If you’re one of the millions of people trying successfully to lose fat, your problem could boil down to two little words: cheat day. A “cheat day”, or “cheat meal” as it’s sometimes called, is where people on a training program allow themselves a period where they can eat whatever they want. Being healthy all week takes some discipline and people rightly want to reward themselves – I often hear clients say it gives them something to look forward to, a reason to struggle through some gruelling sessions.
But if you’re piling on calories quicker than you’re burning them off, the only person you are cheating is yourself. Instead you need to talk yourself why a meal is a cheat – and what can you do to integrate the enjoyment you get from certain foods into a successful fitness regime.
My advice on overcoming this is simple and intuitive, and yet because we’ve all been fed myths about our diet our whole lives, it somehow sounds radical. We need to forget the common excuses people trot out for retaining weight. I hear all the time people saying things like “I have a slow metabolism” (on the contrary, scientist have found that thinner people often have a lower resting metabolism), or “it’s harder to lose weight the older I get”, or, my personal favourite, “ I travel all the time, so eating at the wrong times of the day really affects me”.
These are all wrong. The only problem (in otherwise healthy individuals) is that you’re eating more calories that you’re burning. So the only thing that needs to happen to lose weight is to create a big enough calorie deficit – it doesn’t matter if you’re eating those calories at 3am on a Tuesday morning or drinking them on a Friday night.
Understanding this can be incredibly freeing – you are in control of your calorie intake, therefore you are in control of your weight loss (or gain). The ball is in your court – now you just need to understand what you’re eating.
A widely espoused rule is that a pound of fat is equivalent of 3,500 calories. So, in theory, to lose a pound of fat each week, you would need to create a deficit of 3,500 calories a week. That’s 500 calories a day. Now, these figures have been questioned, but the principle behind them remains the same: to achieve a deficit, you need to either eat fewer calories, burn more calories, or both. We get all our clients to download MyfitnessPal, an app that allows you to calculate how much you’re consuming each day. I wouldn’t ask people to do it every day of their lives, but try it out for a week to give you a good idea of what you’re consuming. When you go out drinking or eat lots of chocolate, have a look at how many calories that involves: if you want to lose weight, you will now need to try and create a deficit somewhere else.
So if you don’t think you can give up chocolate or alcohol, you can still lose weight, but only if you reduce the calories somewhere else.
If you keep your regime the same and have a cheat day, then you’re going to blow your calorie target. There’s no point cutting our alcohol, sweets and bread for six days a week if you pile all back on over Sunday lunch.
So-called ”healthy” snacks are also a big problem. I’ve had plenty of clients who don’t ever eat junk food but still can’t lose weight. The problem still lies with over-consuming calories.
Things like olive oil, nuts, avocado, Greek yogurt and hummus are all great for you in small doses, but they are also very calorific. If you binge on these foods, you won’t lose weight any more than if you binge on McDonald’s hamburgers.