Why That ‘Treat’ Meal Is More Important Than You Think

Mindset // Stephanie King

Eating a healthy diet consistently each day – without a second thought – is all but a dream for most people.

Some days you can be totally satisfied eating a bowl of chicken and vegetables or oats with fresh fruit. However, there are days when all your body craves is a juicy burger, a bowl of wholesome pasta, or a slice of cheesy pizza.

Well… here’s the good news – these so-called ‘treat meals’ are actually essential for a healthy and maintainable diet.

How does it work?

Physiologically

Treat meals work when planned for. After several days of being in a calorie deficit (eating fewer calories than you burn), splurging a little can:

  • Rev-up your metabolism and shock your system to get you past those dreaded weight-loss plateaus
  • Restore glycogen in the body to increase energy levels, ready to smash through your next workout
  • Help maintain healthy levels of important hormones like leptin, responsible for regulating appetite and energy balance. By constantly putting your body in a calorie deficit, energy levels eventually plummet due to low leptin. Including a treat meal occasionally will help to pick energy levels back up and give you the boost you need to maintain your usual healthy eating patterns

Also read: 3 Steps For Getting Back on Track

Psychologically

  • Allowing yourself a cheat meal every so often will help to satisfy your cravings and give you a psychological break from your prescribed diet or meal plan. It’s important to see healthy living as a long-term habit, so including a weekly indulgence is crucial for any lifestyle plan to be realistic and maintainable.
  • Refuelling meals will also help keep you motivated and on track to achieving your long-term weight loss goals. Knowing you have a treat meal coming up will make it easier to stick to your plan in the days between.

So just how exactly should you incorporate a regular treat meal without totally blowing your healthy gains?

  • Planning Is Key: Choose when and what you’re going to eat. Stick to just one treat meal per week and focus on not going overboard. Put it in your diary so you know when it’s coming and start thinking in advance about what you’d like to enjoy- perhaps a bowl of your favourite pasta or indulge in a chocolate pudding for dessert? But just pick one – it’s not an excuse to opt for both!
  • Earn Your Cheat: In order to minimise fat gains from your treat meal, it’s a good idea to deplete your glycogen stores beforehand. The body won’t store carbohydrates as body fat until it’s glycogen reserves are full, so the emptier the tank, the more room for that special something. Hit the gym the morning of your planned treat and smash through a hard and sweaty HIIT circuit – full of high-rep, full body movements.
  • Cheat Smartly: Some treat meals are better than others. Even though you’re letting go of the strict healthy eating reins, try to pick a meal that still has nutritional value. Despite having a higher calorie count, ensure you’re still choosing a dish rich in carbohydrates and proteins. Opt for foods like sushi, steak and potato, pancakes or spaghetti and meatballs.
  • Get Back On Track: Savour every mouthful of your delicious treat, acknowledge that it’s an occasional event and get right back on the healthy eating bandwagon. It’s a good idea to have your next few meals prepped in advance to make it easy to resume your usual routine ASAP.  Pair this with a smashing exercise session the next day and you’ll be back into it without a second thought!
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