Petite Mistakes: Cheat Days

If you’ve ever given yourself a cheat day and watched your progress stalk for over a week, keep reading.

You might have heard that throwing a cheat day once a week tricks your system into thinking food is plentiful and that it’s ok to burn through fat stores. And you might have heard cheat day can help to reset hormones responsible for metabolism and insulin regulation, replenish glycogen for increased energy and keep calories brining and fat torching mechanisms high.

While all that is true to some degree… cheat days are a recipe for disaster for petites and I’m gonna tell you why…

Let me paint a scenario here: Let’s pretend I have 2 ladies and I’m even gonna give them names….. Kier is 5’0” and Kate is 5’6”.

Kier, the short girl typically eats about 1500 calories per day, Kate the taller girl usually easy 2500 calories per day. Let’s say both ladies had a super busy friday and only ate about 600 calories before they together for their workout. They did the exact same workout, using the sam weights, same number of sets and reps and same rest time. Unfortunately, just because Kier is smaller, she burned less calories than Kate. (This is a totally different topic about calories expended but I feel its important to remember in this story too.)

Anyway, let’s say they both go out for an early dinner after their workout. They split an appetizer, order the same entree, and maybe even split a dessert. Both girls eat the same amount and overall, the total intake for the entire day is 3000 calories for both women. (You might be like whoa 3000 calories is a lot but it’s way easier to do than you think, trust me.)

If we subtract Kate’s normal calorie intake from her cheat day, 3000-2500 we get 500 calories. 500 calories is about the amount of one of her normal meals so at the end of the day her cheat day only put her 1 single meal over her calorie goals. This is perfect, this is just the right amount for her metabolism to speed up, burn through the extra calories and then burn through stored fat. Kate might be up a pound or on the scale the next day but within 2 more days her weight might actually drop below what it was before the cheat day. Good for Kate right? that’s awesome!

But poor Kier over there, gets the short end of the stick. So if we do the same thing for Kier, where we subtract her normal calorie intake of 1500 from her 3000 cheat day calories, that comes to 1500 calories which is an entire extra days worth of food for her! She had 2 days worth of food in one day its no wonder she would be up 2, 3, 4 pounds on the scale the next day! And what’s worse is that she spends the entire week trying to burn off the extra calories and added weight. If she’s lucky she might get back to her weight of the week before but her progress definitely stalled after one cheat day and she starts to feel frustrated and defeated. 

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Before I go any further, Stalled progress is not the end of the world. You shouldn’t always be trying to lose weight everyday of your life. There are seasons in your life, there’s pregnancy, there’s so many other reasons why you maintaining or gaining weight is OK. My biggest fear of airing this podcast is that someone who listens starts to fear food at holidays and events and that is not my overall goal. My goal is to help you be more aware of what makes you different as a petite an to help you to understand why certain things don’t work for everyone. In this case, it’s large cheat meal. And having that awareness is the first step to making long-lasting behavioral changes because when I first figured this out I was like OMG MIND-BLOWN this is a total game changer!

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So rather than having cheat days, here’s what petites should do instead:

-First off, stop calling it a ‘cheat – A cheat has a negative connotation. It sounds like you did something bad, unplanned, and disloyal. You’re better than that. Instead, I call it a refeed. A refeed is a planned and better-said way of giving your body extra calories. 

Unfortunately, Changing its name alone is enough for regular-sized people but we still have some work to do as petites. Remember, that our window of calories is small and so our refeed meals should not be infinity calories unless you don’t want to see any progress and if you’re listening to this – I know that’s not you – at least not right now. Soooo what you want to do is…

Make it a refeed MEAL not a refeed DAY. Taking it back to the example of Kate who had only 1 extra meals worth of food and then lost weight within the following few days. This is exactly the space we want to be in too. We want an extra meals worth of calories. It really only takes one extra meals worth of calories to boost your leptin levels and to tap into those fat stores. You do not need an entire extra day’s worth of food  and you definitely should not continue on into the next day. In most petite cases, I would have between 300-600 calories over your normal allotment of calories. I know it doesn’t feel like much but remember, our window of calories is smaller. 

I created refeed levels in which I assign to my clients based on their progress. I honestly don’t know any other coach who does this. I kinda just made it up one day.

There are 3 levels:

Level 1 is the smallest and most calculated refeed. It’s anywhere from 200-400 calories and should be consumed immediately after a hard workout. It should be something that’s easy to track like a sleeve of pop tarts or a big measured bowl of cereal or even a small chick fit a sandwich without fries. Something with a nutrition label or nutrition facts that are definite and not estimated. 

Level 2 is a little more calories and slightly less calculated. It should be 400 to 650 calories and is meant to replace one of your normal meals. This is usually a dinner or maybe even a lunch. An example is 2 clean simple rolls of sushi like spicy salmon or california – by clean I mean nothing fried or with cream cheese or anything else that’s going to rack up the calories. You could also do a chipotle bowl, a subway sandwich, or a homemade burger with the bun and some toppings. This refeed is perfect for when you’ve got some sort of special event going on whether its date night, back yard bbq, or grabbing lunch with the girls. Level 2 allows you to have some flexibility without blowing your limits and starting back at square one.

Most of my clients are assigned levels 1 and 2 and feel like it was the perfect amount to satisfy their needs and then they hop right back on track and continue progressing. However, there are very rare instances where they are assigned level 3 which I’m sure you could have guessed are the larger and less calculated meals.

Level 3 is what most people think as a cheat meal or a diet break.  It’s worth 800 or more calories and I usually don’t have my clients track it at all. Some examples are a burger with fries, 2 slices of pizza, pancakes, waffles, french that or 2-3 special rolls of sushi. Still notice though that this is not a refeed day or an all out binge. It’s limited to one meal. Some of these options can quickly put you up over 1200 calories which could be your normal intake. Depending on the situation, I may have my clients skip 2 regular meals in order to still be successful with this refeed level. 

Which one I assign definitely depends on what’s going on with them, how there adherence has been to my program and what their goals are. And it could change week to week and sometimes I may have them skip a week entirely.

But I do believe in having refeed meals to generate a calorie surplus to prevent slowing of a petite’s metabolism. Because when you are on a calorie deficit – which you are probably on if you’re trying to lose weight – you’re body is starting to adapt to that low intake of food. If you continue to keep that low calorie your body is going to become sufficient at only taking in that amount of calories. But if we give you a caloric surplus every now and then a couple things happen. Your leptin levels shoot up – which is a hormone that increases your metabolism. You get this quick little burst where your body burns calories a little bit faster to accommodate for the new food. It’s like when spin a wheel and it goes really fast at first and then it slowly starts to slow down. That’s what you’re doing to your metabolism when you give it a surplus but if you give it too much, your metabolism slows down before it reaches all the new calories and that’s where you get the spill over which might eventually lead to fat storage. But if you give it just enough extra, it speeds up and once it burns all the incoming calories, it begins to tap into the fat stores. 

That’s why it’s so so so so important that you get right back on your normal intake the next day. so that your body taps into those fats stores. What generally happens is that you might feel very very hungry the next day and if you do thats an incredibly good sign! That means that what you did WORKED! You sped up the metabolism and now your body is processing faster causing you to be hungry faster. But remember, if you are trying to lose weight you want that caloric deficit on that day the most!

For more information about my coaching go to funsized.life/coaching and more fun stuff for women under 5’3” check out my instagram @funsized.nutrition.

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