- A cheat meal can break the monotony of your diet plan
- Do not allow the cheat meals to ruin your diet
- Exercising can help you compensate the extra calories consumed
A cheat meal is defined as a deviation from your regular meal. In a desperate attempt to lose weight, people often resort to very strict and monotonous starvation diets. Such diets are difficult to implement and you may feel tempted to give in to indulgences. Some people also feel that including a structured cheat meal in a week helps them stay motivated for the rest of the week. While there isn't enough research to validate it, proponents suggest that while constantly being on low-calorie diets, leptin levels drop, putting the body in a slow metabolism mode. An occasional well planned cheat meal tricks the system into thinking that food is enough and encourages it to burn fat.
The result of cheating can have different implications on different people. For some people, one cheat meal can undo their effort and result of the entire week. Sometimes a cheat meal translates into a cheat day or cheat week and people find it extremely difficult to fall back on track. Sharing some guidelines here in case you are the types who can't resist a cheat meal.
Guidelines for the right cheat meal
1. Plan your cheat meal: Plan your cheat meal of the week. If you have a choice, lunch is a better option to do a cheat meal than dinner because the stomach still can digest the meal while you are still awake.
2. Don't starve yourself prior to the cheat meal: Skipping the meal ahead of the cheat meal would imply that you would be greedily hungry and end up stuffing too much of the wrong food.
3. Exercising ahead of the cheat meal: That is one way of compensating for the extra calories consumed. Exercising ahead of the cheat meal would create a glycogen deficit and the extra calories are less likely to pile on you.
4. Compensating in the next meal: A cheat meal is definitely heavier to digest than regular meals and usually leaves you with little or no appetite. So listen to your body signals. You could replace the next meal with green tea/ green coffee or any other herbal teas/ fennel tea/ lemon water or anything you feel aids digestion. Return to your regular diet as appetite returns.
5. Do not allow your cheat meal to translate into a cheat day: This often happens when festivals coincide with long weekends. A little bit of indulgence on festivals is unavoidable and infact one must do what is customary. But please use the rest of the weekend to detox instead of furthering your cheat meals.
6. Body signals: The rule about hunger signals and fullness signals applies as much to cheat meals if not more. Eat only if you are genuinely hungry, and eat as much as needed to satisfy hunger, not greed, because greed is insatiable. Recognizing your body signals would help you enjoy your favorite foods while preventing a disaster at the same time.
7. Opt for A-la-carte over buffets: It's very easy to go over board and overeat while eating at buffets.
8. Choose wisely from restaurant menus: You may argue that it would defeat the entire purpose of a cheat meal. Well, that's not the case. Opt for meal options which include most food groups. Having a huge bowl of French fries or creamy pasta alone is a sure shot recipe for disaster. So chose combos which include some carbs and proteins too besides fat. Very high fat meals would very quickly store as fat in the body. Also avoid stuff that is highly processed and laced with chemicals.
9. Drink lots of water alongside: It aids the process of digestion and also prevents over-eating.
10. Eat slowly: Savor every bite employing all your senses and chew slowly. It will allow you to recognize fullness signals and prevent overeating.
11. Choose one category: Opting for one category to cheat (main meal/ alcohol/ dessert) would further help control damage. For example, if you are really craving alcohol, just have alcohol with simple light food. Or if you really crave for desserts, save your calories for desserts and don't indulge in alcohol and mains.
12. Resume healthy eating ASAP: This is by far the most important guideline. If you have planned for one cheat meal a week, stick to your plan.
(Pooja Malhotra is a nutritionist based in Delhi)
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