Thoughts on “Cheat” Meals
Written by Fritz Nugent
I have something super-serious to talk about today: cheat meals. And what’s everyone’s favorite cheat meal?! I like cheese. I can eat a pound of cheese in one sitting, no exaggeration. Working with people on their nutrition, I have learned that we all crave different foods once in a while – cake, burgers, candy, pizza, flaming hot Cheetos, alcohol, crab rangoon, Chicago-style deep dish pizza!
So let’s define the “cheat meal”. A cheat meal is any food eaten every once in a while that you KNOW doesn’t move you towards better health. In fact, it may be downright terrible for you. The idea of a cheat meal is to eat well 90% of the time, and every once in a while, you break your strict nutrition plan and allow yourself a cheat. And now that we have a definition, let me obliterate it. I don’t like the idea of cheat meals. Here’s why:
Lose the “Cheat”
Now I wouldn’t ask you (or anyone…I love me some of ALL those foods from above, minus the Cheetos) to completely remove them from their life. Instead, limiting your intake can be helpful to move you towards better health. So don’t think of eating these foods as a “cheat”. I’ve never liked the “cheat” phrase because shame comes with it. When we are shameful of our actions, often we beat ourselves up and then our next few meal choices can also be poor choices due to us riding the shame-train. Instead, perhaps you can begin viewing foods that are not optimal choices for health as one-off indulgences (as long as they don’t happen frequently). When it’s time to indulge, fully savor the experience and then get back on your protein, potatoes, and vegetables.
Frequency of Indulgence
Some of us struggle with frequency of indulgence. The frequency should be completely dependent on where YOU are with your nutrition and goals. Do you have a big event coming up? Then lower the frequency of indulgence. Do you want to be in excellent health? Then maybe indulge once a month. If you’re a “normal” person who is happy with their health, perhaps indulging once a week is enough. That’s about how often I do so. My current favorite is a Popeye’s chicken sandwich. I was introduced to them by a gym owner that you all know, and they shall remain anonymous…
Consistency and the Microbiome
Reducing your frequency of indulgence while increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables can, with time, drastically improve how you feel and perform at the gym and in your life to such a significant degree that you may begin to develop a natural aversion to “unhealthy” foods. Physically, what is happening here: the gut microbiome, those essential-to-human-health bacteria that live in our intestines, their constitution changes. The ones that thrive in environments supported by greasy, fried foods – they shrink in number, and the ones that feed on the fiber found in veggies and fruits – they increase. And these creatures have an effect on our appetite and drive us towards or away from specific foods. So I have a sneaky suspicion that one day you won’t want the fried food and will truly enjoy “healthy” foods. You’ll crave vegetables, I’m not kidding. This won’t happen in a week or a month. It may take a while. And your future healthy self thanks you.