Depriving yourself of foods you enjoy is not productive to your fat loss efforts in the long run. If you want to lose fat permanently and healthfully without going crazy with cravings or battling with binges, then here’s what you must do instead: Find a sensible way to work even your most “sinful” favorite foods into your diet, but do it in an amount and frequency that doesn’t set you back or sabotage your progress.
This can be done by allowing yourself some “cheat meals” (some people call them “free meals” or “reward meals.”)
One really good way to look at the “cheat meals” concept is in terms of “compliance,” which means, what percentage of your meals are following the guidelines of the program and what percentage are off the program.
Too many meals or days off the program and your results are compromised. Too many days in a row eating nothing but “rabbit food” and you go insane with cravings, right?
How much you need to comply (stick with) your diet program varies from person to person. It depends a lot on how ambitious your goals are and on how responsive your body is to nutrition and exercise.
When making your decision, keep in mind we all have different genetics and body types, which is something I discuss in great detail in my book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle.
For example, are you a carb-tolerant mesomorph who gains muscle easily and loses fat easily or are you a carb-sensitive endomorph who gains fat easily? Depending on the answer, your diet program may need to be more or less strict than others.
Don’t compare yourself to others – you have to get to know your own body type. Some people can “Get away with” more cheat meals and still make progress (Yeah, I hate them too!)
Unless you’re a competitor in physique sports like bodybuilding, fitness or figure, or you’re getting ready for some type of transformation challenge or photo shoot, I suggest at least 90% compliance.
Whether you adjust your level of compliance above 90% (get more “strict”) or below 90% (get more lenient), depends how far away or close you are from achieving your goals, and most importantly, on what kind of results you’re getting each week.
If you’re complying 90% of the time, and you’re getting awesome results, then you don’t have to change a thing, and you may be able to loosen up your diet a little. I know some people who are definitely only “on the program” 80% or 85% of the time and they look great.
90% compliance means you are following healthy nutritious, fat-burning eating guidelines 9 meals out of 10. For example, if you’re eating small frequent meals like any effective fat loss program suggests, that’s 5 small meals a day X 7 days a week = 35 meals. 90% compliance means about 31-32 of those meals are spot-on! The other 3 or 4 are for you to enjoy special occasions, reward yourself, and live a little.
If you’re like most people, and you simply want to drop a few pounds, trim a few inches off your waistline and look better in shorts or in a swimsuit for summer, then 100% compliance is unrealistic and unnecessary. 90% compliance is more realistic as a lifestyle, while being strict enough for most people to get results.
On the other hand, if you had a very ambitious goal like preparing for a figure or fitness competition and you thought you had to reach at least 12 or 13% body fat (which is very low for women), and you knew you would be onstage with judges looking at every inch of your body in a teeny bikini (paying very close attention to whether anything on your butt and thighs was “jiggling”), then you would want to be as strict as possible during the pre contest diet period (100% compliance or very close to it).
Keep in mind that in a competitive situation, every time you “cheat” and your competitors don’t cheat, you decrease your probability of placing high in the contests.
Unless you have a competitive physique goal like this, however, then total deprivation of pleasure foods or cheat meals (100% compliance), is not necessary because you always tend to crave what you cannot have. That’s a binge waiting to happen.
I prefer this 90 or 95% compliance approach over the “entire day of cheating” approach, because I have seen people use the term “cheat day” pretty loosely (basically making it the equivalent of BINGE DAY), and they do a lot of damage in terms of setting their progress back.
They end up frantically playing “catch up” for the better half of the following week with punishing extra exercise and dietary deprivation. Slow and steady is better than binge and punish don’t you agree?
Allow yourself some leeway. Enjoy food. Enjoy life. Have your pizza, or chocolate or whatever makes your stomach happy. It will help, not hurt in the long run. Just be sure to be mindful of your calorie limits, and when you say you are going to comply 90% of the time, then keep your promise to yourself and comply!