Whether you’re seeking to lose weight, preparing to compete or just living a fit lifestyle, it’s essential to keep a strict, nutritious, clean diet the majority of the time. However, a good treat meal from time to time can do your mind and body good, as it gives your metabolism a boost, provides some nutritional variety and keeps you from feeling deprived.
On the flip side, treat meals can kill your fitness or weight loss progress if you take them too far. In fact, it’s very possible to consume enough excess calories to undo all the good you achieved the prior week. I know a thing or two about that and have seen it happen with many fit friends. Based on those collective experiences, I‘ve assembled a few suggestions to help you treat yourself without cheating yourself:
Pre-determine Your Treat: When someone has been following a structured nutritional plan for a while, she/he can come a little unglued when faced with infinite possibilities for one meal and end up eating way too much. To keep this from happening, I’ve found that it’s helpful to put a little time in beforehand planning a treat meal so that it is something that you really want, will satisfy you until your next one and won’t destroy all your hard work from the previous week. My treat meals do vary, but tend to involve one or more of my favorite things: peanut butter, oats, red meat, sushi and chocolate covered pretzels.
Buy “Just Enough” or Don’t Cheat At Home: Even if you pre-determine your treat meal, you can still give into temptation and indulge in more than what you initially planned for. If you’ve been known to do this, I recommend buying just enough for your meal or simply just eating out for your treat meals. Places like Fresh Market, Whole Food and other specialty markets offer a bit more flexibility in terms of portion sizes available for purchase.
Be “Present” During Your Treat: I believe a treat meal often goes wrong when one’s mindset toward food changes from being controlled and rational to irrational, highly emotional and chaotic. If you can stay “in the moment,” being mindful of your choices, you will be just fine. It’s when you throw caution to the wind, seek only immediate gratification and stop considering consequences that you can be at risk for going too far. I try to always make it a point to really slow down during my treats–savoring each bite and enjoying my company. If I start feeling like I need and want more, I take a few deep breaths, remember all the hours in the gym I logged and all the pounds of dry chicken and three-day old fish I ate and wait for the feeling to pass.
Eat What You Need (& Enjoy): I seek treat meals that satisfy my taste buds, refuel my body and set me up for success as I start a new week of training and goals. In doing so, I try to have a meal that is balanced nutritionally (protein, fat and carbs), incorporates foods that I do not normally eat to give my body some nutritional variety and that allows me to have a little taste of some of my favorite foods. Here are a few examples of my typical treat meals:
Peanut Butter Cup – Banana Oatmeal
- 3/4 cup of old fashioned oats (I usually only eat 1/3 cup, so this portion size is a treat for me)
- 1 – 2 TBSP peanut butter
- 12 dry roasted almonds (chopped into small pieces)
- 1 scoop of chocolate protein powder
- 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder (if the protein powder is not a rich chocolate flavor)
- 1/2 sliced banana
*Dessert: 3 mini chocolate covered pretzels.
Oatmeal instructions: Cook oats in water and then mix in all other ingredients.
My Favorite Burger
- 1 English muffin brushed with olive oil, grilled (I love the texture of the English muffin)
- 4 oz hamburger patty
- A few rings of sweet onion, grilled
- 1 tomato slice
- Sliced pickles
- 1 tsp spicy mustard
*Dessert: Apple slices dipped in 1 TBSP of peanut butter.
Burger Cooking Instructions: Turn grill to high heat. Once the grill is heated, place burger on grill. When you flip the burger to cook the second side, place the English muffin brushed with olive oil and the sliced onion on the grill as well. Flip the onion after a few minutes and remove the English muffin once it is lightly toasted with visible grill marks. Once cooked to your liking, remove the onion and burger patty. Then, assemble the burger stacking all ingredients and spreading the mustard on the English muffin.
A Winning Thought
When I first started my fitness journey years ago, I couldn’t wait for my weekly cheat meal. On Monday, I would begin obsessing about what I would have the following Saturday. Day dreaming of peanut butter covered anything, I was focused on all the things I couldn’thave. I quickly learned that doing so led to a weeklong struggle with cravings and hunger. Not because I was actually hungry or was in need of anything, but because I was constantly bringing food to the forefront of my mind.
Overtime, I replaced my cheat meal daydreams with thoughts about how fantastic I feel when I eat right and exercise regularly. Amazingly, the hunger and cravings disappeared. It was that simple. If you’re struggling with cravings, or something else, assess and take charge of your thoughts. What you focus on expands, so fill your mind with winning thoughts that support your goals. Your journey to your best will get a whole lot easier!
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