A too-strict diet can undermine your weight-loss effort. To keep the pounds coming off, sometimes you need to break your own rules.
EVERYONE KNOWS HOW TO LOSE weight. Eat less, move more, and buy new khakis. What could be simpler? Except it’s not really that easy. For one thing, weight loss isn’t linear. The more you lose, the more your body fights back by slowing your metabolism and increasing your hunger.
That’s why so many diets that startas New Year’s resolutions drown in pitchers of beer later, if not sooner. Logically, there’s no reason why a diet should end with a single slipup. What’s the worst that can happen? It sets you back a day or two. If your goal is permanent weight-loss, what you do six days a week should matter more than what happens on the seventh.
In fact, some in the field suggest that a good diet plan should include wiggle room. In other words, you should plan to give yourself an occasional break – in the form of a cheat meal. The most popular example is Body for Life. Author Bill Phillips advised readers to follow his strict high – protein, low-fat plan six days a week and then use the seventh as a “free day” to eat whatever they wanted. Pizza, pancakes, “ a Burger or two for lunch” – it was all on the table. Those free days, Phillips wrote, “may help convince your body that it is not starving.” but even more important is the psychology behind a break. “You don’t want to create standards you can’t meet,” he added.
Pankaj Chandila, fitness manager at Delhi’s Fitness First Gym, couldn’t agree more with Philips. “If you have been honest with yourself and haven’t been skipping your workouts, treat yourself to a cheat day. It’s like a pat on the back for being good and consistent with your fitness goal,” he says.
The 12-week Body for Life programme was put to the test in a Skidmore College study. Even with 12 days of anything-goes eating, people on the programme reduced their daily calories by 29 percent and lost an average of five kilos. But something interesting happened along the way : “Many of the participants grew out of the free-day eating plan early on, “says study author Paul Arciero, D.P.E., a professor of health and exercise sciences at Skidmore. After the first couple of weeks, they were happy with a single cheat meal or an occasional dessert rather than a full day without rules. Find out if you can too get closer to your goal with a cheat day. Answer these questions and outsmart the flab monster.
DO CHEATERS WIN BY LOSING?
A Brown University study estimated that so percent of overnight people who drop at least 10 percent of their body weight regain some of it within a year. So it’s reasonable to ask if a diet that includes some kind of release valve – a way to fudge on the plan without giving up entirely – might work better than one that doesn’t. BStylish Fitness nutrition advisor Shailendra Verma M.S., points out that a strict all-or-nothing approach to dieting has been linked to problems such as overeating, weight gain, and anxiety. Conversely, people who take a more flexible approach – that is, those who slip up occasionally but then quickly jump back on track – may have more success. The goal is what researchers call “flexible restraint,” or the ability to stick to the plan most of the time without forcing yourself to refuse a cake on your birthday. But that still doesn’t answer the question of whether a planned cheat meal works better than waiting for your urges ot the environment to sneak up and blindside you with a plate of nachos.
WHO NEEDS TO CHEAT?
“If your body fat is really high, you can probably go weeks without one,” says Dr Rucha Mehta, an endocrinologist and a nutrition and metabolism expert at Mumbai’s Global Hospital. How high is “really” high? If you’re under 90 kilos and your waist is 36 inches or larger, then you’re probably at least 20 percent fat, which suggests you’ve enjoyed quite a few cheat meals already.
The guy who most needs to cheat is the one who’s doing exhausting workouts while adhering to a strict diet. “It’s like a gas tank you’ve emptied,” Dr Mehta says. “You use cheat meals when you’re depicted and your metabolism starts to drop a little bit.” Says actor Prateik in BStylish Fitness Blog. Superstar Advice on How To Be A Better Man: “High-protein diets with moderate carbs, lots of greens and at least five litres of water a day is what worked for me. Seven to eight smaller meals mean you eat every two or three hours to keep the muscles replenished with enough fuel to grow.”
A slowing metabolism is an obvious handicap to someone trying to lose weight. You have to do more to accomplish less. But that’s just one of the problems you encounter when your diet is working. “When people diet, they over restrict their carbohydrates, fat, or both,” Aragon says. Severe fat restriction, especially when it eliminates most saturated fat, may lower testosterone levels. Aragon says, while a low-carb diet could reduce levels of thyroid hormone. Lower testosterone would make it harder to retain muscle while shedding fat.
Strategic cheating could reset all four hormones to optimal levels and temporarily boost your metabolism. But it’s important to note that no new research has examined the effect of cheat meals on any of these factors. Instead, we have to look at older studies of overfeeding and underfeeding to see what happened. The answers aren’t always what we expect. For example, a 1986 study in the American journal Metabolism found that lean people’s resting metabolic rates increased when they ate too much. But obese people’s rates did not rise, a result that supports the point: cheat meals tend to work better for relativey lean guys who are trying to become even leaner.
WHAT ARE THE BEST CHEAT FOODS?
Your choices should depend on what your diet has depleted. Aragon says. If you’ve been curtailing your fat intake, you want a high-fat cheat – a pizza with cheese or a creamy pastry. If you’ve been going low – carb, then you want pasta, fries, or another high – carb cheat. But all that is irrelevant if you crave something specific. “The psychological impact of militantly depriving yourself of food you like can sabotage you.” Chandila says. “It gives all the power to the food and takes the power away from the dieter. “In other words, it’s best to just eat what you want and enjoy it.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO CHEAT?
Although weekends may seem perfect for nutritional anarchy, they’re actually the most dangerous time. You can spin out of control if your cheat meal stretches out to a full day or weekend. Chandila recommends having your cheat meal the night before your toughest workout. The extra calories, combined with your improved mood, can make that training session more productive.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU CHEAT?
While Dr Mehta recommends one cheat meal in a week, Aragon’s approach is more nuanced. His goal for his clients is to have them eat right 90 percent of the time, leaving 10 percent of their options:
- One huge indulgence a week – “2,000 to 3,000 calories of pure junky goodness.”
- Two 1,000 – to 1,500 – calories meals a week.
- A small indulgence daily. “For most guys, this boils down to 200 to 300 calories,” he says, adding that it’s the most popular option.