Weekly Cheats! 12 tips on how to approach them and maintain a healthy lifestyle!
Cheats Meals - there are two sides to the argument. There are those who are all for it (my side), and those who are against it for many reasons. A few reasons I've heard include "you shouldn't reward healthy behaviour with unhealthy behaviour" or, "it can steer your off track", or my (least) favourite "they lead to shame and guilt". Many on the opposing side of cheats believe that by allowing yourself to live a little bit, you are fuelling the addiction further and creating a more negative relationship with food.
I whole heartedly disagree... and think these people need to chill.
I'm here to share tips on how I've successfully integrated weekly cheat meals/drinks/treats into my lifestyle for the last 11 years as a way to maintain 100lb weight loss.
If you're new to following my journey, know that I'm not one of those stereotypical fitness influencers. I don't eat boring food...ever, I eat a lot of carbs, and I don't do anything extreme with my diet. I loooove food. Like I really love food. There are people that say they "love food".... and then there's me - the downright obsessed. I'll be eating lunch while planning what I’m having for dinner. While meditating before bed, I think about breakfast. LOL. The list goes on and the obsession is real.
Because of this, I've never been the girl who has successfully stuck with extreme diets and I've always strived to have healthy balance in my meals. I've found ways to make my favourite foods healthy and tasty, which has been great for day to day maintenance. But, the foodie in me loves a good unhealthy pizza, pasta, burger, fries, or a patty with coco bread!
I work so hard to maintain this lifestyle; it's not easy. If you live it, you understand. Allowing myself to truly live a little (every now again) helps me continue this journey forward.
Cheat Meals make me smile
I couple 'not so healthy' meals with my healthy lifestyle and I’m never left feeling without.
Contrary to what many believe, cheats haven't ruined my relationship with food because I've confronted and dealt with my deep rooted issues [with food] head on. I'm able to articulate what my triggers are when it comes to emotional eating, and I never use cheats as a bandaid or comfort for any of my issues. They are a treat, and only that. If you haven't confronted and dealt with your negative relationship with food, cheats may not be the greatest idea for you, yet. But if you have and feel confident in your journey - then LIVE A LITTLE.
The ways in which I’ve (successfully) integrated cheats are shared below. Yes, it takes a certain level of self-control, but once you've got your method down right- it's smooth sailing from there.
Whenever I post a picture of me enjoying a cheat meal on social, I am always asked how I do it and manage self-control. So I put together these tips on how I've integrated them in my lifestyle successfully over the years.
Tip 1: Create parameters. Over the years, I’ve allowed myself a cheat meal (usually pizza), a cheat snack (usually chocolate) and a few cheat drinks (usually wine) each week. I couple these not-so-healthy meals with a daily healthy lifestyle so I’m never left feeling without. I also create parameters and practice control within each cheat. I won’t binge on a whole pizza, instead I'll enjoy a few slices. I won't down a whole bottle of wine (despite my true desires), instead I'll have just a glass. I'll enjoy the burger or the fries. If you're just starting out with cheats, you may even want to create more tangible parameters to help get you started. For many of my clients, I create a caloric range they should stay within. It’s the only time I recommend looking at macros in an effort to maintain portion control with the unhealthy choices.
Tip 2: Never force it. Some weeks you are feeling so on top of the world with your health journey that you don’t crave a cheat. So don’t have one! There are many weeks that pass by where I don’t indulge, and that’s okay! But when I do feel the need, I enjoy it! Because I’ve allowed myself to realize that it's okay.
Tip 3: H2O is key! Leading up to (and immediately after) a cheat meal/drink/snack, I always guzzle more water than I would typically consume. This is the best way (for me) to eliminate tummy aches or discomfort caused from the not-so-easy-to-digest ingredients found in most of my cheat meals. It just helps things flow.
Tip 4: Set a date for your cheats – and spread them out. This really helps keep you on track. I usually allow my cheats to happen every few days throughout the week. Planning for them at the beginning of the week just allows you to be in control and prevents things from getting out of hand. And remember, it's a cheat meal... not a cheat day.
Tip 5: Never cheat when you are starving! You’re asking for a binge!
