Dissecting the Cheat Meal

“Cheat” meal—a very common term throughout the nutrition and fitness industry. But what exactly does this mean? Is it allowed? Does it destroy any semblance of physique or fitness in a single sitting? Let’s break down exactly what it is, what it should not be, and what it should be:

What Is It? Generally speaking, this is when one “deviates” from either normal intake, or their “diet”. Before we move on, which one of those do you think is associated with an unhealthy association with food? It’s actually a loaded question, as they both are a, a little. The desire to “cheat” means you are unsatisfied with your food.

What is Should Not Be, Part I: A complete bailing-off-the-bandwagon, train-derailment, from an (assumed) clean nutritional intake. A preemptive strike of a plate of potato skins, with a central blow of a large pizza backed up by 4 pitcher of beer is not a cheat meal. It’s a veritable gluten and glycoalkaloid slaughter. On a serious note, think about how this would actually affect digestion, recovery, inflammation, and hormone secretion.

What It Should Not Be, Part II: Actually thought of as a “cheat”. Why? That’s permission to fail. What are you cheating from? A clean, nutrient dense intake? That makes zero sense. Our emotional connection with food strongly affects either our positive, or negative association. This can, and will, spiral into serious eating disorders, even in performance based athletes.

What It Should Be: Enjoyed, guilt free. While we can get all sciencey and serious about nutritional and performance, there’s still a very important aspect of food enjoyment and satiety. This can be a double-edge sword with the pizza and beer scenario—that satiety will be stacked with guilt. How do we get around this? Smart Cheat.

I utilize this strategy with clients; if we keep it clean, but allow an indulgence, we can hit two birds with one stone. Probably 90% of the performance athletes I see do not intake enough carbohydrates. Coconut ice cream topped with organic maple syrup? Yup, that will work. Glycogen repletion, better recovery, and an “indulgence” in the 95/5 rule. 95% of the time, adhere to clean intake. 5% of the time, indulge. What’s 5%? At 35 meals a week (21 main meals, 14 snacks), that’s 1.75 meals.

Look. You are already cheating less than you thought.

Mike Kesthely
Dynamic Nutrition

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