Stop Calling It A “Cheat” Meal and Improve Your Relationship with Food
Stop calling it a “cheat” meal.
This is a red flag and only further reinforces a negative relationship with food.
Plus, who are you cheating?
And who really gains from that…
In today’s episode, Paul and Micheala offer an alternative to the word “cheat” and share why this subtle change is incredibly significant when it comes to shaping your relationship with food and helping you remain out of the all-or-nothing mindset.
Plus, you’ll learn how, when, and why to choose to intentionally indulge during a special occasion versus mindfully navigating your nutrition – and what the difference between the two is.
- Discover the profound impact a single word (“cheat”) has on your thoughts, beliefs, and actions related to food.
- Learn how labeling a meal as a “cheat” meal primes you for an all-or-nothing mentality (yuck!)
- Hear Paul’s Brazilian steakhouse experience that left him incapacitated in a true food coma!
- Learn how contagious and poisonous violating one of the four agreements can be when seeking to feel, look, and be your best.
- Gain an understanding of what a “free” meal is – and isn’t! – and when, how, and why to implement one both while you are and are not dieting.
Listen to episode 167, “Am I Ready to Diet?”
Listen to episode 186, “Win the Weekend.”
Read our “Maintain Your Weight Loss After A Diet” Blueprint
Join The 5% Community
Hey, 5% Way Podcast listeners. Welcome back to another episode of The 5% Way Podcast with your host, myself registered dietician, Paul Salter, and the wonderful Micheala Barsotti. We are incredibly excited to have you here, whether you’re a long time listener or a fresh new set of ears. Thank you so much for being here. We promise you that if anything, you will at least laugh during this episode and the many more to come, but on a serious note, we are incredibly excited about this particular episode, because to be honest, what we’re going to share today is going to offer you such a subtle, yet powerful mindset shift to truly free you of indulgence, anxiety, indulgence, regret, or guilt that you probably have experienced, or maybe even still do on a fairly regular basis, such as every time a weekend comes around, a social occasion, or 1,000,001 holidays that we seem to celebrate every single year. So really looking forward to talking all things, cheat meals, and then some on this episode. But before we do that, let’s go ahead and welcome in Micheala. Micheala, how are you on this wonderful day?
I’m great. I wish the weather was a little nicer here in Minnesota, but we’re dealing with it. It’s a little gloomy, but I am a little bit on a high, because I got off a one-on-one coaching call this morning with one of our 5% members. And it was so cool to see, she’s a couple months in now, I think, but here she is telling me, or expressing some of her struggles and she wants to diet, but she recognized that she might not be ready yet. And this realization just lights me up, and I know it does for you too, because coming from, her background of always trying to diet, my background of being like that, it’s like, when you recognize, oh wait, there is a time to diet. Dieting is a tool and I’m not ready to use that tool. That is amazing. And I love to see it and I just applaud her so much for that. So yeah, I just wanted to share that because it makes me really happy.
Yeah. And her future self will thank her so much for not just rushing into a diet, and not blindly, but just prematurely I think is a better word. And there’s actually, ladies and gentlemen, an episode that Micheala and I did on The 5% Way Podcast, I think it’s literally entitled, Am I Ready to Diet? Give or take a word or two. So I’ll link that in the show notes for you, to make sure that you can easily listen to that, if you are, in fact, thinking about beginning a diet in the near future, it’s a must listen to, to make sure that you are not only nutritionally ready, but equally important, if not more, mentally and emotionally ready to tackle a diet as well.
And before we do dive into cheat meals and all of the above, I wanted to shout out every single member of our 5% community who participated in March’s monthly challenge, which is completing 10 burpees every single day, but you have had to start the month and end the month timing, or rather counting as many burpees as you could do in a single minute. And we were tracking and rewarding our winners for the most improvement from day one to day 31. And just the participation, I don’t know about you, it exceeded my expectations and I was so thrilled to see people just chomping at the bit to get out of their comfort zone, commit to doing the 10 burpees every day. And then when we got to test our final 60 second burpee, max repetition, the results were incredible.
