Can cheating on your diet actually help you achieve your weight-loss goals? Many dietitians say yes’ here’s why
How cheating on your diet can help you lose weight
Though it may seem counterintuitive at first, a closer look reveals why cutting yourself some slack may actually help you shed pounds. It’s easier to stick to a healthy eating plan if you allow yourself a little flexibility. Cheating on your diet makes it a little more sustainable. The more you take [a treat] away from yourself, the more you’re going to crave it.
It’s imperative to eat 3 meals a day and 2 snacks a day or “graze” throughout the day to keep your blood sugars steady. Erratic eating can cause spikes in blood sugar, which can lead to cravings for high-sugar foods and, ultimately, to bingeing. Loading up on veggies, including protein at every meal and opting for carbs at breakfast and lunch, with carbs at dinner being optional. Depending on your amount of exercise you get through the day, a great rule of thumb is to aim for 30-50g of carbs a day. Opt to eat them in the morning or afternoon so that they can be used as an energy source throughout the day instead of being stored as fat as you sleep.
For many people, though, even the best-designed diet needs a little flexibility, a small amount of indulgence. If you don’t allow yourself ‘cheat foods, when you do cheat, you’ll be filled with guilt, which may set you spiralling backwards.
Have 100 “fun” calories a day
So, how much should you cheat when you are trying to lose weight? No one is suggesting an all-you-can-eat junk food buffet, where you get to binge on an unlimited amount of every imaginable indulgence. Some dieticians suggest a small amount (100 calories) of one of your favorite treats daily. That might be a 100-calorie chocolate bar, or 1/16 of a pie. A modest 90 calories toward ‘fun food’ for every 1,350 calories of eating on a healthy plan. It could be 90 calories each day or 630 calories once a week.
But if you choose to save up your cheating for once a week, won’t those extra 630 calories affect your metabolism? Most like not, for two reasons: The cheating is modest, and you’re eating well the vast majority of the time. Over a period of one week, there are 21 meals and 14 snacks. So one moderate indulgence isn’t going to affect your metabolism. What affects your metabolism is what you do on a daily consistent basis.
And don’t compensate for these treats by skipping meals that will do more harm than good. If you skip meals and then binge at the end of the week, you are more likely to slow your metabolism, because your body won’t know when the next meal is coming and it will hang on to the calories when it finally gets some.
How to get away with cheating
Make the most of it. Select an indulgent treat, such as a medium-sized fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie, and breaking it up into small pieces so you can stretch out the experience over a longer period of time.
Go for quantity: You can also try another approach, by looking for foods that provide the largest volume for 90 calories: for example, four cups (1 L) of air-popped popcorn without any added fat instead of eight potato chips, or 1/2 cup (125 mL) of sorbet as opposed to 1/4 cup (50 mL) of gourmet ice cream.
Make it an event: Don’t eat your treat mindlessly in front of the TV or computer. Take your time, sit down and avoid all distractions. If you’re having that 1/16 slice of pie, put it on a nice plate.
Use portion control: Even with a healthy eating plan, some people are more inclined than others to go overboard with their treats. If you are the type of person who has trouble setting a limit, I recommend dividing the treats you choose into appropriate portions so you aren’t tempted to eat more. Wrap up the individually portioned foods and store them in a place where they are difficult to get to, then remove only one at a time.
Avoid trigger foods: Trigger foods are the ones you just can’t stop eating. If you know that as soon as you eat one or two chips, you’re going to feel the need to finish the whole bag, then you should avoid bringing chips into the house altogether. Or retrain yourself to love a healthier and lower-calorie alternative, such as caramel-flavored rice cakes, instead.
Get back to basics quickly: Of course, after you’ve cheated, it’s essential to get back on your healthy eating plan right away. The more sugar and fat you have, the more you’ll want. If you do get off track and it’s going to happen to everybody at some time or other don’t spend time beating yourself up about it. Tomorrow is a brand new day; just get back on track.
How to Make Cheating Work for You
Periodic high-calorie splurges can be beneficial both mentally and physically, but we’ve also seen how they can lead down a slippery slope and have lasting effects. For this reason, it’s important to observe the rules of moderation even when placing one foot off the diet wagon. Given our truly non-intuitive and hyper-caloric, hyper-palatable food environment, it’s easy with a cheat day, and even a single cheat meal, to blow multiple days worth of effort right out of the water.
While straddling the fine line between self-control and dietary freedom can be hard, following these rules will allow you to indulge without sliding backwards on your diet and exercise regimen:
Don’t cheat too frequently.
Having a nightly binge on ice cream and donuts doesn’t necessarily qualify as a cheat meal so much as a bad habit. Although cheat meals can be beneficial, spread them out through a month. The frequency of splurges can change depending on where you are in relation to your goal. Someone closer to their maintenance weight may be able to splurge more often than someone just starting a diet.
Plan around special occasions.
Weddings, birthdays and other celebrations are infamously difficult for those watching what they eat. The high levels of excitement are often matched by high-calorie food and drinks. Have planned cheat meals during special events. For example, if you find yourself a wedding, it’s OK to allow yourself to eat whatever is being served. However, limit yourself to one plate rather than adopting an all-you-can-eat mindse. It’s all about allowing some freedom without going overboard.
Don’t succumb to guilt.
Like the Abstinence-Violation Effect, once you slip up and overindulge, it’s easy to completely fall off the wagon. However, one little hiccup isn’t indicative of failure. When people have a bad day and fall off the rails, they need to just get back on track the next day.