Thanksgiving is, in my book, the most awesome holiday out that there is. I like it because I like food. And, when I say I like it, I mean I really, really like it. So, when Thanksgiving comes rolling around, I know that I get to gorge myself on two of my favorite foods: stuffing and mashed potatoes, both drenched in gravy. And, not only can I eat well beyond the point of being full, but it’s the one day of the year that doing your best Man vs Food impression is entirely acceptable. There are those who say that we should watch portions, limit calories, use clippings from your front lawn in the dressing, things like that and, to those people, I say: go pound sand. And this year, I can actually back my command up with science!
Over the last few years, I’ve seen the phrase “cheat meal” thrown around quite a bit. As much as I like the idea of unrestricted eating though, it doesn’t seem to make too much sense to me. I mean, eating a lot of food adds weight, right? And, the math says that, at around 3500 calories per pound, weight gain and weight loss is largely about calories in vs calories out. Apparently it’s not so simple.
A while back I read about this hormone that our bodies produce called Leptin, which is really good at dictating how much we weigh. When high amounts of Leptin is present in our bodies, we’re not as hungry and the body uses fat as an energy source. When there’s not much Leptin around, the body tells itself that there isn’t a lot of food to be had so it goes into self-preservation mode, an act that has the body storing up fat and grabbing its energy from muscles.
So what controls the Leptin levels in the body? Quite a few things, one of them being the amount of food that enters the body — fewer calories lower Leptin levels. So, a very good argument could be made that, when we live a life of low calorie intake, we’re making things hard on ourselves if our goal is to maintain a healthy weight. The theory behind the cheat meal is that, by telling the body that there’s plenty of food around once a week or so, Leptin levels will remain high, keeping the body at a state where it’s more likely to use fat for energy as opposed to muscle. Keep in mind that this is an incredibly simplified explanation and, perhaps more importantly, I’m fairly gullible when I hear something that sounds too good to be true.
Back to Thanksgiving: though I had a turkey hangover that lasted for two days and have already enjoyed a few meals of Thanksgiving leftovers, I’m not feeling guilty. After all, it was my cheat meal. In fact, I’m so thrilled with the idea of cheat meals that I’m having another one tomorrow though, at this point, I should probably start calling it a cheat week. After all, if a cheat day is beneficial, a cheat week should be better, right?