In todays article I’m going to explore the pros and cons of having a treat meal, or not, and what you might want to take into consideration when deciding what is best for you. In a similar answer to my articles on ‘To Track, or not to Track’ and ‘To Cardio, or not to Cardio’ the answer isn’t clear cut and very much depends on individual preferences and personalities.
Many diet plans advocate the concept of a weekly ‘treat’ or ‘cheat’ meal, encouraging people to eat healthily for the majority of the week and allowing themselves one or two meals ‘off’ a week.
Other diet plans or styles of eating advocate moderation – eating well most of the time and occasionally having a little of what you fancy, but in small portions.
The logic of having some form of treat comes down (again) to hormones. A hormone in your body called leptin is released to signal to your body that you’re full and also helps your body know how much fat to release or store. In layman’s terms if you’re constantly on a ‘diet’ your body gets used to what you are eating and your leptin reduces this leads to your metabolic rate compensating and may stall your progress. One way to overcome this is to eat a treat meal to ‘reset’ leptin.
The Pros of a Treat Meal
- No food is completely off limit so it can help feel less deprived
- If the treat is planned in advance the lure of a great meal can be an incentive to keep on track with food plans during the week
- It prevents a bite here and there (of treat food) becoming such a frequent event that it stalls any progress
- It allows you to attend social events and not consider what food you should/shouldn’t be eating.
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The Cons of a Treat Meal
- It can encourage a restrict, then binge approach to food and be a bit too obsessive for some
- It can make people feel sick/tired after, some even complain of having a ‘sugar hangover’ the next day
- After kicking initial habits or addictions cravings for a treat meal often reduce and people can end up having a treat meal for the sake of it rather than really wanting it
- A treat meal can end up being a treat day/week/month if you’re not careful so make sure you keep it to a two hour limit and have your next clean meal planned
[Tweet “Limit a treat meal to two hours to prevent it becoming a treat day/week/month”]
If any of these sound like you it might be better to consider a moderation approach whereby you have a small amount of food you love every so often. This can work best if you pick one to three things you love and have them a handful of times a week. For example these might be a glass of red wine, a few squares of dark chocolate or a couple of bites of dessert. This could be just enough to make you not feel deprived and like you’re on a diet all of the time.
You have to chose what works best for you and your lifestyle. Some people may prefer the all or nothing nature of having one treat meal a week. Others may find that having such a large intake of sugar/calories makes them feel rubbish afterwards and even the next day. Gretchen Rubin talks about people either being Abstainers or Moderators and she questions whether people can be split into the two broad categories. For example some people may prefer to save a chocolate bar and have one square every day. Others may prefer to not have chocolate in the house at all and occasionally buy and eat a whole bar. Which sounds more like you?
Both methods can work and give results. You need to work out which is best for you. In my experience when starting out on a weight loss journey it can be necessary to be fairly strict to start with in order to break old habits and addictions. During this time a treat meal can work quite well. Overtime however such an ‘on’ or ‘off’ mindset can be a little too obsessive for some people and once initial habits are broken they often find it far easier to just have a square of chocolate or a few bits of dessert without having to eat the whole thing. This is far easier once cravings are under control (link).
It’s been proved than willpower is like a battery and the more we have to use willpower to stay on track the more that our resistance is lowered. So, the key is to do something that is sustainable, whether it’s one approach, or the other or somewhere in between the important thing is that you’re not trying to live on willpower alone.
Overall, consistency is king in order to see results. So use trial and error to work out which approach works best for you and stick to it in order to see results.
Q: To Treat, or not to Treat?
A: Well, that depends on you really!