Cheat meals are controversial among the healthy elite. Some say they’re an absolute necessity, others say they are a train wreck waiting to happen. Of all the questions I’m asked regarding nutrition, this is the biggest one – do I cheat?
Yep, I absolutely do cheat, but only when it’s planned, and only on food that’s worth it.
I find it’s the best way to maintain an element of normalcy in my plan, and allow myself a little reward. Some people, however, find that cheating is a slippery slope. Once they’ve got that spoonful of mac n’ cheese in their mouth they find they just can’t stop the inevitable derailment of an otherwise healthful day of eating. I understand this dilemma, and fully support those who need to eat clean 100% of the time. Now that you know which side I’m on, let’s explore how I approach a cheat meal:
- CHOOSE TIME AND PLACE: I most always plan this meal to coincide with a special event, like a party or dinner out with friends/family. This meal will only happen once per week, so if there are multiple engagements, I choose carefully.
- PICK YOUR POISON: I suggest choosing either 1 alcoholic beverage OR 1 off-plan entree OR a dessert. If you choose an alcoholic beverage, then make it light beer or wine, or a mini or low cal version of your favorite cocktail. Also realize that the alcohol you’re drinking has the potential to stimulate your appetite, and could also cause you to lose some inhibition. This may lead to overeating during the meal, so imbibe with caution. If you choose an off-plan entree, consider sharing it with someone. In many restaurants in this country, portion sizes are 3-4 times what they should be. You will probably be physically miserable if you eat the whole order anyway, since your stomach is used to smaller portions. Same goes for dessert. Depending on where you’re dining, you could be looking at a portion the size of your head.
- MIX CAREFULLY: If you’re like I am, you may have evolved with your cheat meals to include a little bit of everything. In the past I used to choose only the drink or the off-plan entree or the dessert. These days I can handle a little bit of each. For example, when I have my favorite Mexican cheat meal, I’ll split a mini-margarita with my husband, have 3-4 tortilla chips with salsa, order 1 enchilada a la carte and have 2-3 bites of my husband’s or daughter’s dessert. This way I get a thorough sampling without overdoing it.
- SLOW DOWN AND ENJOY: Which ever route you take, please be sure to savor your choices. This is the time to forget about your plan and just enjoy yourself and the company of those around you. Take your time with the meal by chewing thoroughly, setting your fork down between bites, and drinking plenty of water. Doing so will allow enough time for your brain to register your intake and achieve satiety. Eating slowly also allows you to better engage in the moment and keep on pace with the other diners. Emptying your plate too soon may leave you feeling awkward and fidgety, which usually results in reaching for more food.
If you feel guilty after having a cheat meal, then cheating may not be your bag, or you may want to reassess. If you’re not satisfied with your progress, consider buttoning down the diet until you do reach your goal, then work on incorporating cheat meals. Just know that living this lifestyle is an evolving process, which is another post entirely.