Cheating, in my opinion, is an essential part of having a successful long-term relationship with food. Whether you’re simply trying to maintain your body or you’re intensely training for a specific event, I believe that breaking the monotony of a restricted and regimented diet is not only enjoyable but can be immensely beneficial. I have been asked many times what foods I like to cheat on my diet with. More often than not, I think others are looking to find the “right” cheat foods. I ask people to keep in mind that the purpose of a cheat is to illicit a favorable physiological and metabolic response. To that end, it’s important that we cheat with purpose! First, it’s important to recognize what it is that your body wants or more importantly, NEEDS. Most people include a significant and constant amount of protein in their diet when trying to get in shape and as a result, most of the time, dieters aren’t craving protein! Typically, carbohydrates and or fats are reduced. Those who opt for high protein with moderate to higher carbs often keep dietary fat intake to a bare minimum. Those who keep protein high and fats at moderate to high levels often keep carbohydrate intake very low. Of course, there are those who make an effort to keep all three macronutriets in their diet, varying or “cycling” the amounts all the time. Keep in mind that the body is very smart and adapts very quickly. Should the body sense a dramatic reduction in calorie intake and or a “near exclusion” of any one macronutrient for a prolonged period of time, out of fear of starving, the body will simply lower its metabolic rate and burning bodyfat becomes that much harder. Whichever way you choose to diet, your body will oftentimes give you a very clear idea of what it wants; usually it is the thing that you are depriving it of. As I said earlier, it isn’t often that the body craves protein; more often than not, it wants carbs or fats or both! Sweet, fatty and salty can usually fix most cravings!
That being said, over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to cheating with certain foods. I have painful memories of eating a clean and restricted diet for weeks or even months and then making the decision to cheat by eating foods like pizza, lasagna, a burger and milkshake….bad idea. The last thing you want from a cheat meal is to feel like you’re going to shit your pants. The bloating, indigestion and overall lack of appetite that followed made me realize that, for me, those foods were bad choices for cheating. Now, when I deviate from my diet for a meal or two, I opt for foods I know will digest well for me. Cheat meals or “re-feeds” as some call them, should leave you feeling satisfied, you should feel stronger and more energetic and your body should look fuller and more alive. You don’t want to feel (or look) like Sigourney Weaver giving birth to an Alien.
Even more, the sudden increase in calories should assure your body that it isn’t starving and that it can continue to burn calories and bodyfat at a liberal rate. After all, the purpose of cheating is to improve how you look and feel while igniting your metabolism. The best foods to cheat with are foods that I use to boost carbohydrates and or fats and overall calories without feeling lousy! Here are my top ten meals and foods that I like to cheat with:
1. Van Leeuwen Cashew and Coconut Milk Ice Cream:
Yup, it’s vegan. Nope, I’m not going soft. Ice cream is undoubtedly my favorite desert. Unfortunately, I can’t have it because it wrecks my stomach. Until recently, the only option were half-assed soy based ice cream knockoffs; they taste lame because they ARE lame because they’re made from soy. Within the past few years, more companies have begun cranking out coconut milk based frozen deserts as well as some almond milk options. Coconut milk and cream, with its naturally high level of saturated fat and creamy mouth feel wins by a landslide leaving the rest of the “milks” for dead. Trader Joe’s, SO Delicious and Coconut Bliss all have their own versions. Until recently, Coconut Bliss was the clear winner for me while Trader Joe’s came in second leaving SO Delicious in a DISTANT third place. Big nuts Van Leeuwen came into town with a killer lineup of vegan ice creams and WRECKED everyone else. WOW is it good! Wow is it pricey! Wow I don’t even care! As for the nutritional aspect, considering that the fats are coming from coconut and cashew, it’s naturally sweetened and flavored and has a SHORT list of natural ingredients, I would rate it the healthiest ice cream out there. At first it was strictly a matter of “I want ice cream but I don’t want to sit on the toilet all night” which quickly became “Holy shit this tastes great” followed by “Van Leeuwen has his hand deep in my pocket but this stuff tastes so good he can keep it there”. This stuff is ridiculously good and considering the quality of the ingredients, worth every penny. Bonus Round: I hope you’ve polished your self control; you’re going to need it if you want this pint to live another day.
