Cheat Meals (and how to cheat them)
Ever since I started FITSHIT, this is one question I get asked a lot.
Don’t you ever cheat?
“I don’t have that much willpower — how do you do it?”
“I can do anything else, but I can’t not have dessert after dinner”
“But I was in Delhi/ Hyderabad/ Kolkata. How could I not have the butter chicken/ biryani/ oil posing as gravy?”
“That pastry was calling out to me. I swear. You should’ve been there.”
These, and many other such, are the claims that precede this question — How do you not cheat? Are you even human?
First up. As much as I’d love to retain that superhuman image of me in your head — I do cheat. A lot.
Here — this is me a few weekends back, as I sat down to write FITSHIT.
The irony of sitting next to a piece of cake while exhorting people to eat healthy didn’t escape me. Rather than enjoy my treat, I spent the next 5 minutes fearing what if one of my readers walked in and saw me committing such blasphemy. Such hypocrisy. How would I explain to them all that I’ve done to manage this ‘cheat’. All that I’ve done to plan for it, to earn it.
So I clicked a picture of the crime scene before I committed the crime. I intended to leave a note so that the authorities could understand why and how I did it. This, is that note.
What is a Cheat Meal?
It’s when you eat something you know you shouldn’t. Shouldn’t — as per your diet plan or your calorie quota. If you don’t know your calorie quota, well then there is no way you know when you cheated. And chances are, you’re cheating a lot more than you think. Read this to know your quota.
So how bad is it if I cheat?
Depends on how naughty you got.
Let’s say you’re going for a 1800 kcal/day diet. Let’s also say that on said day, you cheated by having ‘3 small whiskey pegs’ plus ‘a small pizza’ plus ‘a brownie for dessert’. That’s (70*3) + (anywhere between 500–1500) + (about 300) calories. That’s, atleast, 1200 calories. In one meal.
Now, if you managed the rest of the day in <600 calories then this really wasn’t a cheat (although nutritionally it’s a very bad way to use your calorie quota). But chances are that before you got to the cheat meal, you were having a normal day and were already at about 1200 calories. That’s 2400 calories in total. That’s a 600 calorie cheat over your baseline. It’s also about 40% above your quota. That’s a decently big cheat.
But the bigger question is, what were you up to the rest of the week?
I usually advice people to have not just a daily but a weekly ledger of calories. Say you’re going for a 400 calorie deficit every day. That’s a 2800 calorie deficit every week. You should view your cheat meal from this lens. If in the remaining 6 days of the week you’ve been a really good girl and actually hit a 3500+ calorie deficit, then by all means, you earned that 600 calorie cheat. Enjoy it. Because another 6 days of clean eating beckon.
F*#k, that’s just too stringent! Isn’t there another way to manage this?
I agree. I am being too harsh. Unfortunately, the math is that harsh.
But there are some very simple, creative, yet practical ways to manage the cheating and feel happy about it. Infact, the cheat meal can be a great ally in your weight loss journey (more on this in the end). But first, here are my top 6 tips to cheat the cheat.
Don’t be famished
The MOST important trick to manage a cheat meal, is to not be famished. If you’re like me, your ability to make good (or any) decisions is severely depleted when you’re starving. Even more importantly, it’s scientifically proven that there is a lag between you eating the food, and you’re brain registering that you’re full. Combine these facts and chances are you’ll stuff yourself silly with that pizza, before you realize that even half of it would’ve been enough. And by then, you would’ve woefully overshot your quota.
Give in — but on your terms
To help you with point 1, here’s a tip. If that pizza/burger/samosa is calling out to you, you should shout back — ‘I’m coming ma lover. Just give me a minute’. This does 2 things. It tell’s you’re brain (actually your tongue that’s getting wet with joy), that you won’t resist. That it’ll soon get what it wants. So the brain (tongue) won’t up the ante and make you crave even more. Second, in the minute you’ve bought yourself, go and find something healthy to fill you up with. A small salad (some cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots — nothing fancy) is great. Or a coffee. Or a protein bar. Anything that’ll semi-fill-up your empty tummy with something useful. After that go for the cheat. Believe me, it’ll make stopping at half a lot easier.
