16 Nov Refeeds Vs Cheat Meals
*We hate the use of the phrase ‘cheat meal’, as we believe in a lifestyle solution where all can be incorporated in moderation and mindfulness. However, for the context of this article, a ‘cheat meal’ refers to a meal ‘off plan’ where calories are higher – this can be a strategic method to trigger more fat loss in specific scenarios. If we use them, we much prefer the term ‘free meal’ – as it doesn’t bring the connotations a ‘cheat meal’ does, though for the purpose of this, we’ll use ‘cheat meal’ to make it easy to refer to.
If you’re looking to lose body fat on our transformation journey, no doubt one of your first thoughts would have been ‘when shall I have my first cheat meal?’
We’ve all been there.
But, early on in your journey, this should not occur.
Physiologically, glycogen (stored carbohydrate) stores will be fully saturated. Sub-cutaneous and intramuscular triglyceride (fat) stores will both be full. Leptin – a hormone that regulates appetite – will be functioning normally.
Psychologically, motivation should be at its highest as your diet is beginning as well as energy levels being sky high.
So, for the average person starting a journey focused on fat loss, there is no inherent need for a cheat meal in these early stages of your journey. As your motivation and energy levels are likely as good as they’re going to get, this is the time to push hard and make as much progress as possible in the early stages.
The further into the journey we go in terms of both duration and severity of deficit, the greater the genuine need for small periods of increased calories.
That’s not to say a cheat ‘day’ however as this will ruin progress and digestion, what we mean is either cheat ‘meals’ or high carbohydrate refeeds – both of which differ depending on the individual.
Let’s first define what we mean by the differences in both cheat meals Vs refeeds as well as psychological Vs physiological benefits.
A cheat meal by nature should really be anything that you fancy at that time. There are no real rules. It could be a pizza, it could be a steak in your favourite restaurant, it could be your mum’s homemade Sunday roast. For all intents and purposes, it’s a ‘normal’ meal. Typically, these meals will be very calorie dense and high in both carbohydrate and dietary fat. Especially by the time a dessert is thrown in, too.
A refeed however, would be planned (to a degree) and higher in carbs, but lower in fat than usual. Typically, these meals aren’t quite as high in calories, due to reduced fat intake.
However, cheat meals and refeeds are only intended for fat-loss purposes, they are not a lifestyle solution. For those that are on their long-term transformation journeys, weight management is controlled through the implementation of effective long-term lifestyle solutions, such as developing meal hygiene, mindfulness and portion control. These valuable lessons ingrained into behaviour allow for flexibility across the board, eliminating the need (or desire) for cheat meals and refeeds.
Struggling with motivation or those that are frequently invited to social events, such as entrepreneurs and high performers in their career, are likely to fall under the psychological category.
We must realise that willpower is finite. Sure, turning down one or two desserts in social settings initially is easy – it’s a novelty early on in the journey. But several weeks/months down the line, having to fend off the barrage of questions and statements such as ‘oh, this one piece won’t hurt’ (which many can resonate with) starts to take its toll.
For these types of individuals, dieting is mundane and purely a means to an end (the body they’ve been chasing).
In cases like these when motivation and drive is waning and eventually adherence will follow suit, we will usually give sporadic and random ‘free’ meals.
The best method of executing this is to tie it in with social calendars. We may ask them when they’re next out, if they have any weddings or birthdays coming up etc., as these are the ideal scenarios when willpower will be tested to its limit.
Otherwise, a target is best set, such as: ‘OK, if you hit this lift in the gym’ or ‘if we nail that new target bodyweight’, get dressed up for the night and book a table with your other half at your favourite restaurant and make an evening of it.
Two key points here are retaining compliancy and motivation by scheduling these in, and thus not waiting for them to give in and cheat on the diet. And second, we want them to completely relax for the evening and enjoy the experience. To be able to alleviate the pressures of the journey for a few hours can be really liberating and sometimes all it takes to boost motivation and willpower again.
Now, we are under no illusion that for these type of clients who still have a fair amount of body fat to lose are going to gain any real benefit from these cheat meals. In fact, it may temporarily set them back a step or two in terms of their checkpoint goal. But, sometimes, taking those small short-term losses can lead to 10x better results in the long run, and prevent a disastrous slip-up waiting to happen, thus undoing even more progress. This is the key to sustained fat loss.
These are reserved usually for more driven clients that do have an abundance of willpower. These clients usually are those that have that ‘robot’ mentality where they’ll do whatever is needed to get the job done.
For these types of individuals, we need not worry about scheduling these meals in to keep them motivated. Instead, we use high-carb refeeds only when there is a physiological need for it, such as:
- Weaker body parts visually ‘flattening out’ to the extremes of risking tissue loss
- Training performance suffering
- Inhibited sleep
- Persistent hunger even right after eating (down-regulated leptin)
- Rapid weight loss in the final stages of their journey phase
For instance, placing a large amount of additional carbs right before bed (to help with sleep) the night before training a weak body part will help fill it back out and also aid in performance, effectively hitting two birds with one stone.
The reason we usually opt for high carb and low fat refeeds, is that it is carbohydrates are responsible for helping to alleviate many of the above with little to no benefit coming from additional protein and dietary fats. For this reason, we may purposely reduce these to allow us to push carbs very high over a short time frame.
It’s important to note that not every client will need these, so their frequency is completely dependent on the visual and verbal feedback given within their check-ins.
For those waning in motivation, especially those at risk of caving at any point, ‘cheat meals’ can be an effective tool to regain motivation and prevent an even bigger meltdown – which can end up being a lot more devastating to progression.
Additionally, planning the ‘cheat meals’ help to create an essence of structure so bingeing doesn’t occur at spontaneous times. The client knows that they are to enjoy a ‘free pass’, so they feel the need to cheat less, thus regaining a sense of control.
Refeeds are not wholly effective for these types of clients as they simply won’t get that same mental relief if they have to sit and calculate these new high carb and low-fat macros. It ends up being more stressful and doesn’t really allow them to feel like they’re having ‘down time’ from their diet. This is it’s often better to make an evening of it.
Making sure that they focus on the experience as opposed to the food is also key (and why we suggest free meals at events or as part of a date night). It’s imperative that they enjoy it with someone, as opposed to eating alone.
As for most advanced clients that are very lean and/or carry large amounts of muscle tissue, a decent amount of carbs can help counteract some of the effects that prolonged periods in an energy deficit can elicit.
Certainly, cheat meals and refeeds can be work in the short-term for fat-loss, but they aren’t a lasting solution. Nobody wants to think of their ‘date night’ as a cheat meal. Implementing long-term lifestyle solutions enable you to control weight management and allow for flexibility across the board. So ‘date night’ can be enjoyed guilt-free as part of your lifestyle solution knowing with confidence that it won’t hinder your progression. Long-term transformation is about changing your mindset, not what is on your plate.
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