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Let's talk Cheat Meals

"I ate my toddlers diet for a day" is all well and good, slightly entertaining even, until you realise it's brain-washing you and detrimental to your own attitude to food...

Cheat meals are now a BIG thing. It's an industry in itself, and one which I hold my own personal ambitions in for the future! But owing to hundreds of celebrities and influencers filming themselves gorging on food, it's almost normalised the concept to the fitness world. Binge-eating amongst the general gym population is replacing binge-drinking. There is some truly incredible content on YouTube, channels which will turn your training around, videos which should charge $$$ for the information they provide, which receive only a few thousand views, yet degenerate nonsense like "50,000 Calorie Challenge" will receive several million within hours of posting.

Yeh, sure, "welcome to 2020" I hear you say. But it's funny how quick we are to accept that; how acutely aware we all are of the descending level of average intelligence, yet we just don't do anything about, or help ourselves in any way, and even those of us who the most anti-TikTok out there will still find ourselves engrossed by some stupid 10 second slip of postmen performing a choreographed dance routine, such is the enormous reach and sheer volume of this kind of content that exists.

I accept, and submit: it's entertainment. And I guess some need the humour, or more specifically, the escape the humour provides, more than others.

It's harmless, unless you realise that being obsessed with YouTube Calorie challenges is detrimental to your own understanding of your body's relationship with food. Now if you're an experienced athlete, have competed in bodybuilding, or have even just achieved an incredible physique by yourself, then you may exit here. You're likely immune from the effects I'm discussing because you're evidently aware of the intricate way food and nutrition affect your body. Stick around, though, it's likely you'll still learn something...

If you're the other 99% reading this article, and you're struggling to understand why you're not losing weight or adding muscle, then it's time to evolve your focus, and use your time more wisely. Your idea of a cheat meal needs to change. Your idea of 'earning food' needs to change. That is of course, if you're actually hell-bent on changing and improving your physique.

I despise coaches who take the easy road, trying to be their client's best friend, and allow, or even promote, eating daily Snickers bars or cans of soda, or any other crap. It's weak. And it's all usually born out of a low self-esteem on their part, and the simple fact they just want to be liked. It's pathetic. And they have no business leading or coaching anyone. I don't give a shit whether my clients 'like' my advice or meal plans. I'm humorous (attempted), friendly and respectful in my approach, of course, but do I care whether you're 'battling' without a daily 'treat'...? Absolutely not. Not for a second.

You are paying me for a service, and I will deliver that service to the best of my ability. I will get you results, and they'll come faster than most coaches will deliver because of this approach. If you need fluff, hugs and daily Snickers bars, it's likely you're too weak to achieve your ultimate goal, if that goal is having a great physique. You may achieve it by leaning heavily on others, but you'll never sustain it.

Why do some coaches allow clients to eat crap? Let me invite you in to a few inconvenient industry truths. If you're fat, you can eat whatever the hell you like, and provided you stay under a certain calorie limit, weight is going to plummet off you. By fat I mean 35-45% body fat or higher. Technically this would morbidly obese, or to use the correct technical term regarding your state of health - Fucked.

But 'fat' could also include those who are 20-25% body fat for men and 25-28% for women. Not necessarily those who'd you'd instantly term 'fat', but thats merely a sign of the times, and a result of there being so many more truly fat people walking around. Our perspective has now become skewed. Anyway, back to bad coaching... bad coaches know this trick, and they know they can allow you to eat anything under a certain calorie limit, and you may lose kilograms per week! This is great for transformation photos on social media, showing drastic losses in weight, but still, the client is left looking less than impressive. I even saw posters around the London underground, near my old gym, from a company called Revolution, showing some guy who'd lost maybe 20kgs, but still looked like shit. The market for these half-hearted transformations is growing, and you're paying for nothing more than a simple calorie equation you can do for free online. Avoid. I was so often tempted to find the guy somehow and offer to finish the job for free. Regardless of 'aesthetics' as most people would assume would be my goal for him, he was still obese, still visibly fat in his 'after' photo. Another shameful marketing ploy I have no time for in this industry. Finish the job.

