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Striking a balance that works for you is the key to avoiding the pitfalls of eating too perfectly. Just like you need to build rest and recovery into your workout routine, finding a way to enjoy some of your favorite, or even forbidden foods in moderation, is an important tool to keep you on track in the long run.
How often you choose to indulge depends on a few variables, including your personality, your goals, and the types of foods that you tend to crave. If you are weeks away from your first fitness competition, then keeping cheats to a bare minimum is probably best. On the other hand, if it’s a regular day or a regular week, then enjoying a planned cheat meal or favorite snack can help keep you on track. While some prefer to enjoy a small treat every day, others do better by having one “free” meal per week, or enjoying an extra glass of wine or a dessert when they go out socially.
As for the size of the cheat you can afford, that depends on a few factors. We know that cutting calories can help you to lose weight, but being too restrictive for too long can actually slow down your progress by making it difficult for your body to build all-important lean muscle. If you know that you’re consistently eating much less than you are burning (by 500 calories per day or more), then you might add a cheat food to help you to meet your daily needs. In these cases, you will want to make your cheats a bit healthier (check out the cupcake recipe below!), since you’ll be eating them often. If you have less wiggle room in your diet, then you might want to limit your cheats to a few times per week, or keep the portions or calories lower when you do indulge.
On the other end of the spectrum, full-out cheat days or weekends can be risky in the long run, especially if you throw all common sense out the window. In the end, you’re better off having a pasta dinner or dessert on Saturday night than spending two whole days gorging on candy and fast food, followed by a week trying to undo the damage.
And if you don’t feel the need to cheat, that’s okay, too – there is no need to force yourself to indulge if you are comfortable with your current routine. The most important thing is that you maintain a routine that is stable, and sustainable, for you.