For many, this weekend was filled with hotdogs, cheeseburgers and pasta salad galore. #Merica – am I right?! I had a few people message me and say, “I don’t know how I’m supposed to go all weekend without enjoying myself!” I thought this was an important concern to bring up and wanted to talk about the “taboo concept” of cheat meals.
Cheat meals are something that I have recently become familiar with, and I have dug into some research concerning them. Personally, I always thought that forbidden foods were well, forbidden. I didn’t understand that letting yourself have these occasional cheats is actually beneficial to your goals. Now, it’s critical to note that everyone’s body is different; what may be good for one person may not be good for another. Also, depending on your training, cheat meals may not be in the cards – so take this for what it’s worth.
Benefits of Cheat Meals:
Keep Your Sanity
Let’s be honest, even the most macho of macho gymheads will admit that cravings are real and sometimes tough to manage. By allowing yourself to enjoy your favorite foods from time to time, many find it easier to keep on track the rest of the week. For most people, the 90/10 rule is a good one to follow – meaning you stick to your nutrition plan 90% of time and let yourself veer away for the other 10%.
Regulate Your Appetite Hormones & Boost Your Metabolism
First things first – let’s talk hormones. Particularly ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is a hunger-stimulating hormone whereas leptin is an appetite-suppressing hormone.  Both of these hormones play a big part in metabolic regulation.
Leptin is made up of adipose tissue (fat) and without it, cheat meals would not be effective. So, thanks, leptin!
In response to an energy bolus, adipose tissue produces a large amount of leptin that can be kept high for more than 24 hours. This is a signal for the body that the ‘fuel tank’ is full and we can start using it. In response, lipid oxidation in the muscle increases, we feel more satisfied, and our metabolic rate accelerates. 
Basically, it’s secreted into the circulatory system where it travels to the hypothalamus, the region of the brain that is concerned with the automatic and nervous system. The hypothalamus controls hunger, thirst, temperature and other homeostatic systems within the body so leptin’s role is to communicate that there is enough fat so we can eat less/stop eating.  Studies have shown that within 24 hours of fasting (defined as a time of caloric restriction) leptin levels decrease as much as 30% of their normal value. 
Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and helps with the long-term regulation of metabolism and short-term regulation of feeding.
Extended periods of caloric restriction can cause a hypocaloric state where your metabolism actually begins to slow down. This threatens the development and maintenance of lean muscle mass by decreasing leptin, insulin, testosterone and thyroid hormones in the body while increasing ghrelin and cortisol. 
By giving yourself a weekly cheat meal that is higher in calories and carbohydrates – it can help increase leptin levels, decrease ghrelin and help normalize other metabolic hormones while stimulating a metabolic reactivation.
Tips to Cheating Correctly:
Plan it Out
Don’t just randomly decide it’s time for a cheat meal when you’re hungry. Planning allows you to pick a favorite food and will make it that much more enjoyable when the time comes! Yes, these meals are supposed to help satisfy cravings and gives you the chance to let loose a bit – but remember these are cheat meals not cheat days.
Try and Choose a Nutrient-Filled Cheat Meal
I know, I know seems senseless, right? But when considering what to splurge on, you’re better off opting for your favorite creamy pasta dish with protein and a glass of wine than an entire chocolate cake with a milkshake. Utilize the combination fats, protein, and carbs in your meal! Even if it’s higher than what one should be consuming on a regular basis, it’s better than foods filled with just sugar and fats that will give the body nothing in return. According to Metabolic Edge, the goal of a cheat meal is to increase leptin levels and stimulate a metabolic response; carbohydrates are effective as insulin stimulation in a sensitive environment favors leptin production. So, don’t feel obligated to skip the bun, either.
Avoid Your Weaknesses
If there is one food that will forever be the bane of your existence, it may be best that you avoid it all together. It will be a lot harder to defer away from these “trigger foods” than it will be others – this could easily lead to a loss of control, resulting in a binge.
If Possible, Enjoy Earlier than Later
By having your meal earlier in the day, your body can use the extra calories as fuel throughout the day instead of just marinating in your system overnight 😉
What is your favorite cheat meal?
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