Bullshit I’ve Overheard this Week – Volume 1: Cheat Meals
I’ve done all kinds of rubbish that was a waste of time and a waste of my energy thinking about it.
Some of the bullshit I got sucked in by was:
- The paleo diet
- Fat burners
- Fasted cardio
- Starvation mode
- “Cheat” meals/days
I remember what it was like for myself when I was just starting out. So many different opinions, many of them contradicting. Weight loss and muscle gain seemed so complex!
It’s actually much simpler than everyone would have you believe. What isn’t simple is the consistency and dedication you need to have to it.
I hear so much bullshit in the gym that I’m going to make this a regular feature, so you don’t have to waste your time thinking about and doing the wrong things.
Bullshit I’ve Overheard this Week
I was in a very well-known nationwide chain of cheap gyms (this place is probably where I see the strangest things and overhear the most bullshit) doing some calf raises at the end of my lower body workout.
A conversation between two guys behind me on the cable crossover starts to grab my attention:
“…got to have those cheat meals, man. Once a week or so, your body needs that boost to its metabolism.”
“But I’ve been losing weight, won’t that slow down my progress?”
“No way. It speeds it up. If you are just dieting constantly, your body goes into starvation mode and it will start storing fat more easily. It’s because your metabolism slows down.”
“Well, I eat a big plate of pasta like once a week.”
“That’s not really a cheat. I have this friend who is absolutely massive, he can deadlift like 250 kilos, and he’s ripped too. On a Sunday he has like 10 pieces of fried chicken, and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s.”
“Hmm, maybe I need to cheat a bit better…”
Why this is Bullshit
Where to begin…
Weight loss or weight gain is governed by one thing, and one thing alone.
The amount of calories you eat/drink, minus the amount of calories you burn.
If that is consistently a negative number, or in other words you burn more calories than you ingest through food, then you are in what’s called a calorie deficit and you will lose weight.
This is REGARDLESS OF WHAT THOSE FOODS ARE.
Look up a study by a guy called Mark Haub. He ate consistently less calories than he was burning, and he ate it all from junk food. He lost a lot of weight.
Now, for general health, you want the majority of your diet to be coming from good whole foods, but there’s absolutely no reason to shun a slice of pizza, a bit of ice cream or some fried chicken. It’s not inherently bad. It’s not going to instantly turn into fat on your body.
It is impossible for it to do so if you’re in a calorie deficit.
For a long term, healthy diet, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting a decent amount of each of the main macro nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) as well as micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) that are essential for health. You won’t get that if you eat a junk food diet (but you’ll lose weight if your total calories are below your maintenance.)
About Maintenance Calories
All of us have something which is our maintenance level of calories. This is the number of calories we burn every day. It’s influenced by things like our weight, level of activity and something called NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis – basically the calories you burn through general movement throughout the day. This will vary from person to person).
Your maintenance calories can change. As your weight changes, you’ll require either more or less calories to gain or lose weight. As your level of activity changes, you’ll burn more or less calories.
This is why as people diet on fewer calories and successfully lower their weight, their weight loss may start to stall. This is because their new, lower weight now requires less calories to sustain it. Their maintenance calories are lower, and now they are eating at maintenance.
Starvation Mode is a Complete Myth
Think you’re going to stop losing weight because you ate in a calorie deficit for a week?
That, my friend, is bullshit.
Look at the unfortunate people in less developed parts of the world where they don’t have our easy access to calories. They are forced to eat in a deficit, and they are literally wasting away.
Look at the poor people with eating disorders such as anorexia. They have a mental illness which results in them eating far below the number of calories their bodies need to sustain their weight.
If starvation mode was real, you’d see these people stop losing weight, but unfortunately they keep doing so until they can barely hold themselves up.
What Cheat Meals Actually Do
All that cheat meals do, is slow down your weight loss progress.
I’m not saying you need to adhere strictly to a boring diet of salads and chicken breast. I do not do that. I would hate that.
But “cheaters” don’t understand how weight loss works. They are harming their progress, not helping it.
They may still lose weight, as over the course of a week they are still in a calorie deficit, even with the cheat meal.
But they ARE slowing down their progress and it’s very easy to mess up the entire week with one crazy meal (that “cheaters” excuse by using the stupid excuse that it’s helping them).
Take the following scenario:
29 year old male, 80 kilos, fairly active. Maintenance calories 2,800 kcal per day.
- Monday: 2,300 kcal
- Tuesday: 2,300 kcal
- Wednesday: 2,300 kcal
- Thursday: 2,300 kcal
- Friday: 2,300 kcal
- Saturday: 5,300 kcal
- Sunday: 2,500 kcal
For 6 out of 7 days, he is in a 500 calorie deficit. If he did this every day, over a longer period of time he would see weight loss of about half a kilogram per week.
However, he goes a bit crazy on Saturdays, has a few beers, gets some fried chicken and some ice cream, and quite easily consumes 5,300 calories.
His maintenance is 2,800 calories, so on Saturday he has just eaten into the 3,000 calorie deficit that he created on the other 6 days by 2,500 calories, leaving him with a deficit of only 500 calories for the week.
If he keeps that up every week, he can expect to lose half a kilogram every 7 weeks!
And if he has a few beers on Friday night and a bit more indulgence on Sunday, he’ll completely wipe out the calorie deficit, won’t lose any weight over the long term and if he puts himself into a surplus for the week he’ll GAIN weight.
That is an amazing difference, and people just think “one day a week doesn’t hurt”.
You can see how easy it is to ruin all of your progress. This is because to burn roughly half a kilogram of body fat takes roughly a 3,500 calorie deficit. If you eat at 500 calories below your maintenance every day, that’s 3,500 calories across the week and your half kilo of fat.
So enjoy pizza, ice cream etc. Just know how many calories you need to lose weight, and track your intake. If you indulge, you’ll know how much you should have, or whether to have any at all.
I personally like to go with a more aggressive calorie deficit during my weight loss phases (like 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day – disclaimer: everyone should go with a different amount, I’m tall, very active and have muscle mass – my starting number is likely higher), which then gives me a bit more room to fit in things I enjoy if I feel like I really want them.