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Dos and don’ts of a cheat meal

An extreme diet can interfere with your well-being. In fact, with not enough calories you may run out of basic energy
Cheat meal usually works in a 90:10 or 80:20 ratio — you are strict for 90 or 80 per cent of the time and cheat for 10 to 20 per cent of the time. In most cases it works in a weekly schedule.

Sujata Mukherjee   |     |   Published 10.07.19, 01:11 PM

You may have cut down your calories drastically yet you still haven't been able to rein in on that recalcitrant flab. It may have reduced a bit, but you can’t go beyond a certain level. Now you are planning to go on a near-starvation diet to achieve that goal. Such an extreme diet can interfere with your well-being. In fact, with not enough calories you may run out of the basic energy that keeps you going every day. You can get exhausted and may suffer from sundry disorders. So now you are in a quandary — to go for the extreme diet, or just carry on with it at the usual pace.

In this situation, there’s a simple solution: just go off the strict diet regime for half a day and feast on the full course menu or food rich in proteins and carbs. Taking a break from a strict diet plan and eating to your heart’s content once in a while is alright. The break, called cheat meal, helps you lose weight better in the long run.

How Does It Work

When you starve your body for some time, the body gets used to a seeming famine and begins to store calories for 'worst times' ahead. Metabolism gets slowed down and your weight remains fixed at a certain level; you fail to lose any more weight despite going for an even tougher diet plan. But if you go back to your usual diet for a day, or even half a day, your body gets reassured by the supply of adequate calories — and you are not in a situation of ‘famine’. It stops conserving that extra calorie and metabolism speeds up. Within a day or two your diet plan works normal; you steadily start losing weight again.

Scientific research shows a weekly diet plan with the provision of a cheat meal a day helps increase loss of calories by seven per cent. Also a research paper in the International Journal of Obesity showed that people who take a diet holiday for a week or two from a long-term diet regime are able to lose weight 50 per cent better than those who continue a strict diet.

Cheat meal has other benefits. If you schedule cheat meal on a weekend, you can continue with the tough diet on weekdays and gorge on your favourite food on the seventh day. This serves as an incentive for self-control for six days and you reward yourself at the end of the week; thus you can stick to your diet with ease.

Cheat meal usually works in a 90:10 or 80:20 ratio — you are strict for 90 or 80 per cent of the time and cheat for 10 to 20 per cent of the time. In most cases it works in a weekly schedule.

Rules of cheating

  • Get rid of all feelings of guilt. Multiple research shows that it is not a good idea to punish yourself harshly with a tough dieting plan; this usually backfires.
  • If you are still not convinced, burn some extra fat before you start cheating. For instance, on the day of cheating don’t eat anything for 12 hours; break the fast with a cup of black coffee and go for 30-40 minutes cardio or weight training. This helps drain all the sugar reserve in your body and it burns fat for the energy. As a result the deposited fat melts and you lose quite a lot of fat.
  • Even if it’s a cheat meal, prepare a rough plan of what you are going to eat: what and when to eat. It’s better to plan before an upcoming feast — a wedding or a birthday party. You can’t go overboard if you have a plan. Try to keep a tab on an approximate calorie count. A study in the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says a full course meal in a restaurant usually adds 1200 calories. This is too much, you can’t afford to load so much and ruin your carefully curated diet regime. So you need some restraint; if you have two - three pieces of chicken don’t go for desserts. If you have dessert don’t have alcoholic beverages. If you wish to drink alcohol have chicken and salad; don’t go for a bread basket or pizza or pasta.
  • When you start a cheat meal you may feel tempted to gorge on a lot of things. It’s better to get hold of your hunger pangs with salad and boiled veggies before you set off for the feast. You can also start having more veggies and salad a couple of days before — a calorie buffer strategy — before the big day. Keep aside the carb and fat-rich diet to make room for the extra calories you are ready to load. If you feast in the evening you can skip breakfast on D-day; instead have a late lunch with just protein and fibre-rich food. This will help you balance the calorie intake.
  • Eat happily with a complete focus on the food. In other words, do mindful eating. Those who enjoy each morsel of food and eat slowly, usually don’t eat too much. They can keep a rein on the calorie intake. They never fall for stress eating and binge eating mindlessly.
  • You must eat with your food on the table in a formal way. If you roam around with the food plate while chatting (say, at a buffet dinner) or watch TV while eating you tend to gorge in more food than usual.
  • Try to maintain a nutritional balance of your cheat meal. There should be enough protein or complex carbohydrate in the meal. Brown rice, mutton or desi chicken is good. Sushi, beef steak with baked potatoes, egg-white omelette with pancake or sphagetti with meatballs are also filling and nutritious.

And finally, don’t stretch your cheat meal plan. Quickly, get back to your original diet plan.


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