I call them “cheat meals.” Some say “treat meals.” And many bodybuilders don’t believe in them at all. As with any diet, different strokes for different folks. I can only speak for myself and what works best for me. And I for one, am an advocate of a weekly cheat meal.
I can remember when I first started my competition training and the strict diet that accompanied it. I’d have a few cheat meals throughout the week and not put much thought into them. My friends would be going out for dinner and I’d come along and order whatever looked best.
As time passed and my diet became more and more brutal, I had to cut out all the little extras like that soy latte at my business meeting or extra spoonful of almond butter with my apple. I became really used to the feeling of hunger (which REALLY sucks) and pretty much had to give up my social life completely as the temptation to “cheat” was just too great.
The one thing that did not change, however, right up to the very last week before my competition, was my one weekly “guilt free” cheat meal. One meal, once per week where I could have whatever I wanted. I could satisfy my sweet tooth and not feel guilty. I could eat an entire pizza, have pasta, a veggie burger with fries AND onion rings or all the vegan desserts sold at Whole Foods if I wanted. Kinda gross, I know. But I’m telling you, for the eight months that I trained, that one day literally felt like Christmas.
I loved having something to look forward to. I would literally be on the treadmill, fantasizing about what I would choose that week. I would usually have it on Saturday night. I’d get up that morning and do my cardio. I’d take my progress photos then go to Whole Foods where I would carefully select two, sometimes three vegan desserts. My go-tos were a date square, chocolate cupcake and a Camino chocolate-coconut chocolate bar **drools**. I’d then go home and prep my food for the next week.
I found having my cheat meal on the same day as “food prep” was great because if I licked the spoon or had some leftover yams etc., it didn’t matter if I ate them because in a couple of hours, I was going to be a hog at the feeding trough anyway. Man, I loved Saturdays. I’d be blasting my favourite tunes, whistling and dancing in my apartment, seeing the cupcake, sometimes kissing its packaging in anticipation. Haha, I feel like such a loser sharing this stuff but until you restrict to this level, you just won’t understand!
As my competition drew closer and my diet grew stricter, my friends would bug me to “just consume your allotted cheat meal at so-and-so’s birthday dinner.” I almost always declined, however, for two reasons: 1) I didn’t want to waste my ONE and ONLY good meal just anywhere and 2) I knew that I was going to be eating double the amount of food that everyone else was and quite frankly, I didn’t want people judging me for it.
It’s kind of pitiful I guess but thankfully my friends would sometimes partake in my cheat meals with me and that was cool to have them share in the hogging out. It definitely helped me to feel more “normal.”
The above is actually a picture of one of my “cheats.” Yes that’s an eight-slice vegan pizza, five desserts and the doll version of me (for scale purposes of course.)
As with many competitors who include a weekly cheat meal in their diets, what starts as a great Saturday night sometimes ends in guilt and regret. It’s not that I regretted eating so much “bad” food or even the large amounts of it. It was the fact that my stomach was so small from eating like a bird all week then I’d stuff it full that I’d literally feel sick.
Now I know I’ve just painted a slightly disturbing picture for you. And to be honest, I’ve been hesitant about sharing this post altogether as I know many people battle with disordered eating and think this has red flags written all over it. But it is what it is and I’m the first person to admit that competition dieting is not necessarily “healthy” and that I’m sometimes not the best example of how a bikini competitor should be with their diet. After all, I run a vegan FOOD blog. I LOVE food. And in the off-season, you better believe I’m not measuring everything I’m eating or am I living off of yams and asparagus.
All I know is that this method worked for me during prep and I really don’t think I could’ve won first place had it not been for those weekly cheats.
On the other side of the coin, many diet and fitness gurus tout the advantages of a regular cheat meal. For instance, it actually boosts your metabolism.
Cheat meals are usually packed with calories coming from all the macronutrients: carbs, fat and protein. The additional carbs actually help to replenish muscle glycogen, and the extra fat fills out the muscle. And let’s not forget that the elevated sodium helps with glycogen storage AND water retention (both of which are said to improve strength.)
All these factors can definitely boost both your diet AND training—not to mention give a HUGE boost to your mental state! Far too often, people can’t stick with a diet because they’re too extreme. Going too long without carbs and fat can cause intense cravings which can lead to severe binges. I strongly believe that having a planned “cheat meal” is a nice, little break from insanely clean eating and gives you something to look forward to.
Believe me, I KNOW that I sometimes went overboard with the cheats during my stage prep but I really don’t regret my choices (maybe just the portion sizes.) With the competition prep I’m doing now, I’m definitely practicing more self-control and instead of eating copious amounts of desserts, I’m eating more protein (and not an insane amount) like Gardein’s Szechuan Beefless Strips (soooo good!!) I also really don’t want people to get the wrong idea. Having a planned cheat truly keeps me sane and helps to make me feel “normal” during the cutting stage. But for some people, this method can be a VERY dangerous slippery slope and I’m by no means, advocating it for others who’ve had issues with food and dieting in the past. I’m simply sharing my own experience.
If you’d like to know what I ate throughout my competition training, check out my eBook “Jacked on the Beanstalk: Plant Based Fuel for Vegan Athletes.”
Or find me on facebook at www.facebook.com/JackedontheBeanstalk
– Samantha Shorkey