I have found myself struggling with this question for years now–when I am following a strict diet plan is it better for me to follow that plan ALL of the time or to incorporate cheat meals once a week like many bodybuilders? After years of testing, failing, and trying again, my final conclusion is that it all depends on YOU and what gives you greater peace of mind.
I used to use cheat meals as an excuse to binge-eat after months of extreme dieting. I would feel so run down and deprived, but I would not want to break my strict diet, so I would allow for one meal that was “outside of the plan.” However, of course this backfired because rather than alleviating the struggle feeling deprived most of the day, I would proceed to go on an all out eating frenzy that would continue anywhere from a single night to a few months of being unable to regain control.
I am in a much different place now. Monday was my birthday (22!) and as part of my new training plan I am allowed one “free meal” per week where I can eat whatever I want as long as I don’t eat to the point of discomfort. My family took me out to eat at the Oyster Club, a high end and scrumptious restaurant on the CT shoreline for my birthday dinner. I looked forward to it all weekend, prepped my normal meals for the trip, and replaced one of them with this meal out to eat. I ate warm, sweet cornbread (YUM), a light summer salad of tomatoes, peaches, and ricotta (yes I chose this over pasta hehe), fluke with white beans and had my very own dessert–a warm almond cake with whipped cream! This meal was satisfying in every way, but the highlight of it was the glaring sign of ED recovery–I did not have any urge to binge afterwards, as I often would when I was younger, calorie deprived, and feeling out of control. (It might sound weird that I would want to binge after a full meal but it’s actually quite common–once you break down the wall keeping you from eating a little you end up wanting to tear the whole thing down). Rather, I simply decided I did not need the last meal I had planned for the day. I went on to enjoy a great night’s sleep and was energized for my workout the next day.
Despite these up-sides, I still decided that I think I will save these decadent “free meals” for rare occasions like my birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. While the extra calories energized me for my workout the next day, I personally don’t like feeling bloated from the extra salt and gluten (which I don’t usually consume) and I realize that my weight loss goals are more important to me than a pleasureful meal each week. I rank my consistent progress over that meal, and I find that sometimes when I focus on the meal ahead too much it is a little too close to my old disordered-eating mind for my liking. For some people, however, this is exactly the meal they need to keep them on pointe throughout the week! Maybe one day I will get to that place, but for now I’ll stick with a piece of fish, veggies, and a complex carb on my weekly(ish) meal out to dinner 🙂