If you ask any number of health professionals, the majority will tell you that somewhere around 80 percent of the weight you lose will come from your nutritional choices, hence the saying “You can’t out-train bad nutrition.”
This is why nutritional compliance is one of the most important changes if your goal is to get healthier.
Following a better diet is often one of the hardest changes for a person to make. They are so used to eating a certain way that it can be easy to fall off of the wagon.
For many looking to begin this journey, they have no clue where to start and how to progress. Let’s take a quick dive into the progressions we can use to make long-term nutritional changes, and then discuss the proper way to include cheat meals, as well as some of the advantages and disadvantages of doing so.
Slowly Integrate Healthy Food Choices
The turtle will likely win this race, in that slow, small changes will increase both short- and long-term compliance. I am not a fan of the word “diet”, as it indicates a temporary change in eating habits. What we are looking for is a long-term healthy change that is easily progressed.
Here are some steps to follow when making the switch to a healthy diet:
- Week 1: Limit the amount of sweetened beverages and increase the amount of water you are drinking each day. A good starting goal is 1oz per kilogram of bodyweight and work your way up from there.
- Week 2: Work on the food quality of one meal. Start with single ingredient foods.
- Week 3: Work on food quality of an additional meal plus the meal from Week 1. Single ingredient foods are helpful.
- Week 4: Work on food quality of a third meal. Again, single ingredient foods are helpful.
- Week 5: Work on food quantity for the entire day. Monitor your intake to optimize the amount of foods you ingest. This can be as simple as portion control or as exact as weighing foods before consumption.
- Week 6: Work on meal frequency and timing. Focusing on the amount of times in a day you eat and the time of day you eat (and sometimes this is in reference to your workout and sleep schedules) also plays a role in the digestion process.
Making the change to a healthier diet is especially important when exercising, as it will help provide you with the nutrients you need and regulate your food intake in order to stick to your caloric goals. .
How Do Cheat Meals Fit In?
Now we can talk about working in cheat meals into our healthy nutrition plan. In my opinion, there is no need to incorporate cheat meals until many of the above nutritional modifications have been made.
First off, let’s discuss why I am only for cheat meals vs cheat days. It has been my experience that when you give someone a reward or cheat day, they can “go ham” and eat a cool 6,000 calories without issue.
Weekend example: Donuts for breakfast, nachos and beers for lunch, burgers and fries and more beers for dinner, ice cream for dessert. That racks up the calories pretty quickly!
Now let’s say you consume an average of 2,000 calories a day. If you consume 6,000 calories on your cheat day then you have just ate 3 days’ worth of calories in one day. What’s that going to do for your fitness and weight loss goals?
Conversely, if you only cheat on one meal and “go ham,” you maybe eat 1,000 calories. Then, it would still be possible for you to stay around your 2,000 daily caloric total.
In general, this is my advice when implementing cheat meals: Eat whatever you want, but try to stay as close as you can to your daily caloric goals.
A Few Things To Remember
A couple other side points of adding in cheat meals that you need to consider before changing your diet:
- Don’t think of a cheat meal as a reward. When you think about cheat meals as a reward, it further instills the idea that food is needed to comfort, and this is an already huge problem in the mindset of many seeking nutritional change. Instead, think of it as a way to enjoy life and the longevity of your new nutritional changes.
- Have Proper Coaching. I have found in my personal experience when the right coaching is present, cheat meals help keep anyone sane. It gives you opportunity to enjoy that summer BBQ or that special dinner out with a loved one. Being able to enjoy food and not let it completely run your life is important as well. Many people who never cheat for a certain period of time are often more likely to suffer a blow up; they will go off the deep end for 3 or 4 days before they manage to get back on track. Avoiding the blow up is why I recommend cheat meals to many clients.
- Stay Consistent. When it comes to any nutritional change, consistency always wins! Find what works for you for the long run and slowly adapt that plan to get better every week. When utilizing a cheat meal, try to keep your daily caloric intake the same as on non-cheat meal days.