Go back to that picture on top. Notice 2 things. There is only half a cake piece on the plate. I got them to pack the other half as I ordered, so I could never see it. And the coffee is black. Usually I’d have a cappuccino. Removing the milk reduced about a 100 calories. And half that cake was about 180 calories. So net-net, I got my sugar kick for just 80. Not a bad deal.
Let me give you more. When I have a sandwich, I remove the top bread piece and make it open faced. When I have butter-chicken (I’m Punjabi), I have it with roomali roti (half) and not butter-naans. When I drink, I never add any sugary mixer.
Point being — know what it is that you’re really craving for. And then cut the riff-raff around it.
Cheat on an active day
Not because you’ll be able to burn as much as you cheat. That will NEVER happen. Running 10km @ 10kmph burns 500 calories. So you see, your cheat meal will always outrun your run.
But still, cheat on an active day. Your metabolism on such a day is heightened, which means your body will try and utilise this extra energy to keep you energetic, not make you lethargic. Ever noticed how binging on a lazy day just leads to more binging — well that won’t happen if you do it on an active day. And secondly, the memory of the effort you just put into the gym, will keep you from binging.
Cheat only for the (really) good stuff
I don’t cheat for Mumbai ‘pani-puri’. I cheat for Delhi ‘gol-gappa’. I don’t cheat for Starbucks cookies. I cheat for Kitchen Garden cookies. I don’t cheat for any kebabs in Mumbai. I only cheat for Kakori House Galawti Kebabs. I don’t cheat for drinking with strangers. I cheat for drinking with friends.
You get the drift. If you’re going to spend that hard-earned deficit, you might as well do it for only the best shit in town.
Use it as a reward (or for social occasions)
I try and be a good boy on weekdays. Then I cheat on Saturday. Saturday because I know I will kill it in the gym in the evening (Sunday’s gym is closed). And Saturdays because that’s when I write the blog and the sugar rush brings a kind of clarity that nothing else does. So I cheat and feel good about the food, about the writing, and about the fact that’ll I’ll kill it in the evening. So much joy it’s almost orgasmic.
Sometimes, when a big occasion ( wife’s birthday bash, colleague’s farewell, travel to Delhi) is coming up — I plan my cheats for those days. ’Cause if you can’t fight it, enjoy it.
And sometimes I cheat when I’m happy with myself. I cheated a few days back when, out of the blue, Medium told me that I was now a Top writer in ‘Health. That’s top 50 worldwide. I ate a full, chocolate-chip cookie.
Is all cheating bad?
As you’d have a learnt from your school exams — a little cheating can be good. Do too much of it though, and you get caught.
Now that I’ve told you all the evils of cheating and how to manage ’em, let me give you some good news. Cheating can actually be good. For your mind, your body and your fitness goals.
When you cut calories, you usually cut carbs. And when you cut carbs, the production of a hormone called Leptin reduces. Now this dude Leptin, is the one that’s responsible for telling the brain that you’re hungry. But when you consistently give your body lesser calories than it needs, Leptin get’s suppressed and in turn slows down your metabolism. It’s the body’s way of preserving itself. It figures that you, it’s owner, have gone mad. So it must fend for itself. And it does so by slowing down your metabolism so that it can conserve more energy, rather than spend it. And that is detrimental to your goal of using up your stored fat.
A small cheat meal (say once a week), confuses Leptin. Suddenly it’s like — “Ok, so we are not starving. We might still be getting carbs every now and then. Ok then Body, go on, use up those fat stores. Master ain’t gone crazy after all.”
You might hear this referred to as ‘carb-shocks’. They are effective, but only when used intelligently. And in moderation.
Willpower is a limited resource. And you dip into this resource pool for all sorts of stuff. Staying up all night to make that PPT, stopping yourself from eating a whole piece from a friend’s birthday cake, sacrificing meeting friends to somehow get that blog post out. Everything that’s worth doing, requires willpower. No wonder then, that willpower gets depleted. Don’t believe me — try resisting that piece of cake after putting in a whole night of work on that PPT. Yeah.
But here is the thing about willpower. When you give it a break, it gets replenished. When, once in a while, you’re kind to yourself and say — ‘ Ok you were good all week, you deserve this.’ — it doesn’t make you weak. Infact, it makes you stronger. Because you know what you did to get here, and acknowledge what you must do afterwards to deserve this again.
So go on, be kind and give your willpower a break once in a while. Cheat, but do it intelligently. Intentionally.
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