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Cheat Meals and Rest Days. What’s the Deal?

By Kimberly Goodhartz, LAC, NCC

Cheat meals”—a deviation from clean eating or a change from your regularly scheduled meal plan.

BUT WHY?

So you’ve been on a meal plan provided by a nutritionist or coach and you see those magical words: CHEAT MEAL. In all its glory. A common question arises in regards to why cheat meals are essential when prepping for a show or trying to lose weight (fat). The answer may surprise you.

Food cravings are different from typical hunger. Hunger can be satisfied with healthy, nutritious food. A craving is a continuous desire regardless of hunger status. Does restricting a certain food increase the desire? Well, completely restricting favorite foods from your diet can have potential backlash. Your coach will schedule a cheat meal for many reasons, but one reason is that this “cheat” may help a client stick to their otherwise clean diet plan. Knowing that an upcoming meal will allow for some pizza, a small scoop of your favorite ice cream, or going out with some friends or family to celebrate a birthday gives satisfaction. With a cheat meal (treat meal), or a planned modest indulgence, the psychological guilt or anxiety of feelings of failure can be kept in check while also keeping committed to your goal rather than quitting altogether. The same control you have over following your regular meal plan applies to the treat. You have your treat and then go back to the program.

Cheat meals serve another essential job in your journey. Since significant changes in the levels of leptin and ghrelin are seen after only 72 hours of a calorie-restricted diet, cheat meals that are higher in calories and carbohydrates can actually help raise leptin levels and lower ghrelin. If this sounds like a bunch of science mumbo-jumbo…this is important because the return of your hormone levels to normal can help reverse or even prevent any negative effects on your metabolism! As a result, a scheduled cheat meal can actually help optimize our body’s hormones to avoid weight-loss plateaus and your coach will know how to tweek your plan according to your weekly check-ins. This is why it is important to do your research when looking for a coach who understands that your health comes before drastic weight loss.

For serious athletes, rest days can be the absolute worst. Whether you are a power lifter, a bodybuilder, a Muay Thai fighter (no matter how charming), everyone needs a rest day. I cannot express enough how important rest time is to heal your body and prevent injuries. Rest days mean rest! This does not mean go for a 3 hour hike. This does not mean train lightly or just do some cardio. Rest days are your body’s opportunity to heal and rebuild. Any coach will tell you to invest in a clean protein powder and a BCAA powder to ensure that your body is healing properly. Of course, Apollon Nutrition is team TNXT’s go-to for all supplement needs.

Bottom line is: hire a reputable coach or nutritionist to guide you through your journey to the stage or for weight (fat) loss. Listen to your coach. Enjoy your CHEAT meal and REST DAY means rest!

Kemps E, Tiggeman M, Bettany S. (2008) Food cravings consume limited cognitive resources. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 14(3):247-254.

Kolaczynski, J. W., Considine, R. V., Ohannesian, J., Marco, C., Opentanova, I., Nyce, M. R., . . . Caro, J. F. (1996, November). Responses of leptin to short-term fasting and refeeding in humans: a link with ketogenesis but not ketones themselves. Retrieved November 03, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8866554

McCartney Margaret. Margaret McCartney: Clean eating and the cult of healthism BMJ 2016; 354 :i4095