The psychology behind cheat meals

Cheat meals – can they actually set you up for failure? What is a ‘cheat meal’ really? We asked trainer and founder of Result Based Training gyms, Travis ‘TJ’ Jones to give an insight into cheat meals. He writes.

Psychologically, you’re saying you are cheating on your diet – but does that mean you don’t like your diet and it deserves to be cheated on?

For me, the term ‘cheat meal’ sets the stage for a bad relationship with food: if you say you’re cheating on a diet or that you are eating ‘bad’ foods, then you’re also saying that there are ‘good foods’. It paints the picture that there is a devil and an angel perched on either shoulder: one is munching broccoli miserably, the other is loving life gorging on pizza and ice-cream. If you tell someone they can’t have something, they want it even more. And if they do hold out until cheat meal time, they tend to binge under the pretence they deserve it.

For some reason this is a scenario we all accept, where this cycle of restrict then binge is allowed – almost encouraged. It’s a relationship that only gets worse with time, remains linked to a short-term goal rather than long-term lifestyle and emotionally cripples us.

The science of simple weight loss is, without argument, calories in versus calories out. Expend more calories than you consume, you lose fat. We will ignore the requirements for body composition and muscle tone for now because that’s where macronutrient percentages come in.

The truth is fat loss occurs over seven days, not just one day. Say your average female puts herself into a deficit of 200 calories a day: over six days she is 1200 calories down and if she maintained this deficit over seven days, she would be losing approximately 0.25 kilos per week.

Now, if this same woman ate a cheat meal on day seven that consisted of pizza (2000 calories) and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s (1000 calories), coupled with a standard 400 to 500 calorie lunch and breakfast, she has eaten 4000 calories in a single day. That is a consumption of, at least, 2000 calories above her standard maintenance calories. This one ‘cheat meal’ has singlehandedly shifted this otherwise ‘diet compliant’ innocent from calorie deficit and anticipated fat loss, into a calorie surplus and almost certain weight gain.

So what should you do instead of a cheat meal?

What I recommend, primarily for psychological reasons, is a re-feed meal at maintenance calories once per week for a female until she gets sub 20 per cent body fat; at this point, she can make it two re-feeds per week.

To work out your maintenance calories, multiply your body weight in pounds by 15. For example, 70kg female x 2.2 = 154lbs, x 15 = 2310 calories.

The easiest way to work out your maintenance calories macro breakdown would be 40 per cent protein, 30 per cent fats and 30 per cent carbs OR, if you want to get technical, use 1.1g of protein per lb, 25 per cent of total calories as fats and the rest as carbs.

As long as you ensure you are eating 90 per cent wholefood and 10 per cent flexible foods, you would work your ‘re-feed’ meal into your target total calorie and macronutrient intake as outlined above. This is why this method is arguably the most sustainable fat loss approach – no food restrictions!

Let’s write down the word cheat meal on a piece of paper, scrunch it up, stomp on it and burn it in a dramatic break-up bonfire. You should never cheat on your diet, you simply eat according to your plan – and fit in the foods you love.