Cheat meals for a long time have been a very common and enjoyable part of following a calorie or food source restricted nutrition plan. A cheat meal, also considered as a “free meal”, allows a person to eat whatever they like once to twice per week; as a reward for sticking to their diet.
There are many variations to this idea including entire cheat days down to limiting an allowance to a single main meal, dessert, or preferred chocolate bar. Cheat meals do however come with a price. Depending on whether you choose a small treat or a buffet breakfast followed by a fast food lunch and dinner, a cheat meal or day can potentially reverse the positive results of sticking to a consistent diet.
Why then do cheat meals exist? Basically cheat meals allow people to feel ‘normal’ when eating in a social environment. They also provide something different to look forward to after multiple days of consistently following a meal plan or less than desirable diet. Cheat meals (as well as refeeds) can also assist in speeding up the metabolism, which can result in further weight loss over an extended period of time.
Refeeds are a great alternative to cheat meals and come with many benefits. A refeed is generally a controlled increase in calories preferably from carbohydrate. This means it is preferably not a fast food meal or your favourite chocolate bar, but instead a controlled and effective amount of fuel to replenish your muscle glycogen stores, overall energy, and sense of well-being. A refeed doesn’t always have to be food sources that are already included in your diet and can be anything from complex carbs such as sweet potatoes, to simple sugars like low fat ice cream and candy. Ideally a refeed will have minimum effect on total protein and fat intake as part of the standard diet.
So what are some points to consider when comparing cheat meals to refeeds?
– Cheat meals can be excessive
– Cheat meals can cause binge episodes
– Cheat meals can undo your hard work
– Cheat meals can be fun and exciting and socially enjoyable
– Refeeds are very controlled
– Refeeds are generally from carbohydrate only and will increase glycogen levels which can improve training performance
– Refeeds will do less acute damage to your fat loss progress
– Refeeds can seem boring, less socially enjoyable, and nutrient load limiting
At the end of the day, you can get great long term fat loss results from utilising either cheat meals or refeeds, but it is important to identify which would best suit you. If you know you are likely to eat excessive junk food and call it a cheat meal then a refeed may be better suited to you. If you are a social butterfly and can control your intake within reason, a cheat meal very well may work in your favour. I personally prefer to use a refeed day and incorporate many different sources of carbohydrate to build cheat-meal-like treats to eat over an entire day instead of restricted to one meal.