be implemented, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of cheating. 

Advantages

  • Regulate leptin levels by cheating.  Leptin, otherwise known as the hunger hormone, decreases the longer that we are in a severe caloric deficit.  Leptin not only tells us when we are hungry, but has a systemic stimulatory effect on the entire body as it relates to overall body fat mass.  By decreasing leptin levels, the body attempts to turn to other sources of energy to preserve what stores the body already has.  Somewhat related, ghrelin is increased, causing the desire of food and appetite to increase. 
  • Regulate hormones more efficiently.  When in a prolonged state of starvation (which is essentially the way our bodies see extreme deficits) the regulatory functions of hormones get thrown off.  Metabolism slows down because of the decreased production of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4.  Diets lower in carbs and/or fats have a negative impact on testosterone levels.  As we all know testosterone is key to gaining and maintaining muscle mass.  For those not receiving exogenous forms of testosterone, this could be extremely detrimental for the overall goal at hand.  The stress hormone cortisol is also released when the body is in a long caloric deficit.  High cortisol levels can lead to fatigue, lethargy, increased estrogen, and adrenal fatigue.
    • A side note: for those that supplement with super-supplements, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about adding in exogenous thyroid hormones on top of everything else?
  • The psychological benefits for some could be a huge boost.  While yes, dieting is not any fun and really should not be, the little break you get from a cheat meal could be very beneficial not only to the body but also to the mind.  The hardest battle many of us face with bodybuilding or weight loss happens not in the gym, but in that small space between our ears. 
  • Cheat meals give you something to look forward to in an otherwise boring and monotonous diet.   
  • Restore depleted glycogen levels.  A great way to go flat and stay flat is to continually run your body into the ground without any sort of carbohydrate refeeds. 
  • It creates a new set point to work off of following the cheat meal period.

Disadvantages

  • Some people just cannot handle the freedom of having a cheat.  A cheat meal should be just that, a cheat meal.  Something reasonable, nothing absurdly gluttonous or disgusting.    
  • Not everyone can handle the gastrointestinal stress of a big cheat meal.  For example, if you have been dieting for 10 weeks without any dairy and then you decide to smash an entire pizza…. you may not feel the greatest. 
  • Those following a carb cycling approach or IIFYM diet will not see much benefit from a cheat meal.  The whole point of a carb cycling diet is to avoid full glycogen depletion.  Somewhat similarly with an IIFYM approach, the diet is basically designed to have many cheat meals within.

Verdict 

I am a guy who loves food, so I can basically justify anything for the sake of food.  However, I do believe that cheat meals serve their purpose in what it is they are designed to do.  We have to understand that not all cheat meals are built the same, and your cheat meal must reflect your individual diet.  If you can fit in a cheat and it supports your goals…then get out there and cheat your ass off!

Cheat Meal Recipe

  • McDonald’s
  • Burger King
  • Red Robin
  • ……. if you really need help cheating, I don’t know what to tell you. 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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