You and I, I joked had the second and the third worst percent increase amongst the entire group. And obviously that’s based on our starting point, of course, but we had members, our top three improve, I believe it’s a 169, a 182, or a 189, then 192% in 31 days. I think that’s just simply astounding. And the lesson I really wanted to teach every person who participated in the community challenge was actually two. Number one was, look what happens when you spend a little time out of your comfort zone on a regular basis, you get a bit more comfortable. And that experience gives you an opportunity to have a nice, lovely one-on-one chat with your inner bitch voice on a regular basis. And when you learn to conquer those battles, you get a nice transfer, or carry over effect into many other areas of your life.
And then secondly, for, I don’t know, maybe 90 seconds, 60 seconds, depending on the individual, it took to complete your 10 burpees every day. And as little as a minute commitment every day, the results were about probably an average, a 150% increase in just 31 days. Simply astounding. What if you applied that same intensity and focus for one minute or five minutes in another area of your life? Where would you be 30 days from now? So kudos to every single one of you, 5% community members who participated, gave it your all, and rocked out hundreds and hundreds of burpees in the month of March. Micheala and I are both just so incredibly proud of you. So right on there.
All right, well, let’s go ahead and talk about cheat meals. So how I would love to begin this episode is just starting with a blank slate and teaching, or rather reminding you of the power of our word choice and our self-talk, because as you’re going to learn here, maybe you already are catching what I’m alluding to, is I fucking hate when people call it a cheat meal, it drives me nuts, because I fully recognize just how powerful our word choice is. And you’ve heard both Micheala and I speak to this in multiple episodes in the past, it’s a core teaching focus in the 5% community, is that there is a significant downstream ripple effect between the words we use and how we speak to ourselves, that ultimately influences our results, our identity, and our reality.
And the word cheat, it carries such a strong negative connotation, a dishonest tone. And I never really understood who you were cheating, or who was benefiting from participating in a so-called cheat meal, because from my point of view, and I think Micheala would agree, the only person being cheated is you. You are the one actually doing more harm than good by choosing to label what we’re going to loosely call right now, an off plan meal, or stepping outside of your nutritional guidelines as a cheat meal, it’s doing more harm than good, because of the negative connotation, the negative energy and the [Lobi 00:07:42] frequency that the word cheat carries.
And I want to just start hammering that in, again, your word choice matters. It goes on to influence your thoughts, your beliefs, your actions, or lack of action, and ultimately your results, identity and reality. And think about this for a minute. Think about the past times you have had a cheat meal, or maybe some of you, myself included, a cheat weekend. This type of meal is usually a collection of binge like behaviors across a day or two. And it really just results in an environment in which you have this fucking approach and a careless attitude. And again, you’re only cheating yourself and adding fuel to the fire of developing a negative counterproductive, unhealthy relationship with food. And I know Micheala, you have a similar experience with your history of labeling these types of meals as a cheat me know. So share some of that with the listeners for us.
Yeah. Well, I think you really hit the nail in the head when you were, just by saying, by calling it a cheat meal, you’re already just setting yourself up for a disaster, because it’s like you are opening all the doors to say, as the phrase we use in the community is like, don’t eat like an asshole, but when you tell yourself it’s a cheat day, it’s a cheat meal. You’re turning on that switch to eat like an asshole. It’s like, I need to take full advantage of this moment. And I lived in this for years, every single Sunday for me was cheat day. And so it didn’t matter whether I was really craving something or not. I went for it because I did not want to miss the opportunity to really indulge. And so I stopped doing things based on, it wasn’t like I really wanted to eat this, so I made it work. It was just, this day was a effort day, eat whatever you can. And that is what I did.
And when I think about health and respecting my body, or a healthy relationship with food, it’s by honoring your body. And even if you are going in on this lavash cake, whatever it is, you are still eating to the point where, not pass the point of fullness and to the point where you feel like you have to keel over and right all those things. But when we have, or when we initiate these cheat meals, that’s what we’re doing. We’re eating way beyond that point of fullness. And it’s just, it’s too much.
It is. And that’s just reminding me of a funny, in hindsight, story, it was not funny in the moment, but I remember I was probably three or four months removed from my first ever body building competition. So we’re talking 2012. And so, I dieted for, I think, 18 weeks for this show, actually, no, it was 22 weeks, I did another show after. And when you diet like that, your stomach can only hold so much food it gets in, it’s like it shrinks and shrinks. And if you eat too large, a meal, you feel like you’re stuck digesting and processing it for days.