2. Van’s Waffles:
For being a frozen food, toaster waffles taste pretty damn good. What’s better ? Van’s makes gluten free frozen waffles! I’m serious. They digest like a charm. Along with some REAL maple syrup (Mrs. Butterworth’s, although tasty in a gross kind of way, is not real), I can easily down a box of these and get in an extra 150g of carbs with no bloat and easy assimilation. The buckwheat and berries version is my favorite; they taste awesome. But let’s be honest, you’re hungry and with enough genuine maple syrup, the box they come in would taste extraordinary as well. But they really are great tasting waffles!
3. Breakfast Cereal:
The possibilities are endless here. Breakfast cereals are great because they taste awesome and most of them digest rapidly allowing for quick assimilation of large amounts. Kellog’s Crispix doused with honey works well; rice and corn based so it’s gluten free which means easy digestion and quick assimilation and it doesn’t have a long list of ingredients or preservatives like BHT. For those who are worried about corn consumption and the gmo factor, there are lots of options out there that are both organic and gluten free. But what about the milk? I avoid dairy because it murders my stomach but most almond milks taste like crap and are loaded with preservatives. Califia Farms (sold at Whole Foods and is found in the refrigerated section) makes a coconut almond milk that is AWESOME and solves all the heartache caused by the fact that I avoid milk. If you tell me it isn’t the best cow milk substitute you’ve tried I’ll be shocked. As for the cereal, once we pass age 5, we deal in boxes of cereal rather than cups and with honey and coconut almond milk riding shotgun we’re not stopping until we mumble regrets. Bonus Round: Go for a fun pack 8 box sleeve; I won’t judge you.
4. All You Can Eat Sushi:
The mercury is rising. No really, all the mercury in this raw fish is putting me at serious rsk of mercury poisoning. But let’s be serious, for $21.99 you’re about to eat what would normally cost you a buck twenty. Will you harbor a tape worm? Doubtful but you’re all about taking risks; especially when there’s a delicious and economical carb load to be had. I recommend anything that does not have the word “crab stick” in the description. Bonus Round: Sea Urchin increases virility. Who doesn’t want to be more virile?
5. Burger and Fries:
How typical. If by typical you mean All-American, kick-ass and delicious then yes, it’s totally typical. But where should we go? If they had them on the East Coast I’d recommend In ‘N Out Burger. Ironically, In ‘N Out is one of the few that isn’t simply in n out. Shake Shack is decent but overpriced and kinda weak on the portion. Burger King is painful. McDonalds has the advantage of their fries which everyone loves and their apple pies which I feel like nobody eats but they’re 2 for $1 and pretty damn good. All that said, I opt for Five Guys. Tasty, meaty and to double burgers, a few fries and a Coke (REAL Coke…not Diet) puts you over 2k calories with relative ease; yes, this cheat should be reserved for times when you’re at risk of digesting all your gains because you simply need more calories. Here, digest this instead! Bonus Round: Five Guys fries are fried in peanut oil containing polydimethylsiloxane! WTF is that you ask. It’s a chemical added to the oil to prevent it from foaming; it’s a form of silicone….YAY!
