Finding Balance: The Role Of Cheat Meals In Weight Loss

Finding Balance: The Role Of Cheat Meals In Weight Loss – Cheat eating can lead to negative psychological effects and hinder progress toward weight loss goals. In this article, we discuss two science-based alternatives that scratch the same itch without the negative consequences.

If you’re reading this article, you have access to the Internet and you’re at least somewhat interested in nutrition. Based on those two criteria alone, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of “cheat meals” or “cheat days” in the context of dieting. My belief in this claim is fueled by a 2017 study by Pila and colleagues who wanted to uncover cheat meal content on social media – their process started with a quick Instagram search of The content was tagged “#cheatmeal,” which quickly delivered 1.6 million visits. As of today, that hashtag is linked to over 4.2 million posts, so the phrase is very popular and has some power. But what does it really mean?

Finding Balance: The Role Of Cheat Meals In Weight Loss

Like any colloquial, informal term, many competing definitions exist. The general characteristics of a “cheat meal” are quite simple: it is a high-calorie departure from one’s usual diet that provides a pleasurable, hedonistic feeling. . But beyond these basic characteristics, Instagram photos tagged “#cheatmeal” give us a more detailed look at what the term means to the people who actually use it.

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As reported by Pila and colleagues, photos tagged “#cheatmeal” mainly show food (82%), the rest show people (15.5%) or text (3.8 %). 54% of the images displayed amounts of food consistent with “hangovers,” and estimates of the calorie content of the food photos ranged from 214kcal to 9120kcal. 71.3% described high-calorie, comforting foods, such as “burgers, fries, pizza, and ice cream.”

Images of people mostly involved “intentionally exposing the body” (40%), a person actively eating (30.5%), or a person exercising (15.8%). The images often feature people “with toned muscles and wearing revealing clothing,” the researchers noted. For posts containing text, the most popular topics related to 1) “normalizing large amounts of food and advocating overeating” (43.5%), 2) “advocating strong commitment to exercise and fitness” (34.8%) or 3) “honoring restraint and willpower to commit to a rigid diet and exercise regimen” (21, 7%).

In summary, cheat meals appear to be acute feeding opportunities characterized by the ingestion of large amounts of energy-dense and pleasurable foods, often undertaken by exercise-oriented individuals. gymnasts are using them as a temporary change from their diet. What’s so bad about that?

If we dig deeper into Pila and colleagues’ research, we see some of the detrimental characteristics of cheat meals. For example, when analyzing comments accompanying “#cheatmeal” posts, researchers found many instances of idealization of food or episodes of binge eating, with text reflecting excessive focus on food. focus on eating too much food for pleasure purposes. For example, the posters used words and phrases like “feast,” “paradise,” and “haunted may be an understatement” when describing the food. Furthermore, the researchers note: “The similarity between cheat meals and binge eating episodes is illustrated by textual content demonstrating a pattern of loss of control during cheat meal consumption . This is consistent with experimental studies showing that objective binge episodes are characterized not only by food intake but also primarily by perceptions of loss of control.” The loss of control described can be described as “dietary disinhibition”, which is “a behavioral sign of loss of control over eating, in which an individual consumes large amounts of food. larger products, regardless of their level of restriction.” Dietary disinhibition is a common feature observed in people with binge eating disorder (and other eating disorders), and dietary disinhibition drinking may be a predictor of overconsumption of food and episodes of binge eating.

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There are also many instances where the text reinforces “over-commitment to fitness” or reinforces excessive dieting. As the researchers put it, cheat meals are often “encouraged, as long as they are ‘earned’ and compensated.”

