We all know the toughest part of a healthy lifestyle is proper nutrition. It doesn’t matter if you’re just getting started or have been exercising and eating right for years. Proper nutrition and meal prep are hard, and it’s a serious daily commitment you have to make. An important part of this healthy, balanced life style? Well-planned cheat days. That’s right, a good cheat meal or cheat day can go a long way towards achieving your fitness goals. As we’re sure you know, a healthy diet is all about balance, moderation and careful planning. Adding in a cheat day every now and again is an essential part of that.
Cheat days help keep your spirits up (we know how depressing it can get when you realize you’re having chicken breast for dinner for the 18th night in a row) and they serve as a healthy reward for hard work. For a lot of people, having a cheat day also helps remind them why they eat healthy in the first place. Trust us, that greasy hamburger might taste good while you’re eating it, but wait 20 minutes and tell us how your stomach feels. That’ll remind you why you stick with clean, lean protein.
It’s also important to keep in mind that indulging in a cheat meal doesn’t mean failure. In fact, it can actually be extremely helpful in meeting your fitness goals. Not only do they help with morale and reaffirming commitment to your nutritional guidelines, but they also help reset your body’s hormones—including the ones that regulate metabolism and insulin. Which means that a small cheat meal every once in a while actually serves as a reset button for your body and can help sculpt your body into the shape you want. So here are some guidelines to help you cheat as productively as possible:
Plan it out: before you start decide how long your period of indulgence will last. Is it one meal, two meals, a whole day? Some people abide by the 90/10 rule—90 percent of the calories you eat each week are within your diet plan and the other 10 percent are whatever you want. Once you know the time frame, decide what you will and won’t eat. If you have a weakness for cheesecake and know you can’t eat one slice without eating the whole thing, probably don’t go out and buy a cheesecake. Remember, cheating is not the same as binging. And lastly, decide if you’re going to hit the gym that day or if it will be a rest/active recovery day for you.
Stick to the plan:saying you’ll only eat one or two slices of cheesecake is one thing. Actually sticking to it is another. But it’s really important to stick to the ground rules you set for yourself. You especially want to make sure you don’t go so over-the-top that you set yourself back or make yourself sick. If you’re eating foods you haven’t eaten in a while, your stomach might be a little unsettled for a day or two. Keep that in mind.
Keep it in perspective:it’s only a meal—or a day, or however long you set. Don’t let one cheat meal turn into a day that turns into a week that turns into a month and suddenly you’ve lost the past six months of gains. Remember, it takes much longer put something together than it does to take it apart. So as great as it feels to down that chili cheese dog with fries and a milkshake—is it worth your gains?
Reevaluate: use this time as a chance to look at your progress and make sure your nutrition and fitness goals are attainable. If you feel the need for a cheat meal every other day, then maybe the nutritional guidelines you’re setting out for yourself are too extreme. This could end up costing you when you push yourself so hard that you break and start binging. A cheat day should be a fun treat for hard work, not a necessity to keep you sane. So take a step back to look at your progress and make sure you’re still heading in the right direction.
Looking for a few cheat meal ideas? We have you covered there. You could make a peanut butter cheesecake, cookies and cream brownies, cherry cobbler or berry cheesecake. If none of these suit your fancy, check out the Muscle Research forum for more delicious cheat meal ideas.