The pros and cons of a ‘cheat’ meal


Helena Christensen and her Subway sandwich aside, there’s one very big meal looming which can throw some of us off a healthy eating track. Here are the rules to cheating your diet without suffering the consequences. As ‘shocking’ as these images may be, there is a method in Dutch supermodel Helena Christensen’s menu madness. It’s called the ‘cheat meal’ and according to fitness experts, a little bit of what you fancy is good for all of us. It bodes well for the Christmas super meal which is looming, because eaten the right way, “it can actually boost our health, body and mind,” says celebrity trainer Dalton Wong . “On an emotional level, anyone on a health eating regime is usually depriving themselves of something and a reward always spurs you on so you eat better and train harder the next week,” explains Wong, “and never ever feel any guilt – you’re only ever one meal away from getting back on track again.”
And then comes the science bit. “If someone is sticking to a pretty healthy diet, cutting out complex carbs and sugar, and instead going for vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats, you’ll be gently depleting the excess glycogen levels; the energy storage system in our body,” says Wong. “There comes a point, usually around the four week mark of a low sugar diet, when your glycogen levels get so low that you start to feel tired, your metabolism can slow even and if you’re training you’ll find you can’t work out as hard. That’s when a cheat meal and a rush of carbs or sugar can actually have a really positive effect and fire up the system again, reboot your metabolism and give you a real energy boost.” “So if you really are sticking to a good eating plan, and genuinely depleting your glycogen levels by cutting out sugar for the rest of the time, firing up your glycogen levels with a cheat meal once a week to recharge is actually a pretty sensible idea.” And if you’re slim, the quicker your stores empty, “as there’s no fat to use as energy, so no wonder Helena can get away with a cheat meal,” quips Wong. But do watch it. A Subway foot-long sandwich alone can rack up a whopping 1,400 calories, “and a treat isn’t about replacing the 5,000 calories that you’ve worked hard to avoid or work off all week,” warns Wong. “And do try to have something healthy if you can too – a baked potato, sushi or risotto is always better for you than a plate of double fried chips.” Lastly remember, “alcohol can never be part of your cheat meal,” explains Wong, “it completely stops any kind of fat burning as it kills the growth hormone which makes you stronger, fitter and leaner and that which you work so hard in the gym to build up.”