Why you should cheat your diet: Everyone knows how to lose weight. Eat less, move more and buy new slacks. What could be simpler? Except it’s not really that easy. For one thing, weight loss isn’t linear. The more you lose, the more your body fights back by slowing your metabolism and increasing your hunger. Answer these questions and outsmart the flab monster.
By MH Staff - Posted on 21st October 2013
To keep the kilos coming off, sometimes you need to break your own rules.
A Brown University study estimated that 80% of overweight people who drop at least 10% of their body weight regain some of it within a year. So it's reasonable to ask if a diet that includes some kind of release valve – a way to fudge on the plan without giving up entirely – might work better than one that doesn't. Nutrition advisor Alan Aragon, points out that a strict all-or-nothing approach to dieting has been linked to such problems as overeating, weight gain and anxiety. Conversely, people who take a more flexible approach – that is, those who slip up occasionally but then quickly jump back on track – may have more success.The goal is what researchers call "flexible restraint," or the ability to stick to the plan most of the time without forcing yourself to refuse cake on your own birthday. Moderation and a moderate approach in all things, works best long term says Pentz-Kluyts. But that still doesn't answer the question of whether a planned cheat meal works better than waiting for your urges or the environment to sneak up and blindside you with a bowl of chips.
"If your body fat is really high, then you don't need a cheat meal," says Shelby Starnes, a nutrition coach and bodybuilder who has spent the past seven years working with everyday Joes and elite lifters. "You can probably go weeks without one." How high is "really" high? If you're under 90kgs and your waist is 91cm or larger, then you're probably at least 20% fat, which suggests you've enjoyed quite a few cheat meals already.The guy who most needs to cheat is the one who's doing exhausting workouts while adhering to a strict diet. "It's like a gas tank you've emptied," Starnes says. "You use cheat meals when you're depleted and your metabolism starts to drop a little bit." A slowing metabolism is an obvious handicap to someone trying to lose weight. You have to do more to accomplish less. But that's just one of the problems you encounter when your diet is working. "When people diet, they over restrict their carbohydrates, fat or both," Aragon says.
You choices should depend on what your diet has depleted, Aragon says. If you've been curtailing your fat intake, you want a high-fat cheat – cheese, ribs, chocolate cake. If you've been going low-carb, then you want pasta, chips or another high-carb cheat. Pentz-Kluyts disagrees with these choices, “Cheating on foods like these will spike your insulin levels and you’ll just want more cookies, chips, chocolate and bread.” Try slurge on something with a low GI instead, she recommends. But all that is irrelevant if you crave something specific. "The psychological impact of militantly depriving yourself of food you like can sabotage you," Aragon says. "It gives all the power to the food and takes the power away from the dieter." In other words, it's best to just eat what you want and enjoy it.
Although weekends may seem perfect for nutritional anarchy, they're actually the most dangerous time. "You can spin out of control if your cheat meal stretches out to a full day or weekend," warns Ormsbee. Dinner is the ideal cheat meal because it's the easiest one to contain, says Starnes. But he cautions to eat for no longer than 45 minutes. He also recommends having your cheat meal the night before your toughest workout. The extra kilojoules, combined with your improved mood, can make that training session more productive.
While Starnes recommends one cheat meal a week, Aragon's approach is more nuanced. His goal for his clients is to have them eat right 90% of the time, leaving 10% of their kilojoules for cheating. Here are three options, according to Aragon and Pentz-Kluyts:One huge indulgence a week – 4 000-5 000kj of pure junky goodness. A small indulgence now and again. "For most guys, this boils down to 800 to 1 250kj," he says, adding that it's the most popular option. But make sure you don’t indulge every day, four times a week is max says Pentz-Kluyts. Arciero's research points to the same conclusion. He gave participants 15% "free" kilojoules. "The majority chose to spread out the 15% over the week," he says. "The cheat foods were embedded with healthy meals. It's a very effective adherence strategy." It also suggests a new weight loss paradigm, one in which it's perfectly okay to have something fun every day if that's your preference. After all, at that point you aren't cheating on your diet as much as following it.