As my competition date gets closer and the diet is more restricted, my weekly cheat meal becomes a big deal. In the final weeks of prep, I live for my cheat meal to re-fuel and re-focus me for another week.
In my opinion, cheat meals cause a huge amount of angst, particularly for the female competitor. It’s a love but also a fear. We look forward to it all week but then feel riddled with guilt when it’s all over. What do I choose this week? Do I dare to try something new? Have I truly earned this? Is that too much to eat in one meal? Should I have sugar? What if it hinders my fat loss? All of these questions are probably questions that you ask yourself each week and despite it being used as a mechanism to relieve psychological and physical stress, it can actually become a really stressful situation.
I know the feeling. When cheat meal comes around, we want to eat EVERYTHING. It’s being given that little bit of freedom to taste all those wonderful things that we haven’t tasted for so long that makes us crazy. Different people respond differently to cheat meals so I outlined some of the responses below:
1) THE GUILT-RIDDLED
The first, and probably one of the most common, is the person who experiences an overwhelming feeling of guilt after eating a cheat meal. They choose that big burger and ice cream they’ve been craving all week and enjoy eating it. But afterwards, they feel heavy with guilt and instantly regret it. They then spend extra time in the gym in a hurried attempt to ‘burn off all those excess calories’.
2) THE BINGER
This is the person who doesn’t really think until it’s too late. They allow a cheat meal to become an entire cheat day. They have worked hard in the gym and been on point with their diet all week so they have earned this ‘down time’. They want a variety of fat and sugar-laden foods and one single meal just won’t cut it. They often eat until they feel ill.
3) THE ‘OVERTHINKER’
This person finds that waiting all week for the cheat meal has felt like a life time. They have gone through their heads each day thinking about what they will have, weighing up the pros and cons of each option and changing their minds every minute. Ironically enough, when the time comes, they worry too much and end up choosing something that barely resembles a cheat meal- a bowl of porridge with a peanut butter AND a banana (shock horror!) or that protein bar that they’ve been eyeing up in the shop window. This person is too fearful to tackle anything that’s too high calorie and often regrets the decision as soon as hunger strikes again.
4) THE MODERATE
This is the person we all aspire to be. They choose something not too naughty with limited refined sugar in a decent portion – perhaps a steak and chips or that freshly cooked noodle dish at their favourite Japanese restaurant. They eat until they’re satisfied but not overly full. They don’t binge on empty calories but take a very moderate and sensible approach to the refeed. I personally don’t think there are many of these kind of people around.
It’s clear to see that for some people, a cheat meal is a big no no. It can be a huge psychological stress, a mental knock and can be the trigger for severe over-eating. It can totally knock some off the wagon who then find it extremely difficult to get back on track. This is a dangerous way to live as it can cause a ‘restrict and binge’ style of eating which is certainly not healthy for the long term. However, for many, it fulfils its purpose – relieves the mind and body from a strict diet, helps to boost the metabolism and give them the energy to tackle another week of contest prep. You need to assess which type of person you are and whether a cheat meal is a good way to go for YOU. Some people favour ‘refeeds’ which might consist of one or a few meals in a day where calories and carbs are higher but you don’t steer to dirty calories which can make you feel unwell.
What am I? Probably a combination of a few. It can vary. I over think for sure, and have definitely found myself being riddled with guilt after a slightly larger-than-planned meal. Thankfully, I have never binged or extended my meal too far outside of its parameters. I cut sugar completely from my cheats approximately 8 weeks out from contest – a personal thing really – as it becomes too addictive for me so I find it easier to cut it out totally. I have been the moderate, especially when the contest looms close and this is the person I hope to be each week but let’s be honest and realistic here – some weeks, you’ve just got to let loose! Cheat meals are supposed to be enjoyable and I certainly enjoy mine.
A good tip – and something I always do- pre-cheat meal is have a stern word with yourself. Have a real think about what you fancy, what is going to satisfy you and not push you over the edge or make you feel awful. All the food in the world is going to be available after your competition (if you choose to have it) so just take it easy and eat what you feel is right at that time. It’s not worth sabotaging all your hard work through the week by being unable to control your appetite when it comes to one meal so keep that in mind when you make your choices. I like to eat in the company of others for my cheat meal as it helps to keep me in control as I don’t want others to think I’m a big piggy. Haha! I hope this little piece has helped to give you a clearer perspective on cheat meals and may help you to choose more carefully in the future!