I had been going solid for a month, and I was down 8lbs, which was awesome! (Note: 1-2 pounds per week is healthy. You do not need to lose weight any faster than this!) Then he told me it was time.
Time for a…wait for it!…A cheat meal! First, that’s a thing? Really?! But second, holy biscuits, Batman, a whole meal where I wasn’t counting calories or macros aaaaaand my trainer told me to? Pretty sure my eyes lit up like well… the proverbial fat kid in a candy store.
He’d noticed that even though I was super excited that the scale was showing some progress and so were my clothes, that my enthusiasm for following a meal plan day in and day out was starting to wane. I’d make small comments about another chicken breast or “you know… same *stuff* , different day”. So he told me that if I wanted to be
able to stay the course and not sabotage myself, I should have a cheat meal. He told me that it was a vacation for my brain, which everybody needs sometimes. But he cautioned me that it had to be the exception, not the rule.
In my former life as a pastor, I used to talk about feasts days and the spiritual discipline of celebration. In my tradition we had the “High Holies” where the pastor and the church wore white to mark the day with jubilee, and I taught my congregants that these ‘holidays’ were actually “holy days”. And that they were literally feast days. I’d make a case that we all need feast days from time to time, sometimes on marked occasions like birthdays and holidays, and sometimes just because.
So here are my best tips for cheating well.
- My motto for life is don’t do anything you’ll regret. Same with food. If you’re gonna wake up with a food hangover tomorrow, and beat yourself up about it, don’t do it.
- Don’t include any trigger foods. Trigger foods are those things where you can’t stop at a reasonable amount, or things that are going to make you want to eat your entire town. Find a satisfying substitute.
- Plan most of your cheat meals ahead of time. Make them something you really look forward to. For example, “On Saturday I’m leaving my small mountain town and going to a place that has civilization, and you know, a mall. I can’t wait to get a steak from Outback.”
- Limit your cheat meals, especially in the beginning. Your body needs time to reset and adjust to your new habits. If you consistently feed it the same way, it’s going to think nothing has changed. Think once, or absolutely no more than twice, a month to start.
- Start with protein. Have a great steak or chicken marsala or something else as the basis for your meal. Protein helps you feel full, and fat helps you feel satisfied. If you base your meal around carbs (uhem…ordering a primarily pasta meal or a giant pizza), you’re going to likely feel tired, sluggish, and guilty because carbs don’t naturally tell you to quit eating them, unlike protein.
- Don’t go super crazy. Plan 300-400 calories more than what you’d normally eat. A cheat meal for me often looks like 6oz of my fav cut of steak, a baked potato (with butter and sour cream on the side), something green, and a shared dessert. I feel satisfied and happy, but not guilty or remorseful. I don’t wake up the next morning with a food hangover. Eat a roll if that’s your thing. Don’t eat four.
- Enjoy yourself, but remember who you are, and stay focused on your goals.
- Focus on the experience more than you focus on the food. Enjoy the company and change of scenery.
Ignoring all those advertisements that talk about replenishing your electrolytes because you’re not an athlete? Tomorrow, I’ll tell you why electrolytes are a literal matter of life and death.