And I went to a restaurant, there’s a Brazilian steakhouse called Fogo de Chao, there’s a few of them all over the nation. They give you this card, one side’s red and one side’s green. If you leave it on green, they just keep coming to your table, and bringing you a copious amount to the most electable meats in the world. And that’s fantastic for many, many reasons, but what I didn’t have working for me on that particular experience was first, protein, incredibly slow, hard and taxing to digest. My stomach incredibly small and not ready to handle the colosal amount of food that I was at about to eat. And then going in with the fuck it mentality, eat like an asshole mentality. And I had to, I kid you not, stay an extra two hours in the restaurant until I felt physically able to get up from my booth to drive me and my date home. I couldn’t move, my stomach hurt so bad. I was sweating like crazy. And that was the last time I ever ate like that type of an asshole to say the least.
Even too, you know, when you label it as, oh, I cheated tonight, I had this. Then anytime you have that type of food that really starts to develop that black or white thinking with food, the good and bad, because anytime you have that food, you in your head are saying, oh, I’m messing up when I’m sure we’ll get into talking about how we can make all the foods fit into your macros and not go off track. We’ll dive into that, but you can do that. But if you live in this mindset where anytime you have the foods that are, you deem as bad, cheating or foods that are lower quality, then you’re always going to be stuck in this cycle of thinking you did something bad. And then when we do something bad, we usually self-sabotage and do more bad, and it just carries on and on and on.
That’s a phenomenal point. I’m so glad you brought that up, because essentially if you listening right now, struggle with an all or nothing mentality, your view on cheat foods is probably a huge influencing factor as to why, just like Micheala so elegantly said. You’re exactly right. If you feel like you’ve cheated yourself, or you’ve broken this rule, then you throw in the towel. You say, screw it. Maybe Monday I’ll start again. Now you’re developing and really grooming this, I’m either all in or I’m all out on my diet, it got to be perfect, or it’s got to be a show. And we all know that doesn’t serve anybody well, when it comes to building a healthy relationship with food, trying to feel, look, and be their best. So outstanding point. I’m so glad you brought that up.
And now that we’ve got the negative nonsense out of the way, let’s talk about a substitution, and Micheala and I are huge advocates for ceasing all calling and labeling of these types of intentional indulgences as cheat meals, and instead, adapting, or adopting rather, a more neutral, I won’t even say, slightly positive term in place. And what we like to refer to these intentional indulgences as, and note my language there, very intentional to call it an intentional indulgence, is that we like to label it as a free meal.
And this word choice is very specific because what we mean when we say, co-indulge and enjoy a free meal, is that you have a meal that consists of A, something you don’t typically eat, and B, more than what you typically eat. And the result is that this meal is free of anxiety. It is free of regret. It is free of frustration. It is free of guilt. It is also free of portion control with the exception, we’re not going to, and oh, you can eat buffet, eating like an asshole, and it is free of judgment. It is an intentional indulgence where you go have one of your favorite foods or an epic dessert, an epic steak, fries, burger, whatever it may be. You don’t think twice about doing so, you slow down the moment, the experience, you savor the bites you enjoy, you savor the company you’re with, and you have the utmost fucking confidence that you’re going to get right back on track at your very next meal. It’s as simple as that.
And, of course, we both know very well, simple does not mean easy, but this meal is designed to be psychologically liberating from what it takes to be successful and sustaining your results, which is shifting focus most of the time to monotony, consistency, a bit of boredom here and there. And it doesn’t have to be that way for everybody. But ample decades of research will show that those who have the most success in any area of life, they have success founded upon habits they execute consistently regardless of how they feel. But when you are intentionally indulging of a free meal, you have to eat something that you don’t typically eat to really get that psychological reprieve.
And to help clarify what a free meal is and what a free meal is not, I want to give you a few possibly relatable example. So to begin a free meal is not saying, screw it and eating an entire bag of Oreos, though, do you call it a bag of Oreos? Because there’s a tray in there too, I’m not really sure, but you know what I mean. There’s multiple trays, eating the entire container or packaging of Oreos, that’s not a free meal, that’s called binging on a thing of Oreos. A free meal is not a six plate buffet, a golden corral, or your local Chinese buffet. Again, that is a binge episode. A free meal is not eating until you feel the need to puke, or having a Fogo de Chao incident like younger Paul did.
