Apr 13, 2011


A millions years ago I asked for questions and am just now getting around to answering them. I am nothing if not consistent in my procrastination.

Rose asked:   How bad are occasional (less than once a week) cheat meals for health?

My short answer is: I don't know. Helpful! I mean, I don't know if there is a way to quantifiably measure that, and I'm sure it varies from person to person. It also depends on what is defined as "health". Is it weight loss, healthy cholesterol/TGs, etc. There is evidence that even one meal high in saturated fat can affect the anti-inflammatory properties of HDL cholesterol and hinder blood vessels expansion-which would create higher blood pressure as quickly as 3 hours later.

Your cholesterol and triglyceride levels fluctuate with each meal-this is why you have to fast before having a lipid profile done. Saturated and trans fats (found primarily in whole-milk dairy products, fatty meats, poultry, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) are the are the main dietary contributers to increasing LDL cholesterol (LDL=Less Healthy) and decreasing HDL. (HDL=Healthy) The American Heart Association recommends no more than 7% of your daily calories come from sat/trans fats. So from a cardiovascular standpoint, yes, cheats can negatively affect your health. If your eating is otherwise good, this can net out a bit. The problem comes from too many cheats and not enough good days. If you want to cheat, try to cheat with foods that are low in saturated fats. When you are good, try to have a diet high in poly- and monounstaturated fats (Poly: safflower, sesame, soy, corn and sunflower-seed oils, nuts and seeds. Mono: olive, canola and peanut oils, avocados) as these foods increase the good cholesterol and help negate some of the damage from the cheat days.

In terms of weight loss: I advocate occasional cheating. Long term, maintainable changes to diet and exercise are what pretty much every health professional recommends. Diets high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean dairy, etc.  But honestly, I don't want to live a life where I don't have cake at a birthday party. Or a margarita on the beach. Or cheeseburgers. Something I try to do is identify when it is really worth it. If it is a unique food that I love, but don't have it regularly. My aunt's key lime pie on vacation (which is smack your momma good and I could eat every day!) is a "better" cheat to me than say pizza. I can have pizza anytime. I just remind myself-this is not the last time you will ever see pizza. You can have it again. Just not much tonight (guess who is going to a picnic with pizza tonight.) No one can maintain a super strict, all healthy diet every single moment of the day. Except my father in law, but he isn't a lot of fun. A planned or structured cheating plan can help some people better commit to the healthy diet the rest of the time. Just the psychological feeling of "I can have this thing I'm dying for on Friday. I can make it til then!" can be hugely beneficial to your mental health.

For me, when I'm trying to lose weight, I have to have a long run of eating well. Like a month of calorie deficits before my body gets the idea of what's happening and starts dropping weight. Even if I have a 1 lb decrease in calories in a week, having a big meal or big cheat seems to cancel it completely out. Mathematically, I know this should not be the case but I promise this is just how my body works. Weight loss is both an art and a science. Science says expend more calories than you take in and you will lose weight. But, it isn't always that easy. Stupid biochemistry.

Once I kind of get over that block and start losing weight, I can be a little more liberal with cheats. Many people find that a cheat can break them out of a weight loss plateau-it kind of confuses the body . And sometimes when you have been at that plateau for a long time, you just need a mental break and then recommitment.

In my opinion it really comes down to what are you doing 80-90% of the time. Is the majority of your intake healthy, or is every meal a cheat meal? What do you do after the cheat? I can definitely get caught up in the "oh, well today is totally screwed already so I might as well eat everything. For the next 8 days. " Better to brush it off, really really enjoy that cheat and make sure to spend it on something you truly love, and then get back to it even stronger.

I hope that answered your question, Rose, in a very long winded way!

What do you guys think? Cheat days: good or bad? How often do you splurge on food? Is it difficult for you to reign yourself back in? Have any other questions? Come talk to me so I don't feel like I'm talking to myself!

Also, check out Jen in Training's great giveaway. But don't enter it b/c I want to win.  


ashley (redonk runner) said...

i think cheat days are a good thing, like once a week. BUT i am a 3 day a week cheater. so i should just be quiet and not add my opinion to this discussion :)

SeeAliEatSeeAliRun said...

Such a great post!! I have "cheat" days once a week maybe and those are just days where I eat my regular meals and snacks but I add something sweet like DQ or some wine!!

I always wake up thinking that the day is brand new-I get a clean slate so everything I did the day before (work, food choices, whatever) doesn't impact the new day. I think this helps me avoid getting started on a snowball of "cheat days" and also helps me forget about whatever was stressing me out the day before!

Jen said...

Such a good explanation. I think it's so good mentally to know that a little cheating is o.k. It makes it unbearable to think otherwise and like a really daunting task. I've been there before and life isn't much fun. Great post!
I too love that magic spot where everything is clicking in a run!

Alison said...

This is a great post. I don't eat much saturated fat, as I don't eat animal products, but I do eat quite a lot of coconut products. I had no idea that if you eat a lot in one go it can effect your blood pressure like that. Nasty thought!

What you say about long runs of eating well also really struck home with me. I've been struggling to shed the winter flab recently, and while I eat well (just too much!), I am only managing to maintain a deficit some of the time, with a surplus / maintenance the rest of the time (I've been dating, it's really tough on diet!). I know what I need more than *anything* is consistency at this point. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of that -- it might be just what I need to get me over this hump!

ashley (redonk runner) said...

hi carrie! i saw your message on about the commenting, but couldn't respond by email cause yours isn't set-up. i definitely like answer people's questions when they ask so i know totally what you're talking about.

the thing i was talking about is that in my blogger settings, i have it set to send me an email when i get a new comment notification. when i get an email notification, if you have your blogger profile set with a public email, when i hit reply, the response goes right to your email. otherwise, blogger email notification has an email listed "noreply@blogger.com"


hope i didn't sound like i want to ignore commenters on my blog, but at the same time i hate to chase people down and reply to their comments if they didn't leave a question or something, but i love to respond to comments when there is an easy way to like by email. LOL i guess that means i'm lazy :)

sorry for the long response. have a good day!