I cringe at the term “Cheat Meal” nowadays. It just paints such a negative picture. Would you cheat at work? Sports? A relationship? And if you did, do you think it would be ok? Chances are that no, it wouldn’t. However, we carelessly throw around the phrase cheat meal as this epic meal (sometimes day) that you’re about to HAAM on. It shows that you’re probably on a diet that you don’t love. And science is just sitting in the corner saying “Ummm it’s a refeed day idiot and you’re doing it wrong!”
Lets start with the basics – Cheat Meals and Refeed Days are NOT the same.
You should never have to cheat on your diet if you’re doing it right. A Cheat Meal has no physical benefits, aside from pleasing your taste buds. It should be rephrased as a Treat Meal. Because that is all you’re accomplishing. Treating yourself to something you want (and trust me, I’m all about #TreatYoSelf) that otherwise would not work in your day to day diet.
The true benefit to a Cheat Meal is the mental relief. That I can 100% get behind. I understand the grind of being dialed into a diet. Sometimes you just want a slice of pizza (or the whole pie) or a donut (dozen). Go for it. Yolo! Just understand that the benefits are limited. Science is limited when it comes to the benefit of all out cheat meals. Cheat Meal’s or Day’s can do more harm than good. They tend to lead to over-indulging, spilling over, blowing your macros out of the water. Once you get a little taste, you want seconds maybe even thirds.
Cravings are a real thing – I feel them deep in my soul sometimes (and I’m sure you do too). This a major part as to why Flexible Dieting has exploded over the past few years (IIFYM). It allows ninja level macro manipulation to be able to fit those cravings into your daily caloric intake. Craving a donut? Well then fit that sucker in as long as you have the macros for it. Granted, balance is key. And you still need to be hitting your micros and nutrient dense foods (veggies, vitamins, lean proteins, etc). I’ve become a big fan of Flexible Dieting because it allows for hitting my targets while enjoying some of those “dirty foods” (stupid term).
Now that “Cheat Meal” is out of the way…
A Refeed day is where the true science comes in… And we all know science is great! We have said it often, the human body is amazing. It will always find a way to survive, adapt and make life easier for itself. Such is the case when it comes to dieting. Dieting for long periods of time deprives the body of what it wants – calories and nourishment. So it will adjust protocol (aka your metabolism) to burn less calories and perhaps bring your fat loss to a screeching halt. No bueno!
Ain’t nobody got time for diminished fat burning. Refeed day to the rescue. This is the process of increasing your calories via carbohydrates (while dropping your fats a bit) in order to get you through plateaus. And these plateaus are not just related to fat loss but also to energy levels and overall cravings.
When you’re dieting, your leptin levels decrease and leptin is a very powerful hormone. It regulates satiety and energy intake and it tends to decreases when body-fat levels go down and carbohydrate intake gets reduced (yay dieting!). Thanks to this hunger levels rise and satiety is reduced. One of the goals of a refeed day is to promote a rise in leptin levels to better help sticking through a diet. That is because leptin responds to carbs and not fats.
Additionally, energy levels tend to drop when carbs drop as glucose/glycogen (aka carbs) are the body’s main source of energy. Less carbs to be had means less energy to be had (and less fcks to give probably). A refeed day, as it focuses mainly on increasing your carbs, can go a long way in restoring your glycogen stores and really jacking up those energy levels.
So in closing;
Cheat Meal – Good for a total mental disconnect from the macro grind. Could promote an increase in happiness (via increased dopamine release) as your mind associates a cheat meal as a reward. Very little benefit outside of that – especially if you’re in a dialed in diet. Will most likely do more harm than good (especially as a high fat meal has been shown to dip leptin level).
Refeed Meal – Science! Increase leptin levels (not starving all the time). Restore glycogen levels (not tired and cranky all day). Planned and calculated. Don’t blow your progress out of the water (in a bad way).
Ok… time for some donuts!! 😉