And where many people miss the mark with their free meal, and we’re going to unpack this in a bit more detail later, but a free meal is not making a healthier version of a usually high calorie meal, such as eating Halo Top instead of regular ice cream. No, that’s not a free meal. That’s called being extra mindful and flexible with your macros, or your portions. If you want ice cream, have the fucking real ice cream, go to Coldstone, have a date with Ben and Jerry, and then get back on track the next day. And a few other examples of free meals may include going out to your favorite restaurant, getting a colossal burger, fries and maybe a side of dessert and not thinking twice about it. It may mean having pizza, having three or four slices of pizza alongside that salad, maybe a beer, cocktail, glass of wine or three, and then getting right back on track.
And there’s only one single guideline that I like to share and remind people of when it comes to enjoying that free meal. And that is simply to hit your normal protein goal at that particular meal, because protein does wonderful things. And we want to have a somewhat regular intake of protein every three to six hours. So still get your protein in, because protein makes your muscles happy and it helps do so many wonderful things in your body.
I was just going to say, too, so I’m coming off of, what am I now? Going into four weeks post diet. So my free meals look a little bit different than they did when I was in maintenance. And then when I was dieting, I took away free meals and I focused more on just aiming for consistency across the board. But now that I’m in that post diet maintenance phase, free meals for me have been a little bit less frequent. So, when I’m in maintenance I like to do, every single week I give myself one free meal. And the beauty of free meals is that you get to decide what’s going to work best for you, how many you want to have. And I’ve found through a lot of trial and error, how much is just that perfect amount for me, and that’s once a week. I notice that when I go, if I start to have two or more, it’s too much. One, it could derail me, or two, it just starts to send my taste buds dancing, and I’m starting to crave stuff all throughout the week.
So it almost works against me, but I have really found, and I think you’re in a similar boat with the once a week thing. But to give you guys an example, after my diet, my first free meal I used it on our date night that Friday night, so I waited. And we went out to a restaurant, we got an appetizer, ate some of that. I got a burger and fries, that was what I was really craving. I ate most of it, I ate a good amount of the fries. I ate half the burger, but I stopped because, again, as I said a little bit earlier, I still am always trying to honor my body to make sure that I’m eating and indulging and enjoying myself, but I also still always feel good. I always want to feel good. That’s why I eat the way I do and do all the things I do anyways.
So we never want to lose sight of that, just because you have this free meal and you are indulging in all the yummy things. That doesn’t mean that we should just completely go overboard, because that’s not intentionally indulging anymore, we’re moving past the point of that into the danger zone of it is becoming more of that cheat meal style. So anyways, I ate half my burger, I ate a lot of fries. I felt really good knowing that I was also still going to have dessert. So I wanted to leave some room for that. We had a cookie and then that was that, that was the end of my night. But leading up to that meal, my day looked exactly the same as every other day. And I think that’s really important to note, because this is not a day of just saying, eat whatever. It’s my free day. It’s one single meal. And when you do that and treat it as one meal, you’ll learn that it doesn’t derail you and it doesn’t make a negative impact, if anything, it does make that positive impact as you said.
Yeah. Great point. And I think the burning question I have was, or is, was that cookie as good as the sleazy brownie we had at Bake’n Babes?
Ooh, I will say though, I am a cookie lover. So I still think my cookie was better because I love the brownie, but I love cookies.
Okay. That’s fair. Well, shout out to Bake’n Babes in between the area. They have this dessert item called a sleazy brownie. I think it’s a brownie and Oreo and a Blondie all mixed up in one, and it’s hot, perfect temperature. Oh, it’s so good. So, so good. But you raise a great point too, that I’d like to further discuss is, when are we playing planning free meals? What’s the frequency. And how does that change based on what phase of nutrition, periodization, or long term planning we’re in? And what I like to do is just keep this really, really simple, whether you’re in a pre-diet, or a post diet maintenance phase, not actively targeting weight loss, you need to find your own sweet spot. And just like Micheala alluded to, it takes a little trial and error.
