You probably know someone who does this, you might even do it yourself.
The weekly cheat meal. It’s very common in dieting culture to give yourself a “break” from your diet once per week and allow yourself to eat things (or amounts of things) that you would NEVER consume when you’re being “good” Monday-Friday. Whether it’s ordering takeout with the family, going out with friends, or polishing off a bottle of wine (or two), we let loose on the weekend and give in to whatever we’re craving.
Why might this be a problem? Well, there are a few reasons….
The first is that feeling like you need to take a break from your diet is a red flag that your diet isn’t sustainable. When I hear clients say that they “need” that weekly cheat meal to keep them on track, I know right away that there is something about their diet that they aren’t completely satisfied with (whether they recognize it or not) It might be that the diet is too restrictive in total calories, so they are spending a lot of time throughout the week feeling hungry and low in energy. The weekly cheat meal is an opportunity to not worry about portion sizes and just eat as much as they want. Or, perhaps their Monday-Friday routine is lacking in carbohydrates, and they get huge amounts of pleasure from their weekend sugar binge. Or maybe their diet doesn’t allow for small indulgences here and there, so after saying no to snacks at the office and never having dessert, they feel like they deserve a treat for all that hard work.
The second reason is that this is a classic example of the cycle of dieting. It’s just plain unhealthy for your body’s physiology to be in chronic state of feast or famine.
For example, perhaps your diet program allows you 1200 calories per day. While each of us has a unique energy requirement based on our metabolism, body size, and activity level, for most of the people I work with 1200 calories is not adqeuate. When eating that amount of calories your body will adjust it’s metabolism to match your intake. Then the weekend rolls around… Your “cheat meal” includes takeout pizza, dessert, and a few glasses of wine or beer. That meal alone might be 1500 calories (nevermind what you ate the rest of that day). Since your body is used to only needing to use 1200 per day, those extra calories just get stored as fat. This isn’t just bad for our bodies, it can have negative effects on our mental health and affect our relationship with food. You can read more about the cycle of dieting and how to break that cycle here
What also tends to happen is our cheat meal can quickly spill into a cheat weekend (we’ve all seen the memes) Starting with drinks on Friday after work right until dinner on Sunday night. “The Diet Starts Monday” mentality just continues to repeat itself week after week, while you never see any changes to your waistline (or strength gains). When you spend half your week dieting, and the other half bingeing, it is easy to see why this can become an unhealthy eating pattern. Punishing ourselves for “bad” eating on the weekend by only having protein shakes and vegetables starting Monday is never, and has never been a successful strategy for weight loss.
The solution? A change in attitude
Separating foods into “Good vs Bad” or “Diet vs Cheat” foods is a recipe for disaster when you’re trying to find a sustainable eating pattern. Should we eat fast food or takeout for dinner 5 nights per week? no, of course not. But to you, if food is either “Good” ie- raw vegetables and lean protein, or “Bad” ie- Pizza, tacos, and pasta, we need to find a happy medium. Think about your food biases…do you feel guilty when you eat something like pasta or cheese? Why? As long as we are eating a wide variety of foods and enjoying calorie dense ones in moderation, we can be more flexible with our choices every day, rather than trying to get our fill only the weekends.
Try this: Instead of cutting your calories down to a measly 1200 (or less) on weekdays and having a huge planned cheat meat on the weekends, spread those extra calories out over the week to help you feel satisfied and happy every day with your food. Rather than trying to sustain yourself on 1200 calories per day, why not eat 1600? Allow for more flavour and variety so that you don’t feel like you need to take a break from your diet on the weekends? Change your dieting mindset and make it a goal to actually ENJOY every meal you eat! Those extra few calories per day can stop you from feeling deprived, which is a common trigger for bingeing. Meeting your calorie needs can also help you FEEL better, which in turn can give you the energy you need to meet your activity goals. If you feel good physically and mentally, these healthy behaviours are much easier to maintain long-term. You might also see more gains in your fitness when you are giving your body the calories it needs every day for recovery from your workouts.
So, if you’re feeling like you need a cheat meal to make it through to Monday, it’s time to take a good hard look at what your diet isn’t giving you
Want more information on how to find the right calorie amount for you? Contact me!