‘Just this once’ is a phrase that, given its content, seems to get used with alarming regularity. But is the occasional treat, cheat day or even binge worth it? Or do these little ‘one offs’ do more damage than people realise?

To be honest, it really depends on the circumstances and where you are in your training as well as your psychological profile.

Cheat meal/days can be useful if:

  • You are the type of person who rebels mentally when deprived of food, wants it even more. If you are the type of person who, if you are told you can’t have something, suddenly it becomes all you want, then allowing yourself the odd ‘treat’ of your favorite indulgence may be useful in keeping you on track. For such a person the 90:10 rule is a good guide. Most people will still make fantastic progress if they limit their ‘detours’ to 10%. But if you are the type of person who cannot do moderation, this does not apply to you (see below).
  • You have been ‘cutting’ for an extended period – If you have been in a calorie deficit for a while, particularly if your carb intake has been low, then a boost to your glycogen stores and metabolism may actually help your progress. So long as it is just a boost and not a complete fall off the wagon.
  • Your results have plateaued – Similar to above, often if your progress, after an extended period of improvement, hits a wall, a bit of a calorie spike may just be what your system needs to re-start your journey towards your target.
  • You are a ‘hard gainer’ – Not a term I’m particularly fond of, but some people do find it harder to add weight than others and whether cutting or ‘bulking’ (another term I’m not keen on) sometimes the quality of the calories become less important than just getting enough food in your system to allow for growth.
  • Special Occasions – A ‘healthy’ diet and exercise plan is one that you can fit comfortably (if not easily) into your schedule and lifestyle. So unless you are targeting some kind of major physique or sporting contest or a major day in you life (like a wedding) – which are all essentially ‘special occasions’ in themselves – then depriving yourself to the point of obsession where you chastise yourself for having a couple of crackers with cheese and a glass of champagne at your best friends 30th or your sister’s wedding is not healthy. This is similar to the 90:10 scenario I mentioned. Just remember, it is what you do regularly that makes a difference and requires your focus and dedication, not the once in a blue moon occasions. Just be sure they don’t get out of control or that your special occasions are happening with such regularity that they are less ‘special’ and more a regular occurrence.

Cheat meals/ days are not useful if:

  •  You have low self control – If you are the type who can’t do things in moderation and 2 biscuits becomes 4 or 5 or 1 glass of wine becomes a bottle then you could quite easily destroy and entire week of quality training & nutrition in one evening. For such a person, a better approach would maybe be to have a set date for a cheat evening (perhaps ever 8-12 weeks) and use that as something to work towards to earn. By the time you get to it, if you have stayed true to your plan, the cravings may well have gone anyway.
  • You are only 2 or 3 weeks into your programme – Whilst the odd glycogen boost can be beneficial after an extended period of depletion. If you are only a few weeks into your programme, you will not have created a sufficient level of depletion to make the boost worthwhile, no matter how much you convince yourself that you have. Once you have reached an extended period of depletion, you may find that cycling your calories up on a semi-frequent basis could be useful, or that the odd ‘re-set’ day will really boost your progress. But don’t kid yourself, after a few weeks of training and dieting, that has occurred. This is just your cravings talking and not real sense. Keep going for a few months and then we’ll talk.
  • Your hormonal reactions are out of whack – Some people simply react badly to certain types of food. If you have a gluten intolerance, even a mild one (and most people, in my experience, do suffer to some extent) then no gluten fueled re-feeds are going to be useful. Similarly, if dairy bloats you when you eat it, you likely have some form of intolerance and should avoid regardless of how much you like your milk and cheese. Listen to your body and it will tell you all you need to know. Once you have been eating clean for a while, then anything that your system can’t really deal with will cause an uncomfortable reaction (bloating, fatigue, nausea etc) that’s your cue to avoid in future.
Just this once won't hurt, will it?
Just This Once
Won’t Hurt Will It? by Mark Tiffney

Where do you fall on the scale?

Are you a ‘little indulgence’ type or a ‘Can’t stop eating’ once you’ve started type?

How do you approach ‘indulgences’?

Let me know in the comments below.