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Thanksgiving: The Ultimate Cheat Meal?

turkey servig tray

Tired of reading all those health and fitness articles urging you to eat a 'healthy' Thanksgiving meal? On a once-yearly holiday like Turkey Day, it takes an individual possessing an iron will not to take the day off -- so I'm here to assure you that cheating on your diet may just be a good thing!

Now, I know what you may be thinking; this goes against almost all dieting advice out there! To be honest, that's not entirely true, because most diets these days do encourage at least a small indulgence every once in a while. It's understandable that this may be a difficult point to get across, but there are some strange reasons as to why cheat meals are effective; ones that most people would not believe are actually true!

Cheat Meals And The Starvation Response

But let's start with physiological reasons as to why cheat meals are favorable in a diet setting. The body adapts to caloric deficits by burning fewer of those total calories. It's a starvation response that hearkens back to the caveman days. The body worries that, since the meals are getting smaller, the food is running out. Can you believe that? So, in that scenario, it will start to hang on to calories that normally should be burned. In order to prevent that from happening, many folks resort to the cheat meal philosophy, to interrupt the process of a starvation response.

Need some more science?

When dieting to get rid of excess body fat, levels of the hormone leptin (directly involved in fat burning) will rise, and IGF (insulin-like growth factor for muscle growth) will begin to decline, leaving you at a risk of losing steam in the weight-loss journey. Leptin levels rising are normally going to cause you to want to eat a huge meal anyways, so if you were to 'cheat' and have a day of eating-a-plenty, it's highly likely (though not scientifically guaranteed, mind you) that these levels will return to normal -- causing a restart of the fat burning process.

Additionally, your metabolism itself will try to adapt to changes in your eating habits during the dieting stages in an effort to create a new balance of the food you eat versus your activity levels -- called homeostasis. The last thing you want is to have all of your efforts go to waste. Scheduling a cheat meal into your routine will throw a curveball to this process, allowing you to continue making progress in your dieting efforts, because it messes up that adaptation.

Replenishing Essential Nutrients

Another benefit of a cheat meal is to refuel glycogen levels that have been depleted both by your exercising efforts, as well as your move to control (or limit) your diet. This is why the best cheat meals involve high amounts of quality carbs or protein. Sure, the concept of 'cheating' should normally mean eating bad foods, or indulging -- which is fine -- but the smartest way to do it is to think of it as overloading on great foods that are going to replenish those depleted energy reserves.

This is exactly why a Thanksgiving cheat makes the most sense! Turkey is a great lean meat, and pair that with sweet potatoes (a great carb source) as well as other holiday fixins, and you've got yourself a great, well-rounded cheat meal!

Dismantling The 'Strict Diet'

Beyond pure science, however, is the way in which cheat meals will actually help you stick to a healthy lifestyle. Dieting can be a huge sacrifice for many, and the hardest part is not in starting, but in maintaining. By allowing yourself that one cheat meal in a given time period (say, a week), it teaches you to keep up the good habits, because that light at the end of the weekly tunnel is within your grasp.

Granted, a typical cheat meal is just a meal -- not an all-day pig out. This is the single most important factor to keep in mind, in consideration of a good cheat, because most people that utilize this method only go about 500-800 calories above their normal allotment per meal. That's enough to splurge quite a bit, which is really what Thanksgiving is all about, isn't it?

So for this holiday season, don't let your diet stand in the way of enjoying a great time to spend with family, friends, and other loved ones -- reward yourself with a little cheat! Just make sure that once Black Friday hits, you're right back on track with all of your diet and fitness goals!

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