Beat the Cheat Meals
How to enjoy cheat meals responsibly.
I have great discipline but terrible self-control. What that means is I’m good at following a program. However, when certain temptations appear, I’m easily led astray. What may start innocently as a cheat meal can quickly become a cheat day or even a cheat weekend.
I have all the justifications lined up. I’ve worked hard. I deserve a treat. I don’t feel well. I’m tired. There are a hundred more, but you get the idea. Here are the steps I took to defeat this self-destructive cycle.
It started with me taking responsibility for my actions. I did it. Nobody tied me up and forced me to eat three slices of cake. I had to own what I did.
I made a list of the triggers and took steps to remove them. If someone brought junk food over, I asked them to stop. I quit replacing boxes of treats that I bought for “special occasions.” I'm relentless in identifying and removing triggers.
Then I reminded myself how good healthy feels. Rather than be disappointed or berate myself for my behavior, I told myself to prepare for the good stuff. I scheduled my exercises for the week. Nothing crazy, just 30 to 60 minutes is enough when I put in the effort.
I never frame exercise as a punishment. Sometimes I workout with a buddy or learn something new in a class. I see it as a time to focus on myself, escaping in music, friendships or the routine.
I repeat that I’m in charge. I do not have to give in. So I take the time to plan what I’m going to eat for the next two days: meals, snacks, everything. If you need some healthy and delicious ideas, I’ve posted hundreds of free recipes on WeCookFit.com.
I put a cheat meal on my schedule once a week. You read that right. I SCHEDULE a cheat meal, so I never feel like I’m missing out. Life is short. Every once in a while, we should eat a donut. Here’s how I manage that cheat to keep it reasonable.
Recognize that a cheat meal is like a recovery day. It recharges me and gives me the willpower to resist something bigger, later.
Pick a time to cheat. It might be a dinner out with friends or a trip to the movies. I like to do it when I’m away from home. Then I don’t bring temptations into my house, and I can use those extra calories to indulge in something new or different.
Plan a cheat meal, not a cheat day. If I’m going to a party at night, I’ll be even more careful about what I eat for breakfast and lunch. I’ll also have a snack before I head out so I’m not starving when I walk into a room filled with junk food.
If that cheat meal is first thing in the morning, lay out what you’ll eat for lunch and dinner. Make sure those later meals are convenient, so it’s the easiest thing to reach for when it’s time to eat.
Don’t skip meals in anticipation of a cheat meal. That can make you hungrier and even more prone to overeating once you start.
Keep the cheat meal to a specific calorie range. If you’re trying to lose a pound a week, that’s a deficit of 3,500 calories a week. You’re not going to lose weight if you binge those 3,500 calories in a single sitting. You can enjoy a donut, but probably just one. Cake is fine, but a single slice is all.
If possible, workout before your cheat meal. It’ll burn a few extra calories, and intense exercise can dampen appetite.
Finally, set a timer for 10 minutes after each indulgence. It takes a while for our brains to register when our stomachs are full. If you keep plowing through the food, it’s easy to overeat. Taking a break every few minutes can help your brain catch up and make it easier to stop before you’re bloated.
Cheat meals are going to happen—prepare for them. Enjoy them while they’re happening. Accept responsibility when they’re over, then plan for a healthier week.
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