Cheating incorrectly is one of the major reasons so many people can’t lose weight “no matter what they do” with their diets. They simply don’t realize that you can basically starve yourself all week and, in one weekend, put yourself right back at square zero.
Cheat correctly, though, and you can have the best of both worlds: the satisfaction of overeating without the penalty of major fat gain. Cheat once per week and try not to exceed 150% of your current caloric intake for the day. This allows you to loosen up and enjoy yourself without losing most or all of the week’s weight loss progress (And notice I said current caloric intake and not TDEE.).
However you get your calories in terms of meal frequency is up to you, but most people like to confine their cheating to just one meal because it helps prevent passive overeating throughout the day. In other words, they eat normally throughout for the day and have one larger-than-normal meal (dinner, usually).
Try to keep your dietary fat intake under 100 grams on the day that you cheat. This not only helps keep your calories under control (remember that a gram of fat contains about 9 calories), it also helps minimize fat storage (a pound contains 453 grams).
Instead of doubling down on your favorite fatty foods, go high-carb instead. Research clearly shows that a high-carb meal causes less immediate fat gain than a high-fat meal, and you now know why. Hence my recommendation of going high-carb and not high-fat when you cheat, which results in less immediate fat gain and has other benefits as well.
One of the downsides of keeping your body in a caloric deficit is it reduces the plasma (blood) levels of a hormone called leptin, which is produced by body fat.
In simple terms, leptin tells your brain that you have enough energy stored in your fat cells and that your body can expend energy at normal rates, including metabolically “expensive” functions like muscle growth or pregnancy, eat normal amounts of food, and engage in normal levels of physical activity.
If you restrict your calories to lose fat, leptin production decreases, which tells your body that it’s in an energy deficient state and that it needs to expend less energy and consume more. Instead, I prefer the “refeed” strategy, which entails eating a large amount of carbs once per week (when you cheat).
The reason this works well is, as you know, carbs don’t heavily impact fat stores, and they also spike leptin levels (more so than protein or fat).
“Save up” calories if you want to eat a lot.
If you’re like me and like to eat a couple thousand calories in a cheat meal, I have a simple tip for you:
“Save up” calories for it by eating more or less nothing but protein leading up to (or after) it.