cheat meals Cheat Meals and Cheater-cise

I wanted to write about this because frankly it’s something I struggle with on a regular basis.  Here’s the setup:  I have already exercised for the day and I’ve also been really good on my nutrition.  Unexpectedly, we decide to go to dinner as a family.  Maybe our daughter did really well at swim lessons, or we simply ran out of food/the basic components of food (I’m sure we are not the only family this has happened to during a busy week).  Therefore, we end up packing up the 4-Runner and heading out.

I eat a pretty well-balanced dinner.  However, then it comes time for dessert.  My family decides to get something, and I’m left with a decision:  Sit this one out, or join in.  Of course I want something – I’m a dessert fiend, almost all kinds.  However, it’s not my regularly scheduled cheat meal.  What am I to do?  Sometimes I resist, but sometimes I get something for whatever reason – I’ve had a hard day at work, the dessert looks particularly good, or my daughter wants to order for me (adorable at almost 5).  It is delicious, but almost immediately after the cheat guilt sets in.

I feel like I’ve ruined my whole day because I had this unscheduled cheat.  Logical?  No, not even close – once you’re into a good grove with your fitness something like this won’t phase you every once and a while.  However it doesn’t stop me at least from thinking about it.  Then a sneaky thought enters my mind – what if I just did 20 minutes on the elliptical later?  That should balance things out right?  What harm could it do?  That is the genesis of cheater-cise, or engaging in unscheduled exercising specifically because you had a cheat meal.

Whether you fall into the scenario above or even if it’s after a regularly scheduled cheat meal but you’ve already exercised/it’s a rest day, the effect is the same:  No good can come of this.  It’s unhealthy mentally and physically.  Mentally, you shouldn’t beat yourself up over something of this nature – this is why you work so hard the rest of the time, it’s ok to let loose once and awhile.  If you don’t, you’ll never sustain good nutrition and fitness habits long term.

Physically, this is also a problem.  You have workout program for a reason.  You can get away with this once, maybe twice in a cycle but this puts undue extra wear and tear on your body.  If staying in shape was just exercising 24/7, we’d either all be obese or nobody would leave the gym.  You need rest, especially as you get older.  If you start doing this you’ll notice the quality of your regular workouts suffers, and you will feel terrible, further decreasing your motivation to workout.  It’s a vicious cycle.  The question is, how then do you deal with it?

Unfortunately, the answer is ultimately by sheer will power.  If you really want to exercise, you’ll find a way to do it.  To this day, I sometimes still fall into this trap, and regret it every time.  You really just need to not do that extra workout.  With that being said, here are a few tricks I use to ease the temptation to do so:

Workout Tricks
  • Fill Your Time – If you have a cheat meal and start to feel antsy, immediately begin to fill your time with other tasks.  Laundry, playing a board game with the family, anything that is not working out.  Hopefully, you do enough that you get to the point where it doesn’t make sense to workout (The gym is closed, too tired, etc.).
  • Cheat Before Your Workout – If you already have a workout scheduled for the day, and something like this comes up, try and workout after you do this.  That way you’re satisfying your craving for exercise and doing it in a manner you were planning to anyway.  Not the best pre-workout nutrition, but mentally you’ll definitely feel better afterwards.
  • Cheat Early – Can be combined with the second bullet or by itself, cheat earlier in the day rather than later.  This is true overall, but it gives your body more time to process and use what you can of the cheat meal.  This may give you a better sense of comfort at the end of the day, and can also help you better execute the second bullet above.  To note, you always run the risk that you won’t be able to fill your time like the first bullet above recommends, as you are giving yourself more opportunity to do additional workouts.
  • Try To Avoid Rest Days – If you can, try to avoid cheating on rest days.  If you don’t have any workouts planned and you cheat, there is a significantly higher chance that you’ll do an unscheduled workout.  If you have to, not much you can do, but try to avoid it if at all possible.  Even for regularly scheduled cheat meals I recommend doing this on days you have a workout planned.
  • Partial Cheats – As in the example above, try not to double down on an unscheduled cheat.  Scheduled cheat meals are one thing, but try and limit unscheduled cheating to one portion of your meal, like dessert.

Overall I hope this helps.  I feel like as you get in better and better shape, mental hurdles such as this start to exceed the actual physical hurdles you face.  I think that’s been the case at least for me.


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