And what I can tell you, we teach, in the 5% community and all of our teachings everywhere across the board is when you are specifically coming out of a diet and navigating at least the first six to eight weeks of that post diet maintenance phase, we recommend taking in every other week, or a twice per month approach to that free meal, just gradually introducing it again. And ultimately 12 weeks removed from a diet or beyond, you may find that once a week becomes your sweet spot, that still promotes strong adherence and consistency. The other 6.8 days of the week, and that’s what really matters most. But you might find just like Micheala alluded to as well, having that weekly free meal might do more harm than good. Maybe it leaves to cravings or that one meal turns into a day, a day and a half. So you need to scale it back to every other week.
And again, it’s just trial and error, finding what works best for you. But when you are dieting, actively seeking weight loss, we recommend that you keep your free meals to a minimum and really reserve them only for these specialist of occasions there, otherwise, and instead of adapting that free meal, intentional indulgence approach, we recommend that you more mindfully navigate, more flexibly navigate your nutrition and portion, so that you can have some extra wiggle room to enjoy something nice, if you’re out on date night, or attending a holiday function in the midst of a diet, so that you can still enjoy yourself, but because you’ve been proactive and been flexible with your portions, by the end of the day, you’ve both enjoyed yourself and still come very, very close to hitting your daily portion goals to support your weight loss goals.
And then I think the last thing before we transition to talking a little bit more about what mindful and flexible nutrition navigation looks like, is there are a few best practices or guidelines for after you enjoy a free meal that will help put your mind at ease and help continue to improve your level of comfort and confidence actually enjoying yourself to the fullest when intentionally indulging. And the first one is this, do not step on the scale for at least three days, because if you eat more food than usual, you will likely see a higher number on the scale, depending where you’re at in your own relationship with the scale in that journey, that may cause a freak out. So give yourself a few days to return back to consistency and let your weight normalize as well.
Wait, I have to say something really quick with that, Paul, because I want to talk about this on my story today, and that’s the only reason why I did it, but yesterday was Easter, and I had my fair share of goodies. And this morning I decided to step on the scale, mind you yesterday, I was up a little bit. I was a little bit off track for a couple of days, just eating different types of food I should say that I don’t usually eat. So I saw an influx on the scale. Today I weighed in, I’m typically around 143, I weighed in at 147.4. So quite a big jump, but it was so funny to me because it was like in the past, I would have freaked out and it’s like, that’s normal. You ate more food, but I’m just sharing this with you guys now, because as women, when we see an influx, it’s like, oh my gosh, weight gain. But weight gain is not fat gain.
So as Paul said, just don’t step on the scale. But if you choose to, know that you might see a jump of four or five pounds and it’s normal.
Yeah, 100%. You’ve got all that extra sodium, literal food in your gut, water in your belly, water in your muscle, sodium in your muscles. It just, it’s a normal fluctuation, if anything, put that fuel to great use in your next workout, which leads me to point number two, is just get right back on track at your very next opportunity with your meal. So whether you’re enjoying your free meal, as your second of four meals during the day, get right it back on track with meal three, or if it’s your last meal of the day, get right back on track meal one the next day.
The third best practice, and this is more of a stern recommendation and guideline, if there ever were one is, do not compensate the next day by either adding more cardio, completing a second workout, or restricting portions, carbs or calories to compensate for having enjoyed yourself the night before. Absolutely not. Let’s not even go there. It’s a slippery slope and does not align, or promote the positive relationship with food that intentionally indulging in a free meal really creates. So we will not go there whatsoever. And the last thing I’ll say is just keep in mind, a free meal, one meal does not define you. It does not make or break your progress whatsoever. You’re not going to look back in 50 years and say, shit, if I didn’t have those burgers and fries and that cookie that’s almost as good as Bake’n Babe, sleazy brownie, then maybe I would be down a pound more. That’s not how you’re going to think.
So, never get too wrapped up in a single meal, be intentional, be present, mindful, enjoy it and get right back on track. But when you are dieting, or maybe a social occasion holiday, or a special moment pops up in between, or more frequently than your regular free meal cadence, instead of having to add more free meals to your cadence, the other alternative approach you can take is mindfully and flexibly navigating your nutrition or portion goals during that day. So Micheala, tell us a little bit more about what that looks like and how we can employ that strategy.
