Our Transformation Programmes are between 8 and 12-weeks long. If you are considering using one of our programmes to look great for a summer vacation, allow us to use this first paragraph to pre-emptively answer a question: No, we do not typically encourage our clients to use a refeed meal (formerly and inappropriately termed cheat meal) during their initial Transformation Programme. As you will learn after reading this blog, this tool is rarely a smart move across a short time period.
However, when you have adhered strictly to a long-term nutrition plan, it’s not uncommon to begin daydreaming of cakes, cookies, and bowls of cheese pasta. If you have ever tried to achieve a seriously lean physique, you will understand how impactful food craving can become. Refeeds are (to the client, at least) all about managing cravings and hitting pause, but not in the way you might expect.
Why Do We Crave Food?
Typically, the more ambitious your diet (period of focus on losing body fat) and the lower body fat you achieve, the more food cravings are a realistic challenge. Craving energy dense food is not the result of a plan you are following being unhealthy or unsustainable (at least, not if the plan is well designed). The reason we crave is because your body’s primary driver is survival. When you are not receiving enough energy to sustain your current size, various feedback loops are in place to disrupt your new lifestyle pattern. When experiencing genuine, strong hunger and daydreaming of your favourite energy dense food, your brain is compelling you to refill the fuel reserves (fat cells) that you are quickly depleting.
As you progress and reduce body fat in the longer-term, your body reacts by “upregulating” (increasing the amount of) leptin in your system. Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells to help your body control and monitor both new and stored energy. As you deliberately consume less energy through your food, leptin signals your body to consume more. Leptin signalling increase hunger.
Cheating (Refeeding) to Win?
Within our nutrition team, one of the most immediate tasks with clients who are pushing for impressive levels of body fat reduction is to control hunger. There are many ways (and we have many tricks up our sleeve) to manage your hunger day-to-day. On our Transformation Programme, and in the shorter-term, refeeds are very rarely employeed.
That being said, in the longer-term, occasionally planning to include some of the foods you crave can help increase fullness by encouraging fat cells to release more leptin. This is the purpose of refeed days; to reduce leptin levels so that you no longer feel hungry. You consume significantly more energy (kcals) than is normal, causing your leptin levels to decrease and suppress your appetite. This reduces the images of cookies and slices of red velvet cake dancing around your head whilst trying to concentrate at work. For those aspiring to incredible long-term results, a refeed day may be just the thing you need to get your body back on track for success.
Cheat Meal vs. Refeed Day
To achieve the most from your time in the gym and adherence to your nutrition plan in the longer-term, you must think of this tool as a refeed and not a cheat day. Some may confuse the two (and a ‘cheat meal’ is fun to conceptualise) but they are quite different.
Cheat Meal: This is a day of (very) relaxed eating designed to help you deal with the psychological challenge of deprivation that can arise when dieting for longer time periods. When using cheat meals, you will not count your calories or macronutrients and (from what we can tell) any and all food items are on the menu.
Refeed day: This day is for deliberately overeating a specific macronutrient: carbohydrates. The immediate effect is to increase levels of leptin and therefore reduce appetite signals telling your body to consume more. Eating a lot of carbohydrate then literally “refeeds” your body with energy and muscle glycogen (stored energy) it can use as you immediately resume your lower-carb nutrition plan.
While both cheat days and refeed days can help you deal with cravings, the refeed day addresses true causal underlying physiological, rather than the correlated psychological challenge.
Your refeed day should of course be tailored to you and discussed with your coach or nutritionist. To give you some idea of the guidelines we find valuable to consider, take a look at the following.
To keep your body functioning well as you diet, on refeed day you should:
• Maintain your normal protein intake
• Double or even triple your normal carb intake
• Reduce your normal fat intake, unless you are already using a low-fat approach, in which case, maintain your level of fat intake
Thank you for reading.
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