I cheated once.
Per usual, I had waited until the last minute to finish a poetry project for 7th grade English class.
It was almost midnight, the night before it was due, and my little thirteen-year-old self just wanted to go to sleep.
I looked at the big, fat poetry book I’d checked out from the library for this project and wondered:
“What if I just took one of these poems, changed some words around, and said that I wrote it? I mean, [my teacher] Mrs. B can’t POSSIBLY know every single poem ever written. Look at how many poems there are?! She will NEVER know it’s not mine.”
So I found one.
“‘The Cow’ by Robert Louis Stevenson?! I know he’s pretty famous, but dude – really? You wrote a poem called, ‘The Cow’?
‘The friendly cow all red and white, I love with all my heart. She gives me cream with all her might, to eat with apple-tart’?!”
I wondered if perhaps RLS was in Junior High when he wrote this, too.
This made it the perfect poem for a lazy Junior Higher’s revisions.
I changed a few words, tagged it with “by Leslie Ann Quillen,” and was quite proud of myself for being so clever.
My cleverness did not escape Mrs. B and I wound up in Discipline Committee. (It wasn’t a firing squad or a trial by jury, but it felt like it.)
I would surely be sentenced to a public flogging or be forced to sew a Scarlet Cow to the front of my dresses. My life was over.
(In addition to being a cheater, I was also kind of a drama queen.)
Two detentions later, I swore I would never, ever, ever cheat again.
Two detentions also give you plenty of time to nurture your hatred of a certain Scottish writer who really could have done better than “The Cow.”
Which brings us to today’s question that I got last week from a client:
QUESTION: “Can you cheat to a certain degree and still stay on track to lose fat and get fit? Am I crazy to think this might work for me, to calm my cravings, or am I just giving in to them?
ANSWER from LAQ Fitness:
Okay I lied, because here we are, twenty years later, and now all I do is tell people to cheat.
And not eensy-weensy cheats like re-writing Robert Louis Stevenson poems.
“Cheating” is an important part of living the fat loss lifestyle.
I hate that the word “cheat” is even used here because it attaches a negative emotion to food, as if you’re doing something bad and shameful by eating a different kind of meal.
If it feels better to you, call it a Reward Meal or a Treat Meal or dispense with labels all together.
When it comes to fat loss, you can cheat, you SHOULD cheat, and you should enjoy every hot, forbidden second of it.
It’s not even really considered cheating because it’s part of the plan.
Reset hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin.
If you go longer than 3-5 days of decreasing caloric intake, which naturally happens when eating a fat loss diet, your metabolism slows and the hunger hormone leptin starts to drop as well.
When our hunger hormones (leptin and ghrelin) are out of balance, we experience insatiable hunger and cravings. Think of these hormones as built-in mechanisms that signal our bodies to GO FIND FOOD.
Our bodies are designed to seek out high calorie foods (especially fat & sugar) when we try to regulate/decrease calories.
By having a cheat meal, you are signaling to your body that’s it’s OKAY to stay in fat-burning mode, this is not a famine situation, and high calorie foods are abundant.
Hunger hormones are reset, and the body can begin to burn fat again.
I recommend anywhere from 1-3 cheat meals a week to my clients, depending on their goals and progress. This varies by individual.
Psychological Benefits to Cheat Meals
You don’t have to be Little Miss No Fun in social, food-centered situations b/c reward/cheat meals are PART of the fat loss lifestyle.
Being in a constant deprivation mode and having a dieter’s mindset is miserable. (If you’ve ever been on a diet, I don’t have to tell you this.)
Everyone has events – parties, dinners, etc. – and food plays a big part in just enjoying life.
Egg white omelets can get old fast.
Knowing that you can occasionally have pancakes or french toast at Sunday brunch at your favorite restaurant keeps you out of the diet mindset.
You’re not deprived. Nothing is off limits. There is no good or bad food.
It’s just food, and you eat more of what works for you and gets you closer to your goals, and less of what doesn’t.
Different Strategies for Cheat Meals
We all have different personalities and may prefer to do our treat meals in different ways.
When I first started Metabolic Effect, I wanted my 2 big, crazy, balls-to-the-wall cheat meals each week.
My go-to was a cheeseburger, fries, and a kid size shake from Good Stuff Eatery on a Friday night.
Then, something surprising started to happen: the longer I practiced a fat loss lifestyle, the less I craved this big reward meal.
I started to not even want it any more.
I realized I could have a burger whenever I wanted, it was just a choice if I wanted the bun or not.
And ya’ know what? Fries are not my thing. I was just eating them b/c I thought that made it a REAL cheat meal. And the shake was sickeningly sweet. ((Blech.))
Over time, maybe about a year into the fat loss lifestyle, I discovered the concept of doing 2-3 smaller indulgences throughout the week instead of having a big blow-out cheat meal.
Maybe I go for frozen yogurt, snag a package of Justin’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups with my afternoon coffee, or bake one of my cleaned-up dessert recipes at home.
I’ve discovered that these little intentional cheats kept me on track, and I don’t even think of them as “cheats.”
They’re just small servings of highly-satisfying foods that make up maybe 10-20% of my overall food intake.
Now It’s Your Turn
Figure out what foods satisfy you and take the edge off, then keep your kitchen stocked with a few of them or know the best places to buy them.
If keeping a gluten-free pizza crust in your freezer (in case of emergency pizza cravings) keeps you from dialing 1-800-Pizza and ordering the large meat lovers’ pizza with extra garlic dipping sauce, then do it.