When Is (Dietary) Cheating Acceptable?

Satisfying your cravings after committing to your health, a.k.a. cheating, may actually help you lose weight, lessen stress and anxiety, and help get you over that plateau hump! What we’re talking about isn’t sneaking in an occasional chocolate bar, slice of pie, or 10-stack with all the fixings. Instead, the idea is to reduce your restrictions….once in a while. Whatever your favorite indulgence may be, it’s not only normal to expect the cravings to hit, but it is also recommended that you allow yourself a little dietary freedom from time to time. 

The Science Behind It

As illicit as it may sound, there are certain benefits to cheating or satisfying your sweet tooth. As many of you may have noticed, after launching into a healthy diet overhaul, the pounds melt away in those first few weeks. Then, it’s as if your body slammed the brakes on your calorie-guzzling engine, and you found yourself at a complete standstill. This “adjustment” happens because your body’s metabolism slows in order to work more efficiently at burning calories and giving you sustained energy. In all likelihood, your new eating habits are seeing a reduction in calories you’re consuming, which, even if that number is marginal, will trigger your body to plateau.

Plateauing can be a major source of frustration for many people who stuck to their program diligently. But while this phase of stagnation may seem discouraging, it is in fact a very natural occurrence. It may even have an indirect effect on cravings and portion control, since a halt to visible results could lead to stress-induced comfort eating. Effectively, a plateau is your body’s way of indicating your new ‘normal’ weight and body composition at the lower calorie point.

You can however, take consolation in the fact that while you’re in plateau mode, your body does continue to benefit from the efforts you’re putting forth–your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and sugar regulation mostly continue to show signs of improvement, so if you do decide to cheat, try to do so in a way that doesn’t completely undermine your progress.

False Positives

While plateauing may be a normal response to changes you’ve made to your eating routine, there may also be other factors that contribute to metabolic stagnation. As mentioned before, stress can be a culprit that could affect your long- and short-term health goals in more ways than one. When stress creeps in, you may experience elevated cortisol levels, which can signal cravings for high-calorie foods and increases your tolerance to feel satisfied. Lack of sleep, eating below your natural level of sustenance, stagnant exercise routine and over-training are all reasons why you may enter into plateau. One more very normal reason why you’re simply not shedding any more weight is that your body has reached its happy medium and will instinctively remain there; if this is the case, then it may be time to shake things up.  

All About Cheating

There are a few things to keep in mind when you decide to give yourself a little reward. The truth is, adhering to the demands of a new and structured eating routine can be a long and arduous challenge. But, the fact that you arrived at a plateau means you’re doing it right, so go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but there’s a number of sources that support the idea that indulging your cravings can be beneficial in many ways. However, you will have to apply the same discipline that helped you reach your current wellness status. The trick to getting the benefits is to take your time with it. The best way to lessen the potential setback cheat days can cause is by trying healthier alternatives. Here you can find a great selection of guilt-free recipes to purge the urge–and even get a little unexpected nutritional boost!

What To Avoid

Keep these points in mind when you’re ready to reward yourself, but remember that a cheat day is something that should be planned and arranged so as to fully be engaged in the experience:

  • Make it a cheat day and not days…or weeks.
  • Avoid being starved when you’re ready to indulge.
  • Guilt has no say on cheat day!
  • Earn it. Put in the extra mile in the gym or on the road.

Finding The Right Balance

We all want to live healthier, happier, and just better lives, so if you’re actively trying to make more sensible dietary decisions, and maybe getting a little gym time in, you should recognize that you are succeeding. However, remember that moderation can go both ways. If you’ve been good at sticking to your goals, it’s okay to give yourself a little break, but if you’ve been ‘misbehaving’…

Either way, if you do decide to go with the moment and give yourself a little well-earned incentive, here are some ideas to help you lessen the digestive impact ‘yummy food’ can render.

  • Pizza: This worldly staple can be topped with tons of healthy veggies that should somewhat offset any healthful transgressions it contains.
  • Steak burger and sweet potato fries: Trade in the fat, carbs, calories and who-knows-what for this leaner and fiber-filled alternative.
  • Better biscuits and gravy: Switch out your protein for turkey bacon or chicken sausage; also, use skim rather than heavy cream for this country breakfast classic.
  • Healthier chocolate cake or milk shake: If you’re going all the way, here’s an opportunity to use alternatives like gluten-free flour, protein powder, agave or honey, and nut butters for a fitness-friendly treat.

With these tips and strategies in mind, hopefully you’ll be more aware of the Dos and Don’ts the next time you’re at that crossroads pondering, “Should I, or shouldn’t I?”