Benefits of cheat meals
Why indulging from time to time could be good for your health
NO, YOU’RE not dreaming. The truth is, having the odd cheat meal might actually be the key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
But it’s important to remember this concept doesn’t magically make junk food healthy. Instead, the notion is born from the idea that it may prevent the binge eating that often arises from restrictive diets. Accredited dietitian and nutritionist Megan Leane explains why it’s OK to break the diet … every once in a while.
Is it better to indulge in a cheat meal from time to time rather than deprive yourself 24/7?
So-called “cheat meals” are a single mealtime where food choices are more relaxed and often larger than what would ordinarily be eaten. It’s absolutely fine to indulge in different foods and eat until you’re full from time to time.
In fact, this increases compliance knowing the restriction will end at a certain point in time. However, if you’re depriving yourself too much, a cheat meal can easily become a slippery slope for overeating.
I prefer to educate my clients on how to include interesting foods and eat to satisfy the appetite on a daily basis.
What happens when we’re super strict all the time — does this have a specific impact on our minds?
Food and mood are closely linked. We know chronic calorie restriction increases the stress hormone cortisol, making it not only more challenging to continue doing so but also much more distressing to adhere to.
Are there physical or mental health benefits to a cheat meal?
There are benefits in the sense of reprieve from constant restriction. Eating more will deliver more nutrients to help refuel the body and the brain.
We also know contained periods of elevated food intake can increase our hunger hormone leptin, which will help to control appetite.
Should we call cheat meals ‘cheat meals’?
The word ‘cheat’ infers we’re doing something wrong and creates anxiety and guilt around these meals. Friendlier terms include “refeed” or a “refuel” meals.
What’s the biggest misconception when it comes to cheat meals?
They’re most often used by people who are too restrictive in their eating. This is highly likely to lead to an episode of overeating, or a long duration of consuming junk food. This can be risky for mental health with increased anxiety, guilt and feeling of failure.
How often can we ‘cheat’ if we want to maintain a healthy and balanced approach to food?
It all comes down to how big a cheat meal is. A single serve item is best, so there are no leftovers and the portion will not result in feeling overfull – something like a chocolate bar or a single burger. A single serving will be appropriate once or twice a week and won’t impact greatly on long-term weight loss. If your cheat meal
is substantially larger, such as a whole pizza, it would be best to do so no more than fortnightly.For more expert tips, visit lifestyle.com.au.