cheat meals

PAUL RIMMER ON… The Joy of Cheat Meals

The cheat meal appears to be becoming a staple of the weekly diet of gym goers all over the globe. However, when to have a cheat meal and the benefits they may (or may not) have are often misunderstood.




Well this is different things to different people, but for the sake of this post, for me it is a scheduled increase in calories that are not counted within the diet. There’s a few key words in there we need to pay attention to and the first is scheduled.


Scheduled means that there is a time and place for this increase in calories, not just on a whim when you decide (that’s just cheating on your diet!). So why would you schedule an increase in calories that are not within your normal diet plan? Well, there are a few reasons.




Firstly, if you are on an offseason/weight gain diet then this might purely be for psychological or social reasons. The likelihood in this situation, is that you are eating enough calories on a day to day basis that cheat meals are not required from a muscle growth point of view, however they can be a good way to increase calories in those who struggle to put on muscle, due to the typically energy-dense foods that are included in a cheat meal. So why have them? Well, since people are social animals who have friends, families, and jobs, elements of these parts of our lives involve social eating. Bodybuilding at the highest levels is, of course, a year-round demanding sport, however with the rigors of having a strict diet for most of the year, in my opinion, there needs to be a balance for most people to take care of their mental and social well-being; social eating is a great tool to help provide this balance.


This is probably the reason why diet strategies like IIFYM/Flexible dieting and carb cycling have become so popular. Because they allow you to have foods that would be typically seen as cheat foods, but are instead included in a person’s daily or weekly intake, they are, in effect, never eating off-plan. However, this can pose issues with having to plan every meal way in advance, not that this is always a problem, but it is far from a relaxed, normal view of food that some people need to have to find balance in their lives.




On a fat loss or contest prep diet, cheat meals can be used for the same psychological and social reasons, but in my opinion, should only be used if a person reached their weekly goals. Otherwise, if your weekly deficit is not enough to create fat loss or positive physical changes then this unscheduled increase in calories is only going to hinder progress. As a person becomes leaner they often need cheat meals more frequently. Why? Well, as calories in the diet are reduced and/or exercise output is increased then the body will be depleted of energy more quickly and therefore this can impact glycogen levels (appearing more flat), thus impacting on training during the diet and the potential for initiating muscle loss. Obviously, this is not something we want!


As we get leaner, levels of hormones such as leptin get lower, which causes a reduction in our metabolic rate. Periods of higher calorie intake (especially higher carb days) may help restore leptin levels, and thus our metabolism. However, the impacts of this on metabolism are not yet fully described. Whatever the exact physiological effects, they do serve a useful purpose when dieting, but remember if you’re not losing weight at the rate you want then adding in these extra calories comes in at a cost you might not be able to afford.


Paul Rimmer
MASS Head of Fitness Education

Dr Paul Rimmer - Head of Fitness Education


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Weight Loss through Flexible Dieting – Daniel Olusina

Are you tired of doing endless cardio with no signs of weight loss? Eating the same “clean” meals over and over causing you to cheat regularly? Would you like to learn of a new approach that enables you to treat yourself daily? Then flexible dieting aka if it fits your macros may be just the approach you need.


Name: Daniel Olusina
University: Kent
Course: Actuarial Science
Year of Study: Graduated in 2015


Macro and Micronutrients

  • Macronutrients are nutrients that provide calories and energy. They’re found in all foods and are made up of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
  • Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals required in small amounts that are essential to our health, development and growth. They are widely found in an array of fruit and vegetables.
  • By knowing that all the food that we eat is merely just a certain amount of macro and micro nutrients, we can track them and know precisely how much we are actually eating.




How to Track What You Eat

  • Any food can easily be tracked using the MyFitnessPal app. This app can be downloaded on any of the latest smart phones or can be accessed on the internet.
  • Log each each meal you eat by logging the individual foods used to make up that meal. Doing so you will find out the exact amount of macro and micro nutrients you’ve consumed in that meal.
  • Food on MyFitnessPal can be logged by either weighing out each food using a weigh scale and searching for the food & the amount of if on myfitnesspal or if you’re using the the myfitnesspal app on you’re smart phone then there is a feature where you can scan the barcode which will immediately show you the amount of macronutrients in the food you’ve just scanned.
  • This can be very handy when you’re out looking to treat yourself but are unsure of whether the desired food (poptarts for me) will fit the total amount of macronutrients to be consumed for the day.


