Wondering whether or not you should indulge in a cheat meal? Here’s a timeline on experts’ thoughts in recent years.
What Was Said Before?
Cheat meals have always been a thing for dieters, and many people aiming to lose weight have sworn by it. But what have the experts been saying about it? For a long time, the focus of nutrition experts has been on your caloric intake with regards to your diet. Therefore, the conclusions that were drawn were based on just that. Cleveland Clinic’s Anna Taylor’s perspective on the matter was that if you’re hoping to lose weight, all you’re doing with a cheat meal is setting yourself backward. “Once you’ve added in other meals and snacks, it literally cancels out half your hard work in meeting your calorie and exercise goals all week,” she said.
Kate Patton took a more psychological perspective to it- which is a bit closer to what recent studies shed light on today. She said that using a cheat meal as positive reinforcement for a job-well-done on your week-long diet can be good for you, as long as you take off those calories through exercise.
Recent Science On Cheat Meals
In 2017, a groundbreaking study not only found that cheat meals can be better for long-term dieting and for weight loss outcomes, but it also found great results for a two-weeks on/two-weeks off the diet. According to Professor Nuala Byrne, taking limited cheat periods during your diet helps combat your brain’s tendency to go into what is known as the “famine reaction” when you start your diet. Much like other things, our brains get used to our body being at a certain weight as well as having a certain amount of fat content.
When we start dieting, our brains are unaccustomed to the sudden lack of calories and fat intake to keep up this particular set point. It, therefore, shifts the body into a famine state, where it activates mechanisms that make you hungrier and more tired, in order to get you to eat more.
According to the study, people who took a two-week break from their diet helped combat this reaction and ended up losing more weight and maintaining their diet for a longer time.
Although when focusing on the caloric aspect in a short time-frame can make it seem like a cheat meal is a bad idea, on the long run, it can help the brain grow more accustomed to a lower caloric intake. It is important to note, however, that more research is needed in order to develop a more dynamic perspective on this form of dieting.