Before we get started, let’s stop calling them cheat meals. The word cheat has a negative connotation that can make you think you’re doing something bad: the word can make you feel guilty and ashamed. Instead, completely erase that mentality right now. We’re going to call them “treat meals” or “treat days” instead because that is what it is — it’s a treat! Treat meals are important in two ways. They benefit your mental health and your physical health. Probably something you never thought you would hear, right?
The whole idea behind a treat meal is that if you’re eating healthy about 80-90% of time during the week and following a consistent schedule of working out. That other 20-10% of your meals can consist of something that isn’t chicken and broccoli. This treat meal might be that new Italian restaurant you’ve been dying to try for a date night or a hot-dog and a beer at a baseball game.
Give Yourself a Break
Let’s start with how treat meals can help your mentally. We all know how much self discipline that it takes to stick to a healthy lifestyle, especially when you first start out. For some people it is more drastic than others but no matter what, treat meals still give you a mental break from all the dieting, macro counting, and food tracking. This is also a time where you can give into your cravings in a healthy manner without the risk of binge eating. Constantly having to resist that urge to make a bowl of mac n’ cheese for dinner can be really difficult, so give yourself the mental break. Sometimes comfort food is a necessity! Dieting can be a hard thing to balance and giving yourself that treat meal can help avoid a pattern of restrictive eating. Research has also shown that a treat meal here and there will not set back any progress or results you may already have.
It’s All Scientific
Treat meals have also been scientifically proven to help you drop weight too. Treat meals help your body produce more of a hormone called leptin. Leptin is a hormone that tells your brain that you’re full, have the energy you need, and that you can now stop eating. Leptin can often times decrease if you’ve been on a consistent diet of healthy foods. So eating a treat meal can help spike those levels of leptin once again, since your body is receiving foods of higher caloric value and density. Having appropriate levels of leptin can make your body release fat (and weight). It also is a hormone that stops you from getting that “hangry” feeling which can then lead to you eating whatever is most convenient, aka the Taco Bell or McDonald’s drive-thru.
By enjoying a meal that is most likely more carbohydrate heavy and higher in calories, your metabolism can also jump start. It will encourage your body to continue to burn these calories since it has become used to a lower caloric intake as a result of eating healthier foods.
One study took three men of healthy stature and looked at their total energy expenditure (TEE). Over a three day period they consumed various percentages of their TEE and found that when the subjects were underfed, their leptin levels decreased. However, when the subjects were over-fed a higher caloric meal,their leptin levels increased and then helped their leptin levels return to a normal state. Another study that focused specifically on females proved that by upping their carbohydrate levels increased their leptin levels as much as 28%. This then improved 24-hour energy expenditure by seven percent, which then helped them burn more calories within that 24-hour time frame of the meal without any extra needed workouts or training.
Treat meals also can help motivate us to continue to push towards our health and fitness goals. Once again, going back to that 80:20 or 90:10 ratio of healthy eating to treat meals, a treat meal can turn into a reward for all the hard work that you’re putting in. This could be the motivation for that final push on that workout or those five more minutes on the treadmill. It can also be a light at the end of the tunnel, regardless if it is even fitness related. That treat meal is going to taste even better when you know that you’ve earned it!
Treating yourself to a fun meal or just a meal without any thinking of calories or nutrition is 100% okay to do. In fact, with all the research it’s recommended that you do indulge from time to time. You’ve been working so hard, you truly deserve it!
If you have any more questions about diet and nutrition or need training help, let us be the ones to help you on all your fitness goals. Contact us today to speak with one of our licensed personal trainers here in Medford.