Caloric Deficit

  • By tracking our food on MyfitnessPal we are able to find out the total macro and micro nutrients we are consuming and thus the total amount of calories we are consuming
  • Depending on the total amount of calories we are consuming, we may be in a caloric surplus, deficit or maintenance.
  • Caloric surplus is where we are consuming more calories than the energy we’re expending during the day and thus gaining weight (the amount depends on how big the surplus is).
  • Caloric maintenance is where we are consuming the same amount of calories as the energy we’re expending and thus our weight stays the same.
  • Caloric deficit is where we are eating less calories than our caloric maintenance and will therefore lose weight


Flexible Dieting Coming Into Its Own

  • What I advise is to track the amount of food you generally eat over one day.
  • See what the total amount of macronutrients is and keep that the same throughout the entire week.
  • That doesn’t mean eat the same food over and over. Eat a wide variety of food and meals but make sure at the end of the day it all adds up to the same amount of macro and micronutrients which were consumed on day 1.
  • Whilst you’re doing this I also suggest weighing yourself daily. First thing in the morning after using the toilet. This is to track weight progress. At the end of the week add all the weights together and divide them by 7 to see your average weekly weigh in.
  • If you’ve seen that your weight has gone up then you are in a caloric surplus and may need to reduce your macros slightly (either carbs or fats) however if your weight has gone down then you’re in a caloric deficit and just need to keep maintaining the same macronutrients to keep losing weight (if weight loss is your goal).
  • My rule of thumb is whether you were in a caloric surplus or deficit for week 1, if you are looking to lose weight then fats should be around 60g a day for guys and 50g for women to make sure you are still eating an adequate amount of fat to help maintain bodily functions.
  • Protein should be at least 1.2g per pound of bodyweight but this can be more and carbohydrates throughout the diet phase should be kept as high as possible despite this being the macronutrient that you’ll be looking to reduce every so often when reducing calories further.




Average Weight Loss

  • So now we’ve set our macro and micronutrients its time for us to lose some weight!
  • If you’re already losing weight on your current macros then just stick with it and enjoy fitting them small daily treats into those weight loss macros.
  • You should be looking to lose around 0.5-1kg a week on average so a sufficient caloric deficit of around 300 below caloric maintenance may be all that is needed.
  • However fat loss isn’t linear so it could a loss of 0.2kg one week and 1.3kg the next.
  • Try your best to keep fat loss at under 1kg a week as if it is over it may cause a loss in muscle tissue as well, which is not what we want if we want to be looking toned.


Busting weight plateaus

Lower carbs, higher cardio, more intensity in gym
  • If your weight loss has stalled then fear not for there are many ways to combat this.
  • As 1g carbohydrates is equal to 4 calories then by merely reducing the daily amount of carbohydrates by 25g you’ll have reduced the daily calories by 100 calories!
  • This small refinement may make all the difference and allow the weight loss to continue
  • Another way is increasing the amount of calories you are burning through increased cardio. I would suggest HIIT (high intensive interval training) starting with once a week for 15mins (12-15secs flat out, 45sec to 1min rest) and then increasing to twice a week if weight plateaus. HIIT causes the body to experience an afterburn effect that will cause it to burn many calories throughout the day even when you’re at rest.
  • Incorporating Steady State cardio in terms of burning a specific amount of calories is also useful but doing this to burn a large amount of calories many times a week may induce metabolic damage so use it sparingly.
  • Increasing the intensity of your weight training workouts will allow you to burn even more calories and thus be further into a caloric deficit. Supersets, dropsets and less rest periods can all be utilised to make you train even harder and thus burn more calories.


Refeeds vs Cheat Meals

Once a Week
  • We’ve all been there, just lost a kg and we want to reward ourselves with a KFC bargain bucket.
  • Unless that bargain bucket fits your macros (which I doubt it will) then refeeding may be the answer to eating more and potentially losing even more weight
  • Instead of plain cheating and eating food we know is extremely high in fat we can instead eat roughly 150-200% more carbs on a refeed day.
  • On this refeed day our fats should be lower than a normal diet day (around 10g less or so) and protein should be around the same level or a little less.
  • This will cause our leptin level (fat burning hormone) to spike temporarily as it is normally fairly low when we are dieting.
  • Our metabolism will therefore increase and when you go back to your normal food amounts you may notice that you’ve lost even more weight which is what we all want.


So lets all ditch the 6 meals a days of sweet potato, lentils and plain diced chicken and start having a wide array of meals that fit our caloric deficit macro and micronutrients!


Daniel Olusina
Instagram @danielolusina
Twitter @danielolusina
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