The apparent similarities between “cheat meals” and binge eating, both in terms of calorie intake and perception of loss of control, are quite troubling. Additionally, we see that the cheat meal concept is presented in conjunction with a message about “earning food” on the front (or “making up for it” on the back), along with a hard commitment Reminders about excessive exercise and dietary restrictions. At best, this creates a transactional, potentially dysfunctional view of food — we earn “credits” through adherence to rigid diets or exercise regimens, which are redeemed. take periods of momentary pleasure over-consumption. At worst, this promotes a cycle of repetitive and restrictive binge eating. Over-restriction is used to justify binge eating, but also contributes to the urge to binge and lose control during the binge episode. As a result, overconsumption of calories occurs during cheat meals, which requires (in the eyes of the dieter) to be compensated for through exercise methods or even stiff dietary restrictions. more solid or aggressive. This fuels an even greater desire for another binge, while promoting over-consumption and loss of control, with the cycle repeating in the future.

At the very least, the similarities between cheat meals and binge eating are cause for caution. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which this strategy motivates or at least facilitates a person’s adherence to a cyclical sequence of binge eating and restriction, while reinforcing the dysfunctional perspective food skills. Worse yet, researchers found that the text accompanying posts often normalizes and minimizes the physical and psychological health risks posed by potentially harmful eating behaviors. So, when caution is needed, individuals exposed to “#cheatmeal” content will receive misplaced reassurance.

That’s not the only problem identified in this study. In many cases, posts included text that discussed cheat meals as “rewards” for maintaining their fitness program and framed cheat meals as targeted exercise behavior. pepper. Starting with the concept of using cheat meals as a reward for sticking to a diet or exercise regimen, I believe this is a great example of “having enough knowledge to become danger”. In this context, I am not referring to literal danger but rather to the counterproductive misapplication of a well-established behavior change strategy.

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Operant conditioning is an approach to learning (or behavior modification) that uses reinforcement, positive (rewards) or negative (punishment), to reinforce or encourage specific behaviors . In Chapter 5 of his excellent textbook on behavior change, Dr. Edward Sarafino presents 12 tips for using reinforcement effectively in this way. Some notable excerpts include:

More specifically, there is a clear basis for using rewards and other forms of operant conditioning to successfully influence behavior change. However, the concept of a cheat meal of a few thousand calories as a reward for successful weight loss, changes in body composition or adherence to a diet, in terms of performance conditioning, is a terrible objectivity. It is literally the “extremely bad example” presented in this particular textbook, among countless possibilities for bad examples in the broad field of behavior change (the This does not focus on remote nutrition). Reinforcers (cheat meals) directly oppose the goals of a fitness program, allowing the dieter to become completely full (which can reduce the perceived value of the reward) and disrupting the the ongoing behavior it is intended to reinforce.

So it’s important to remember that weight loss interventions tend to have fairly high success rates, but maintaining a reduced body weight over the long term is associated with lower success rates. much. In other words, people can lose weight normally but keeping it off is a big challenge. Research clearly shows that ongoing behavioral changes are key to facilitating long-term weight loss and weight maintenance, and treating cheat meals as rewards defeats the concept of performance. sustained and ongoing changes to behavior. Rather, it provides periodic reminders of an alternative behavior (uninhibited vs. restrained eating), which happens to be much more enjoyable (in the short term) and rewarding hedonistic pleasant feeling. It also reinforces the idea that dietary adherence is by nature transient and unsustainable; dieters try to get through an unsustainable period of temporary restriction, eagerly looking forward to the next weight loss (cheat meal). In short, the idea of ​​using cheat meals as “rewards” is a blatant misapplication of working conditions, directly opposing the intended purpose while reinforcing threatening views possibility of long-term success.

If you are interested in using rewards as part of your behavior change strategy, consider choosing rewards that are unrelated to the behavior and outcomes that are related to your goals or that are directly compatible with them. For example, when you reach a specific milestone, you can reward yourself with a leisurely activity like a night at the movies, a purchase related to one of your interests (such as a book or new game) or an extra day of self-care – these are certainly fun rewards, but they are no more related to your goal-directed behavior or outcomes than directly breaking or against them. Additionally, you can reward yourself by buying some new clothes to accentuate the changes in your figure or enjoy a recreational physical activity made easier by progress. your fitness – instead of interrupting or hindering your progress, these rewards will emphasize your progress and increase your motivation. Continue striving to achieve your goals.

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Now, moving on to the concept of cheat meals as targeted exercise behaviors. First, this can be offensive

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