But what happens when you hit a glitch? What if you go out for pizza with friends, eat more than your share of your child's birthday cake and ice cream, or start the day with a sugary iced latte and chocolate chip muffin from the local coffee shop drive-through? Is it time to throw in the towel?
No! As the Lark check-in said, the weight loss and health journey to lower diabetes risk is not black-and-white. Not only is it "okay" to have a treat once in a while, but it may actually be healthier! Here is why treats can be good, and how to keep them positive.
How Cheat Meals Can Help You Lose Weight
How often have you heard, "You are only cheating yourself when you cheat," and, "Cheaters never prosper." Those statements are not true when it comes to cheat meals! Cheat meals can be an important part of a weight loss diet.
First, there are physiological benefits. Weight loss diets restrict calories and can cause the side effect of lowering metabolism and making further weight loss harder. A high-calorie cheat meal can wake up your metabolism and make weight loss easier.
Cheat meals also maintain metabolism by improving hormone balance, such as increasing levels of the hormone leptin.
In addition, cheat meals can be psychologically beneficial for weight loss. They can make healthy eating plan seem less like a restrictive, possibly unpleasant diet, and more like a long-term, sensible plan that allows whatever you want as long as it is in moderation. The different mindset, and knowing you can eat treats sometimes, can better enable you to choose healthy foods most of the time compared to when you feel that you may never enjoy a treat again if you want to lose weight.
Getting the Most from Your Cheat Meals
Are you convinced that a cheat meal is good? Or, are you at least ready to give it a try? Here are some ways to get the most from your cheat meals physically and emotionally. The trick is to plan them carefully.
What to eat: Eat whatever you want, but only if you really want it. Curl up with a bowl of mac and cheese if that is what you love, but think twice before adding in the breadsticks and ice cream. Will they really add to your pleasure?
When and where to eat it: A relaxed meal in a pleasant environment can enable your cheat meal to do what it is supposed to do. In contrast, a stressful meal in a loud or unpleasant room can increase stress and lead to more eating. When possible, aim to have the cheat meal on your terms in the place you choose.
How to eat it: Slow, mindful eating lets you enjoy the meal and get the most satisfaction as you taste every bite and savor it.
What to do before: The temptation may be to skip a meal or two to compensate for the upcoming indulgence, but a smarter strategy may be to eat meals as normal or possibly choose slightly smaller meals. Entering the cheat meal pleasantly hungry rather than famished can help keep it in check and make it easier to end.
What to do afterwards: Going back to your regular patterns by the next meal or snack can help get your mind and body back into the swing of things. It can help to plan when you will eat and what you will have the first time you eat after the cheat meal. A light meal with protein and fiber can be a good idea. For example:
Scrambled eggs or tofu with vegetables on whole-grain toast the morning after a cheat meal.
Chicken and vegetable stir fry for dinner after a cheat lunch.
Bean and vegetable soup for lunch after a cheat breakfast.
Getting in a brisk walk or your regular workout can also help get back into the rhythm of healthy choices.
Planned versus Unplanned Cheat Meals
Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, cheat meals happen without warning. For example, cheat meals can be the result of stress or emotional eating from loneliness, anger, confusion, or boredom. They can also happen when caught unprepared, such as going to a restaurant without checking the menu beforehand, and ending up with a meal higher in calories, starch, sugar, or sodium than you might have ordered if you had known. Another common cause of unplanned cheating is not having healthy foods around, leading to a trip to a fast food joint or vending machine when hunger strikes.
Cheating can also be sneaky. Instead of coming in the form of a cheat meal, it can come in the form of a new habit. For example, after passing up chocolate candy for a few months, you might finally decide to try a small piece of one. Noticing that that it doesn't affect your weight, you might have some the next day, and the next, and then have a bigger piece. Suddenly, candy might be back in your life as a habit that crept up almost imperceptibly.
Unplanned cheat meals and cheating habits tend to be less beneficial to weight loss and health. They are usually less satisfying than planned cheat meals and they often lead to feelings of guilt instead of pride, the way you may feel after a successfully planned cheat meal.
Getting Over a Planned or Unplanned Cheat Meal
There are cheat meals, and there are cheat days, and cheat weeks. Without planning, a cheat breakfast consisting of pancakes and syrup with bacon and hash browns can lead to reasoning such as, "I started the day off wrong, so I might as well go out to lunch with the gang," and then to, "I already blew it for today, so I'll have cake for dessert tonight." That all-or-nothing mentality can let a single beneficial, or at least not devastating, cheat meal slide into a more harmful cheat day or cheat week. Poorer choices may eventually replace those good weight loss habits you worked so hard to establish.
It does not have to happen like that! Instead, having a strategy can help you get right back to your regular healthy choices. Here are some do's and don'ts surrounding cheat meals.
If the cheat meal (or week) was planned OR unplanned…
Carefully choose an indulgence that you love.
Enjoy the food.
Return to eating your regular, healthy food at the next meal or snack.
Let the cheat meal extend into days or weeks.
Feel bad or guilty about it.
Have your “official” weekly weigh-in the morning after (you could have water retention from the large meal).
If the cheat meal (or week) was unplanned…
Remember that it’s not all-or-nothing – so starting
Do some soul searching to figure out why it happened and how you might handle a similar situation in the future without turning to food.
Call yourself a failure.
Deny that it happened.
Wait until next week or next month to “start” over.
Avoid the scale or logging your food and physical activity.
If the cheat meal (or week) was unplanned…
Have healthy food available for meals and snacks.
Chat with Lark when an unhealthy urge hits.
Eat if you are not hungry.
Choose foods that you know you will not want to log later.
As you continue on your weight loss journey, go ahead and cheat. It can help you lose more weight and keep you motivated. Just be sensible about it, and keep using Lark DPP to stay on track.
Lark helps you eat better, move more, stress less, and improve your overall wellness. Lark’s digital coach is available 24/7 on your smartphone to give you personalized tips, recommendations, and motivation to lose weight and prevent chronic conditions like diabetes.