|Cake, cake, cake, cake, cake… ooh baby I like it…
Before we dive in, lets ban “cheat meal” from our vocab, mmm’kay? We aren’t cheating because this isn’t a test, it’s real life. We are human and sometimes we need some damn cake! Can I get a witness??
The following is a great question that was just submitted to me by one of my nutrition clients who gave me her blessing to share this with you.
“Are there benefits in doing just a dessert vs a meal? Would I be better or worse off to have my weekly frozen yogurt treat as my cheat dessert but still have my on plan meals? I understand that it’s to shock my metabolism, but I wasn’t sure how much shock I need. Haha!”
This topic is one that I’m asked about often. Interestingly enough, following a healthy and balanced nutrition plan is not typically a problem for my clients, but it’s the Off-Plan Meals that seems to trip them up the most, and with good reason!
We bust our tail all week long and we want to make sure we don’t wipe out our progress in one swoop.
Lets discuss the skinny on Off Plan Meals, also known as OPMs, or referred to by my nutrition coach as “indulgences”.
How often should I indulge?
If your goal is fat loss, once a week for a true indulgence is probably plenty. If you are prepping for a physique competition, that is a different story and it will be handled by Michael or I (or your own nutrition coach) on a case by case basis.
What if I can’t last an entire week before I need to have something?
When this happens, try to have a little something that won’t completely derail you, but will satisfy the craving. If you are craving something sweet, have some fruit. Salty? A handful of salted nuts or a couple pieces of pastured and organic bacon. For something savory, have a sprinkle of organic cheese on your veggie omelet. These small things can help keep you from falling completely off the wagon, will satisfy cravings here and there, and will keep you progressing towards your goals. These little tricks should be used in moderation. If you are smothering everything in piles of cheese and bacon and gobbling mountains of nuts, I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you that behavior isn’t conducive with fat loss.
How much should I eat for an OPM?
It’s a good idea to eat all of your meals as normal leading up to the meal, including protein, vegetables, and all. While some people like to fast up until the meal, I personally think this is a bad idea for most. “Saving up” for your meal, especially if you don’t normally fast, will have you racing into a restaurant so famished that you’ll dive headfirst into Colonel Clucker’s “Bottomless Alfredo” and likely won’t stop until they have to take you out on a gurney. I like to advise clients to limit their OPM to about 75 – 90 minutes. This prevents a single meal from turning into a half day food fest.
When is the best time for an OPM?
Post-workout, fo sho. If you can manage to get it in immediately after you train – and there is no shame in my game as I’ve rocked my spandex in a nice steak joint – then great! If this isn’t possible, do your best to get the meal in on a training day, and preferably a tough one. Did somebody say “Lower body day”?
Is there anything I shouldn’t have?
If you know for a fact that dairy, gluten, or whatever other food upsets your stomach, causes gas and/or bloating, or generally makes you feel like crap, then please avoid those. I always hear of people that say, for example, dairy is brutal on their stomach. The weekend rolls around and they indulge in ice cream and are totally miserable for the next few days. I refuse to believe that 30 minutes of ice cream munching is worth days of bloating, extreme water retention, joint pain, and/or acne, no matter what crazy flavor Ben or Jerry comes up with.
If you don’t have any noticeable intolerances, then go ahead and enjoy whatever you’d like, but work on staying in tune with your body and stopping when you are about 80% full. Just because you get to enjoy, doesn’t mean it’s a free pass to go hog-wild (pun totally intended).
Will a cheat meal shock my metabolism?
This whole “metabolism revving” thing tops the charts in my book as one of the most misunderstood concepts in the nutrition realm, and more often than not it is used as nothing more than an excuse by many to scarf down everything within reach once per week. “I’m doing it to rev my metabolism”, they say.
Not so fast, my friend. Here is the deal. In order for a meal to jumpstart your metabolism, your metabolism must be downregulated in the first place which means you must be dieting! Most people think that they are dieting, when in all actuality, they most certainly are not. There is a huge difference between eating a clean and balanced meal plan and actually being in a deficit. You can easily eat clean (whatever your definition of that may be) and still be nowhere near a caloric deficit. In this case, while indulging in a meal once a week won’t hurt you, you don’t actually need it from a physiological standpoint. Make sense?
However, if you are dieting or following a ketogenic diet (only protein and fat) then yes, you can leverage these indulgences to keep you moving towards your goal. You can, and probably should, have an Off Plan Meal or a refeed every 7 – 14 days to reset and restore Leptin and Ghrelin levels, aka, boost the metabolism.
|“I’m revving my metabolism.” – says everybody, always, while indulging.
The Psychological Benefits
Now for the golden goose. Regardless of whether my clients are dieting or not, I encourage them to have an Off Plan Meal once a week, if for nothing more than the psychological benefits. As I was saying above, we can follow a clean eating meal plan without being in a deficit, but that can be mentally taxing for some. Knowing you shouldn’t just throw a Pop-Tart into the toaster can make a meal plan feel more restrictive than it actually is. Some people like to enjoy treats and foods that aren’t in line with a healthy lifestyle more than others, but they make themselves refrain. This can wear a person out a bit and can take willpower, or more appropriately termed “I won’t” power, to battle through. Having a weekly meal of whatever they choose is important to these individuals – which I believe to be the majority – because it gives them something to look forward to and often strengthens their resolve to stay on track for another week. Just because something isn’t physiologically necessary, doesn’t mean it won’t have powerful psychological benefits, which can be just as important in any process.
My Rules for Off Plan Meals
- Make sure it’s something that is worth it. If you don’t lah-lah-loooove it then what is the point?
- Slow down, savor it, and enjoy every delicious morsel.
- Move on.
I want you to enjoy life to the fullest, which means having a healthy, strong bod and enjoying occasional treats, too!