Think of it like this. Usually the holiday season is when people really tend to get off track because there’s a ton of get togethers, celebrations, all these things, every week, if you’re really a social butterfly, you could have all these things going on. So, how the heck do we navigate it? And the reality is, as you just hinted to here, you can still eat fun foods and hit your daily totals at the end of the day, both are possible. And I didn’t know that for years. So if I were to have anything that I considered to be, that wasn’t, let’s say a premium fuel source, then I went ahead and told myself that I was doing something bad and that it needs to be considered as a cheat meal. So when we’re talking about mindfully eating, I like to think of it as working backwards.
Usually we know what social event we have going on that day. So, let’s say you’re going to a cookout and you know that you’re going to have burgers, and there’s just going to be a lot of finger type foods there. Then you can plan around that to make sure that your other meals support that meal so that you can go ahead and enjoy a plate and enjoy it mindfully and move on. But the goal with this is that you are still hitting your targets at the end of the day. So this is not a completely skip breakfast and lunch to save room for that dinner that you’re going out for. It’s just making sure that you are still eating throughout the day, eating ample protein and vegetables, but maybe you’re saving a little bit more room for carbs and fats knowing that, that fun meal is going to have a little bit more of that.
Yeah. I love that. And that’s actually, I’m glad you mentioned that, because that’s one thing I want to just hammer in that I didn’t do a good job a few minutes ago, is on your free meal day, and you said this in the beginning, you don’t change anything at the meals leading up to your free meal. So if you eat three times per day, like I do, and your last meal of the day I’m going to have couple margaritas, the burritos, a burrito, not plural, singular, chips and guac, I’m not restricting carbs or fats earlier in the day, on the day I’m intentionally indulging a free meal. That’s just part of my normal day, but when I’m mindfully navigating, I might save, so to speak, some of my carbs and fats, move them to that meal, so that by the end of the day, I have plenty of wiggle room to enjoy myself freely at that meal. And I know that I’ll come really close to hitting my daily portion goals as best I can while still having enjoyed myself.
And this is such a valuable skill to learn how to do, because there’s always going to be parties and social occasions and this and that. And there is a way to make it fit into your plan where you can still, as we just said, hit your numbers at the end, come in where you need to with those daily totals where you don’t have to Chuck it up as a loss, or use it as one of those free meals. This is how we start to incorporate more flexibility into our meals and our nutrition approach, because we know how to make all foods fit. And this is huge.
Yeah. Remember, flexibility too, for those of you listening, is one of the three key ingredients that promotes adherence. Adherence over time is consistency, and consistency, not perfection, is what drives the significant sustainable progress that we are all after. And two, just to really reiterate, it’s a skill, just like Micheala said, learning to do this is a skill. It takes time, it takes patience, it takes effort, it takes mistakes. So you can fine tune the skill, find what works for you and ultimately, implement this intentional indulgent strategy, or the mindful navigation strategy in a way that is unique to you, simple and flexible and promotes a perfect balance for you to help you continue to move one step closer to feeling, looking and being your very best.
The last thing I want to say too, is if you’re somebody who struggles with weekend consistency, or eating one meal and spiraling into, maybe you can really relate to what we were talking about in the beginning, those cheat meals. Then I really encourage you to start incorporating free meals, because this is going to really help you there. Oftentimes we’re so restrictive during the week, or we’re so restricted being on plan that we don’t know any of other way. So we either know to be on plan, eat healthy, eat all the foods that fit perfectly, or we know off-plan, and there’s no in between. So there is a way to make an in between, and it’s going to make it a hell of a lot easier for you to stay consistent long term when you learn how to do that.
So true. I think this, if there’s any episode of ours to listen to twice or thrice, this is the one to do it. This was a fantastic episode. So ladies and gentlemen, we thank you so much for listening. We have a strong feeling, you found it valuable, and we have a strong feeling that someone you know will find this information valuable as well. So please do them a favor, do us a favor, share this episode with someone who really needs to work on changing their mindset and their relationship with cheat meals and food in general, do them a favor so that they can free themselves of the guilt, regret, frustration, anxiety, judgment, whatever it may be, that is holding them back from truly experiencing food and the wonderful things it has to offer.
And if you haven’t done so already, take 60 seconds, it would mean the world to Micheala and I, to leave an honest and genuine rating and review on Apple Podcast, or wherever you listen to the show. And thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for listening. Have a wonderful rest of your day. And we will see you and talk to you in the next episode.
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