We all need to understand that eating 'daily treats' is not normal. The Treatwise scheme launched by the owners of Cadbury's, is solely about ensuring we eat their product regularly and sustain profits for Cadbury's through this new era of 'healthy eating'... It has nothing to do with your interests as they'd have you believe. You do not 'deserve' a daily soda, donut or coffee stuffed with fucking chocolate and cream. What planet are you living on?! Possibly, the most stupid question I could have asked because this is Earth, and on Earth this shit is normal. But seriously, what gives you the idea that eating like this every day is normal? Our parents didn't; their parents didn't. And that goes back to the dawn of time. Because you see it in the media? Because your friends do? Because people on Instagram do? Don't be naive. It's not normal, and although these things can be enjoyed from time to time, they have no place in your daily routine, ever, let along if you are currently in pursuit of a better physique. If you don't care what you look like then, sure eat and drink yourself silly. The body usually visibly expands when people accumulate fat, but many people fall victim to assuming they're not gaining weight, because of a constant scale reading, when in actual fact, they're part of a relatively large percentage of the population who will simply become 'skinny-fat' over time. Suffice to say, their silhouettes remain the same, their clothing fits the same, but their bodies are squidgy and soft, with very little muscle.

The women reading this will have already sighted in their minds the 'skinny bitch' who eats cake whenever, doesn't train and is still rake thin. She may be skinny (which, incidentally, is not attractive anymore - 11/10 men agree) but she will likely be one of those who fall into the description above. And, wait for it, this is the part you'll love, she's a ticking time bomb. As the body loses muscle from age, no training etc. and essentially replaces it with fat, her body will burn less and less calories, because muscle burns calories and fat doesn't, and eventually even those with the most rampant metabolisms will see them slow right down, and if the eating habits continue, the fat gain process will literally explode. This is why you see skinny girls double or triple in size as early as mid-twenties but more often in early thirties. So keep grafting! You're going the right way. And they're going the wrong way. It applies to men equally.

It's far easier to maintain your goal, than it is to achieve it in the first place. Provided its realistic of course, and more importantly, that you've had a coach who's helped you understand nutrition and it's role over many months, because there really is a lot to learn. And then you will also need to know how the basic principles of maintenance apply to your body, because there will be variance between individuals.

All my clients are encouraged to have a 'cheat meal' once a week for no other reason than to restore willpower. Note, cheat meals are not to be confused with refeeds. They are a separate entity altogether, and the simple fact is that if you don't have visible abs, you don't need to worry about refeeds. Willpower is a finite resource. And using it throughout the week is hard. It's hard for everyone. In fact it's harder for someone at 10% body fat than it is for someone at 20% or 30%. At 10% body fat, ghrelin, the hormone responsible for stimulating hunger will be beating a whole in that individual's head, whereas someone at far higher percentages will be simply be producing less because their body will be chewing into all the excess body fat instead. When you hear fat people moaning about how 'hard' it is, they are fighting their own habits of simply eating when and what they like, they're not feelings of true hunger.

A cheat meal offers a small escape, and provided you have the discipline to get back on the wagon the next day, a weekly cheat meal should form part of every fitness journey, whether someone is shredding or bulking. And if you ask me, the level of discipline required to get back on the wagon the next day should be a legal requirement for recognising adulthood.

So what do I eat for a cheat meal? How long is a piece of string. Depends on your current condition, the progress you've made, your ultimate goal. A single piece of pizza could constitute the 'mental escape' I describe above. An XL Domino's pizza and an entire tub of Ben & Jerry's does not. Unless you have been in a severe deficit, but even then that kind of calorie increase could undo 4, 5, maybe even a full week's worth of progress.

How to enjoy a cheat meal without risking progress...

  • Multiply whatever your calorie level has been throughout the previous week by 1.3-1.5, depending on current condition/goals etc. Higher if leaner or closer to the goal; lower if not.

  • Ensure you still hit your daily protein target. You don't have to increase protein, because it won't have any additional effect on muscle growth.

  • Ensure you eat the same level of protein and carbs before and after training, as this is still hugely important if you train on the day of your cheat meal.

  • Stay within the calorie limit calculated above.

  • Increase water intake during the day, and the day after especially.

Stick to those guidelines and you can take an entire day off your plan, protect and preserve your hard work, and still achieve incredible results in the end

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