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The real truth behind cheat meals

Updated on: 27 May,2024 09:28 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Dhara Vora Sabhnani |

Do they really help or are they detrimental to your fitness routine?

The real truth behind cheat meals

Representation pics

Last week, beefy actor Gurmeet Choudhary revealed in an Instagram post that it’s been 14 years since he ate a samosa, to maintain his physique, with the hashtag #NoDaysOff. On the contrary, actor Shraddha Kapoor posted photos of her wolfing down a burger, and a vegan seven-course meal she tried during the same week. Kapoor is known to profess her love for food on social media, be it for pizza, cake, or poha. With celebrities serving as fitness idols for so many of us (Kapoor’s fans like her food positivity posts), should you believe in cheat meals or eat what you like?

Be your own boss

One thinks of cheat meals only when you are on a restrictive diet, says Mumbai-based Dr Vishakha Shivdasani, practising physician, practising longevity and disease reversal. She says that we need to normalise all food and work on the macro nutritional benefits of each meal, and not just look at the portion size and calorie count. “When you balance your macros [carbohydrates, fat and protein] intake you won’t perceive calorific foods as a cheat meal. When you tell yourself, you are ‘dieting’, it restricts your mind, and your brain wants to be rewarded. But when you balance it during the week, there is no reward and punishment system, and no question of cheating,” she explains.

Shraddha Kapoor bites into a burger in a recent post. Pic Courtesy/InstagramShraddha Kapoor bites into a burger in a recent post. Pic Courtesy/Instagram

The best way to not make your body crave is to start your morning with protein and good fat, such as egg yolk, Greek yoghurt with nuts and seeds, avocados and sprouts. The way you sequence your food determines your body sugar, satiety and energy levels, so you don’t feel deprived. “All carbohydrates, which fast food is high in, be it sweet or savoury, convert to sugar in the body. Your brain craves for the dopamine hit it gets as the body converts the carbs in fast food, making it a cheat meal, hence no one ever cheated on a meal with broccoli. And you only crave carbs when your hormones go awry. An easy way to keep your hormones balanced is to begin with fat. Women, especially during their period, should eat good fats and protein and stop intermittent fasting,” says the expert. Good fat balances hormones and gives you satiety, which helps you avoid binging. On days when you plan to eat items like sweets or fast food, have a no-carb lunch that is high on protein and veggies, so you can eat carbs of your choice for dinner. Cut out natural sugar and fruit from two meals to indulge in carbs for your third meal. 

Dr Vishakha Shivdasani (inset) suggests foods rich in protein and good fats like greek yoghurt with nuts for mornings and a bowl of salad before carbohydrate-rich meals during the dayDr Vishakha Shivdasani (right) suggests foods rich in protein and good fats like greek yoghurt with nuts for mornings and a bowl of salad before carbohydrate-rich meals during the day

“Everything is permissible; it’s all about balance. Always start your meal with fibre as it controls a sugar surge. It’s only when you have that sugar surge that it converts into fat in the body. So, call for a big bowl of salad even if it has feta cheese before you eat something carb-heavy outside to reduce the detrimental effect,” she advises.

We nudged a few famous faces from the city to reveal how they navigate cheat meals.

Pizza perfect

Akshay Oberoi, actor

Akshay Oberoi, actor
I love pizza; it’s my cheat meal. We do a family pizza dinner on Sundays as my son Avyaan also loves pizza. It’s kind of a fixed thing. I’m not so much of a foodie; happiness doesn’t come from food so much, so it doesn’t become too much of a struggle. But this once-a-week pizza plan brings me enough joy.

Akshay Oberoi tucks into a continental meal with his son AvyaanAkshay Oberoi tucks into a continental meal with his son Avyaan

Earn every cheat meal

Chaitnya Sharma, aka SlowCheeta, rapper

Chaitnya Sharma, aka SlowCheeta, rapper
I love food a lot so I have multiple cheat meals. My fitness journey began so I could enjoy a good meal because balance is key. I consider cheat meals as a reward as I don’t believe in cutting out something completely. I reward myself with everything, from butter chicken to pizzas and biryani. I have a sweet tooth, so [I eat] ice creams, Indian sweets, chocolate, cakes, pastries, the works. A reward system works best for my brain because I push myself harder in the gym, and I know I must earn every cheat meal I have. I reserve Sundays or holidays for cheat meals mostly because I don’t like to work on days when I indulge in heavy food. I opt for a calorie-deficit meal the next day and try to balance it out during the week. If I’ve had two or three heavy eating days, the next few days will be very light home food so that my system gets a break and I am being mindful about what I’m putting into my system. But when I let go, I let go. After all, who has eaten just one gulab jamun [I eat it with malai vanilla ice cream from Naturals] or just a slice of pizza?

Balance is key

Naila Grrewal, actor

Naila Grrewal, actor
I don’t really do the whole diet thing. I’m all about balanced eating for a happy tummy and a happy me. No ‘cheat meals’ on my radar, but I do have a weakness for butter chicken, and a scoop of heavenly ice cream every now and then. It’s all about keeping it flexible, you know? Balance and moderation keep my food game strong without needing cheat meals to keep me smiling.

Homemade is healthy

Aditi Handa with homemade Gujarati sweet, sukhdi Aditi Handa with homemade Gujarati sweet, sukhdi 

Chef Aditi Handa, co-founder-head chef, The Baker’s Dozen
For me, cheat meals involve a balanced menu where you eat small portions every few hours. The food is homemade and healthy, which diminishes your natural instinct to crave cheat meals. It took me several years to reach this stage, where I eat a little bit every few hours, and don’t feel the need to eat junk food or sweets. As a result, I usually don’t feel the need for a cheat meal. However, if I do have to eat out at a restaurant, my approach is to eat half a homemade dinner before I go out. This way, when I do eat out, I consume the non-healthy food in much smaller proportions.

When it comes to any meal, I ensure my body is not deprived of nutrition. I eat a lot of homemade food, including various breads, daal, sabzi, and rice, often adding ghee to many items. If I want something sweet, homemade halwa, depending on the season, works great for me. I genuinely believe that if it’s homemade, it’s healthy. This whole idea that the only way to achieve good health is by eating homemade food is something I firmly support. My main meals are typical of most of us: an Indian breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For my mid-meal snacks, I consume dry fruits [almonds, dates, pistachios, walnuts], sprouts, sattu shakes and seasonal fruits, such as mangoes these days.

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