What next? Crumpets? No. We draw the line at muffins. Somehow, the muffin makers of the world have an ability to cram more calories per square inch than the makers of nearly any other food. I like the fresh ones that they make at Whole Foods. Why? Because they list the ingredients and tell you in big letters the common allergens they contain. For me, I avoid gluten here and there but it isn’t a deal breaker for me. However, dairy is and I like to know BEFORE getting my muf on if I’m going to need bathroom access within the next hour; ideally, I avoid that altogether. Shopping at Whole Foods makes that easy for me. Thanks Whole Foods! Granted, I don’t have the nutrition facts handy but I know they’re loaded with calories….and they’re delicious. Are they expensive? All muffins are a rip off. So are bagels. Doesn’t matter where you buy them unless you buy yesterday’s selection. That’ll save you about ten cents apiece…WOW! That’s really not worth it. Bonus Round: Stop looking at the croissants, pussy.
7. 365 Steak Fries:
Frozen French fries, like jarred tomato sauce, will likely be forever shunned. Do they taste as delicious as McDonald’s french fries? No. HOWEVER, these fries aren’t bad at all. I like them for several reasons. First, no weird ingredients; all they contain is potatoes, canola oil, apple juice and citric acid. If you down a whole bag like I do from time to time, you’re good for an extra 110g of carbs and only 12.5g of fat! What’s more, a whole bag will give you an extra 2,150mg of potassium (!) and only 250 mg of sodium. Are they as delicious as fast food fries? Maybe not. But for those times when you need SOMETHING that tastes good but isn’t all that bad, these guys work. Bonus Round: Narrow the gap in that sodium:potassium ratio with some Mutti ketchup. It’s Italian. It’s the best tasting ketchup you’ll ever try. It’s expensive but you’ll love the taste and you might even feel more worldly afterwards!
8. Granola Bars:
They taste awesome, go down easy and digest well. Using Nature Valley granola bars as an example, a box of bars will yield about 150g of carbs and if a person is in full-on diet mode, that’s practically a desert. Maple Brown Sugar and Pecan flavors make it easy. For those who want an organic option, Nature’s Path has an array of ridiculously delicious flavors. Bonus Round in Your Mouth: Pair with coconut almond milk.
9. The Big Bad Breakfast Barrage:
Sometimes, when you’ve been kicking serious ass in your training and dieting with ninja precision, you get a little burnt out; muscles don’t pop, energy dips and strength goes to crap. We can’t have that. We need to get that pop back! When I want to get my pop on I head to the diner. Now, I know what you’re thinking; it’s breakfast…why not just make it at home? Because, my friend, it’s simply a matter of committing to meal. Picture the scenario: You’ve made some assessments and have decided that you’ve beaten yourself into the ground a bit with your spartan ways and you’re about ready to eat your own hand. In a maddened state, you go to the diner and order up a steak, 6 whole eggs, homefries, a stack of toast and a side of french toast. You hold the butter on the everything because even criminals have a code of ethics. You wait impatiently and when it is finally all laid out before you, you can’t wait to plow through it. And you do. You eat the whole thing. Why does scenario not play out as well at home? I don’t know about you but if I go into the kitchen starving and in the same state of madness and start making food, I eat as I go and that’s cool but oftentimes, by the time I’m ready to sit down to eat, I’m already half full with the nonsense I’ve been picking on or I feel guilty about eating so much and I pussy out. The diner scenario leaves me no time to think, develop guilt or fill up on bullshit. Bonus Round: I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll use two packets of jelly per slice of toast; layer first with grape jelly and then top with strawberry. Is it me or does Heinz Ketchup always taste better in glass bottles?
10. Cream of rice with honey:
Instant. Muscle. Glycogen. Well, pretty close to instant. Cream of rice is gluten free and incredibly fast digesting. Did you know that it is so easy to digest it is oftentimes the first solid food that pediatricians recommend for babies? It seems you’re a little late to the table; infants have been glycogen loading with cream of rice while you fumble for gains. That stops now. Bonus Round: coconut oil will slow digestion slightly but it tastes incredible. Double Bonus: Don’t be a cheapskate; splurge for some raw honey. Bonus Triple Threat: Don’t be shy with the sea salt; trust me on this one….it completes the fatty, salty, sweet trifecta and will help your blood volume. Your blood volume is looking skinny. Thank me later.