Psychologically, it's much easier to "eat clean" when you know you will have an opportunity to indulge yourself later. Despite being somewhat controversial, the idea of a cheat day, or at least a cheat meal, is a common element in many popular nutrition plans and diets. Myself, I cheat every Saturday. The main reason I include a weekly cheat meal is not so much for the mental aspect or to settle any cravings, but rather to support a healthy metabolism.
The following video could be considered to be taking things too far... this is what I call my Epic Cheat Meal. Prepare to be amazed by my glorious creation! (Vegetarians, I suggest you avert your eyes!):
As Tim Ferriss writes about in his book The 4 Hour Body, dramatically spiking your calorie intake once per week can help you lose body fat by keeping your metabolic rate and thyroid function in high gear. While reducing calories slightly during the week will help you lose fat, it can also negatively affect your production of thyroid hormones T3 and T4, which are partly responsible for maintaining a higher metabolism. The cheat day helps you avoid this problem.Now I don't suggest using this as a licence to go crazy with your cheat days but it's nice to know that enjoying a high-calorie indulgence once a week can actually be beneficial.
Regardless of the benefits of a planned cheat meal, I know that sometimes a heavy meal or "junk food" will sneak it's way into your diet outside of your regular planned cheat day. This is especially common during the holidays. There are some things you can do to help manage your binge days, however. Here are a few things I recommend to prevent fat gain from your cheat meals:
1. Start your day with a low carb, high protein meal. To minimize the release of insulin, make sure your first meal of your "cheat day" is high in protein and lower in carbohydrates.
2. Exercise before your cheat meal. When you perform an intense workout before you binge, you deplete glycogen stores and increase the storage of calories in your muscle cells rather than fat cells.
3. Take an antioxidant supplement called Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), as well as a high-Allicin garlic supplement, about 20 minutes before your heavy meal. ALA and Allicin both improve insulin sensitivity and help to shuttle calories into muscle glycogen storage. R-form ALA is recommended.
4. Drink some green tea during your bigger binge meals, and drink a strong black coffee 20 minutes after to speed up gastric emptying. The green tea also helps to regulate your blood sugar and insulin, while the black coffee / caffeine after will help move the food through your digestive system more quickly so that less of it is actually absorbed and stored as fat. You can also take a Green Tea extract supplement to get a more concentrated dose of the effective qualities in green tea.
5. Perform some brief muscular contraction exercises around your cheat meal. Even doing about 1 minute of light bodyweight exercises such as air squats and wall pushups right before and about an hour after you eat will stimulate something called glucose transporter type 4 (GLUT-4) to the surface of your muscle cells, which can also increase the storage of energy in muscle.
6. Choose the same day each week as your cheat day. Be consistent. The rest of your week you need to eat "clean" in order to take advantage of this fat loss protocol.