Tip 6: Make your own cheat meal! I do this often. Sometimes I want white pasta, normal sugar, or a hefty amount of cheese on my homemade pizza. While I’ve found ways to make my day to day foods healthy, sometimes, I just don’t want to! So I put on my apron and whip up a cheat meal of my own. Some of my favourite at-home cheat meals can be found in my latest e-book here.
Tip 7: Set realistic expectations for your journey. If you're on a weight loss journey and deciding at the onset to incorporate cheats throughout the week, your journey will take a little longer. So understand that, and be okay with it! I much preferred the slower approach to losing weight while allowing myself to live a little throughout. It also makes the process far more sustainable!
Tip 8: Enjoy it with the right people. If you can find someone on a similar journey (with a similar mindset) to enjoy your cheat with, that is definitely your best solution. You can hold each other accountable while celebrating mini milestones together. If you have the meal with someone who is not like-minded (i.e. an unhealthy binge eater) you're less likely to stay within your own parameters and more likely to go overboard.
Tip 9: Keep it to the final meal of the day. Most would suggest otherwise - to have it early on so you have the opportunity to use the energy and burn it off throughout the day. But I've found over the years that having it at the end of the day actually works better (mentally) for a few reasons.
i) I feel the desire to be extra healthy and active throughout the day when I know a treat is approaching. When I would have cheats early on, it would leave me feeling sluggish and not wanting to move much for the rest of the day.
ii) Also, when I would eat them early on, it almost gave me the mental go-ahead to just wash the day away, eat more unhealthy food, and 'start fresh tomorrow'. It was kind of like a snowball effect. However, having it at the end of the day and then going to bed just allows me feel refreshed the next day and I usually feel ready to get back on plan.
Tip 10: Drop the guilt. If you find yourself feeling guilty, in my opinion, you are not in the right mental space to enjoy regular cheat meals. You have to be in a good place within your journey (and your progress) to enjoy your cheat wholeheartedly. If you aren't there, work towards it! Just remember you are in control of your thoughts and the perspective you place on your cheat meal. I became okay with cheats over the years by being pretty pragmatic and realising that 3 small treats throughout the week, when compared to 28 healthy meals (I eat 4 times a day) probably wasn't going to set me back much. When I dropped the mentality of striving for perfection with this journey, the guilt went away with it.
Tip 11: Have the meal right after a workout. If you can, get in that metabolic window of 1-3 hours post workout as it's the best time to consume it! Your metabolism is higher and your muscles are replenishing the glucose used throughout your workouts. Basically, any good nutrients that are consumed throughout your cheat will be used the right way within that time frame.
Tip 12: Enjoy high quality cheats. I mean, who am I kidding... if you follow me you've definitely seen me enjoy a quarter-pounder with cheese from McDonalds. But more times than not, I do opt for quality food, LOL. Perhaps I enjoy a burger from a place I know will serve quality meat and other ingredients. Or, instead of Pizza Hut, maybe go to a mom and pop pizzeria where you know the ingredients are locally-sourced and fresh. Basically, I try (where possible) to avoid mass produced foods.
It's important to remember that when starting any weight loss journey, you think long term. Ask yourself, "is this lifestyle something I can do for the next 5, 10, or 20 years?" If you're doing anything extreme and the answer is no, revisit your approach. As a way to make things sustainable long term, I highly recommend you incorporate fun cheats into your routine. Balance is not something that just happens, it’s something you create. And this is just one way, of many, that I’ve incorporated balance into my lifestyle. It’s easy to go extreme, but I promise you, extreme gets you nowhere long term. Moderation is key and it’s not natural for most (read: me), so creating these guidelines have helped tremendously over the years. I hope they help you, too!
Some scientific evidence will say cheats are bad for your progress because it messes with your metabolism – others will say it’s better for it. Whenever you read said evidence, remember in this industry everything can be proven or disproven. I recommending leaning towards fueling your happiness, balance, and longevity within this journey in whichever way you see fit.
So live a little! Have some fun and enjoy this process. Eat the cake, Drink the wine, and enjoy those french fries... but tomorrow, work your ass off!