I have quite a few friends who are trying to lose weight. And they are super-strict with their diets throughout the week.
Monday to Friday, they stick to steamed chicken, veggies, green smoothies and salads. They only drink water and herbal tea. They eat nuts and fruit for snacks and stick to only a few glasses of red wine.
But on Saturday and Sunday, it’s time for their cheat meals. Chocolate, chips, deep-fried fish and chips, fried dumplings, burgers – whatever it is, it’s the calorie blow-outs that get them through the rest of their week of healthy eating. “Cheat meals are amazing!” they say. “Don’t judge me for eating two dinners instead of one!”
The idea of cheat meals fascinate me. They’ve become such a popular concept in the health-and-wellbeing world, and they’re often held up as the best possible way to make sure that you stick to your diet – after all, you still get to indulge in an ‘unhealthy’ food once a week.
But I wasn’t so sure about the entire concept. So I decided to chat to holistic wellness expert, Kirsty Welsh, about it. And it turns out that they’re not such a great idea.
Here are a few of the reasons why you shouldn’t rely on cheat meals as your crutch to get through the rest of the week:
1. They make you feel guilty about eating food.
“I don’t like the word cheat meal,” Kirsty tells me. “It’s pushing guilt and shaming, when we want to focus on nourishing your body.”
It’s so true. Just the phrase “cheat meal” gives the indication that you’re somehow doing a really naughty thing by consuming something that isn’t a steamed piece of lean meat or a vegetable. And this isn’t a good thing – particularly because we really don’t need any more reasons to feel worse about ourselves.
Hands up if you’ve ever beaten yourself up for eating a cheeseburger? Or half a tub of ice-cream? Yeah, me too. It’s such an incredible waste of energy and really not worth the guilt and shame you put upon yourself for such an insignificant moment.
At the end of the day, food is food. Some food does an incredible job of nourishing and fuelling your body. Other foods are not so good at this. Accept this. Try to eat more of the better stuff and less of the not-so-great stuff. And then give yourself a pat on the back for doing the best you can.
2. They can cause you to overeat.
Deprivation can send a lot of people crazy. Instead of thinking about the things you can eat, you just think about the things you can't eat. And when you finally get the opportunity to eat them, you go a little bit crazy.
"Cheat meals can create binging habits – you can overeat very easily," Kirsty explains. "You try to get everything down that you can't have during the rest of the week and your calorie count can really blow out."
Think about it. If you go to Max Brenner on a Saturday night, and get a chocolate cake and a milkshake and an extra chocolate lick on the side (after all, it's your only opportunity to get a sweet treat!), you'll easily consume over 2000 calories in one sitting.