Friday, July 13, 2012

Its Not Just Limiting Calorie Intake, But Maintaining the Expenditure: the Significance of the "Cheat Meal"

Nutrition is often an all-or-none proposition for people.  Generally, people eat what-ever they want; or when they feel they need to lose body fat, they go on an extremely-restricted diet.  When a client comes to me to lose body fat, I introduce them to the Food Rules.  Then, I expand on why they are doing each of the five steps.  I also let them know about the 10th meal being a "cheat meal," assuring them that they don't have to give up "unhealthy foods" altogether.  This is helpful for people to know that they are not removing these "unhealthy foods" indefinitely.  Interestingly, I recently realized that people who are able to be fairly successful with their nutrition for a couple months often will simply remove the "cheat meal" from their diets.  They probably feel they have some dietary control momentum.  And they may speculate, if they are accurately following The Food Rules 90% of the time, then they will be even more successful at 100% of the time.   They are wrong.  The 10% is significant. 

Eating higher-calorie, "unhealthy food" every tenth meal will help you maintain a positive relationship with food, and keep your healthy choices from becoming an obsession.  More importantly, eating a "cheat meal" every tenth meal will help maintain your resting energy expenditure (REE).  Your REE is the amount of energy you expend at rest to maintain physiological processes.  Your body adapts to a lower-calorie diet by lowering your REE in an effort to balance the energy budget (in addition to diminishing spontaneous physical activity, and breaking down lean tissue).  In this recent study in published in JAMA, participants who lost 10-15% of their initial body weight had a decrease in REE by 77-265 Calories per day (with total energy expenditure down 86-606 Calories per day).  Periodically (every tenth meal for example) increasing energy intake can help attenuate the associated decrease in REE. 

It is easier to continue to lose fat if your body does not increase its efficiency, and diminish its expenditure. Your goal should be to improve your body composition, not just lose weight (the majority of your weight is not fat anyway, but lean muscle mass).  So, eat your "cheat meal" approximately every tenth time you eat to keep the energy expenditure side of the equation high.  Oh, yeah, strength training and other higher-intensity exercise (ala sled pushing, kettlebell swinging, slideboarding, and sprinting) also raise your resting and total energy expenditure.....but, you are doing that already!

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