How you can have a cheat meal and not gain weight?
The way to do it is first to understand what triggers fat storage and what stops our bodies to burn fat. Let’s talk about it. First storage. To store fat, you need sugars and/or calories. It’s that simple. The more calories and carbs(sugars) you eat, the faster you grow your fat deposits. In simple terms, calories are needed to be used as an energy source for your body to perform all the physiological tasks, including movement, breathing, digesting food, rebuilding cells and so on. If you get more calories than your body needs, you will store them in the form of triglycerides(fat) inside your fat cells.
This is the natural process to preserve the energy for later use when needed. Unfortunately, today we do not realize that this mechanism was built into us since the beginning of mankind and designed to help humans to survive in the periods when food is not available. We no longer live in the same environment and food is available to us 24/7 in most parts of the world. We no longer go hungry for days. Physiology has not changed, lifestyle did.
Second is sugars. Both, simple sugars found in fruits and complex sugars found in grains and vegetables. Sugars are high in calories, so if you eat more than your body needs, you get fat. But there is a second and more important issue with sugars. And that is, whenever you eat sugars, your pancreas secretes insulin (fat storing hormone). Once you have insulin in your blood, it is physiologically impossible to burn your body fat until you get rid of that insulin and your pancreas can secrete glucagon (fat burning hormone) so you can burn your fat as energy source. That is why you can see many professional athletes, like American football players, not looking like physique models.
If you want to be lean, keep your sugar and calorie intake lower than yesterday.
So, now that you understand how it works, let’s see what we could eat/drink and still have fun. You may be asking, will one cheat day make me gain weight?
First, if you are just starting to lose weight and thinking of having cheat meals, understand that it will slow your weight loss progress. If you have already lost weight, this will keep you from putting pounds on.
The rules are very simple:
- High volume foods, low in calories
Most restaurants these days have a good choice of fancy salads. If you are at home, you can google tons of low-calorie salad recipes and make one yourself. Please never type “healthy salad”. Most healthy recipes online are high in calories. Avoid adding dry fruits/berries and nuts to your salads.
- Eat any meat, seafood and poultry dishes. The only thing you need to watch out for is sugary sauces. Otherwise go crazy.
- If you like chips, try to eat dried fish, like dried pollock for example. It has a similar texture, but it is high in protein and will not trigger your insulin. It will also fill you up extremely fast. Make sure to drink plenty of water when you eat dry fish.
- If you like popcorn, try more natural seasonings, like dry herbs and replace oil and butter with guacamole or similar.
- If you absolutely need desert, do your best to stick with berries and very dark chocolate.
- If you feel like having a drink with alcohol, stick to Vodka. Second choice would be white wine, then red. Don’t go crazy on beer, there is a reason for a “beer gut” name. Remember, it will take three or four days for your liver to clean your system from alcohol. Those three-four days your body will not be efficient at burning your body fat. So, drink at your own risk.
At the end of the day, a big part of this is moderation and creativity. Yes, it takes a little bit more effort and discipline than just going to a fast-food restaurant, but it’s worth it! If you follow the principles I’ve explained in the beginning of this article and try to keep your sugars first, and calories second low, you will have no problem with keeping your weight off, while still being able to enjoy your meal and you’ll never have to think to yourself – “I cheated on my diet and feel horrible”, because it won’t matter.
One final thing to remember, you can have a cheat meal and even cheat day, but you cannot have it every day. I personally have a rule for myself. Weekdays are my workdays and weekends are the weekends. I have a strict diet Monday to Friday and have a 36 hour “Let’s mess up” window on the weekend. When the weekend is over, I’m 100% back on my plan for the next week. Try it and see how it works for you.
I work with my clients one on one at my personal training studio in Vancouver, as well as online if you live in a different city or country.
Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions.