Cheat Meals Are My Secret

I have spent the last 5 years attempting to reach a goal: I want to be, and remain, fit.

At times, I have been the embodiment of #fitfam. My workout regimen consisted of 5-6 vigorous gym sessions a week (a combo of weight lifting, cardio, and ballet training) with a strict 1500 calorie a day diet (no saturated fats or alcohol, and minimal carbs). In other words, my life existed within the parameters of my fitness plan. I vowed to attend no parties, to only order salads at restaurants, and to fast on vacations so I could maintain the ‘beach-bod’ I’d worked so hard for.

These “fit” phases, however, only lasted for 6 months at a time, before completely derailing after a sudden craving for Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food, or a late-night binge on Chicken Top-Ramen. The next 6 months would then consist of eating whatever I pleased (cookies, Chick-Fil-A, Coronas...) because I had broken the plan—so, why not keep breaking it? Gym time quickly became grub time, ballet became a beer, and the treadmill became the TV. I would sit on the couch, binging Grey’s Anatomy, until my clothes no longer fit, and I was forced to start the vicious cycle all over again.

After four years of fluctuating between pant sizes, I was, quite frankly, a little pissed off. I knew HOW to get fit, so why couldn’t I stay that way? I had spent hundreds of dollars on personal trainers, fancy gym memberships, and matching legging and sports bra sets (c’mon, they’re SO cute) but still nothing seemed to motivate me enough to stay consistent in the gym for more than a few months at a time.

This last year, however, I have remained a constant and healthy weight, while feeling my strongest and hardly ever dreading the gym- for the ENTIRE year. The secret? Cheat meals.
I can’t tell you that every meal should be a cheat meal, or that cheat meals are the key to losing weight. What I can tell you, however, is that there are some heartbreaks in life that only chocolate can fix.

I grew up being told that fitness was about consistency. It was about the habit of going to the gym, saying no to unhealthy foods, and eating controlled portions. It was NOT about eating a cheeseburger whenever I wanted to. So, every time I felt myself caving in and walking to Five Guys, I was ashamed and disappointed in myself for doing something “bad”. I had fallen into the trap that being fit was an all-or-nothing sport; I had convinced myself that my brussel sprouts and baked goods could not live in my pantry in harmony. The reality, however, was that every time I tried to keep myself from going to brunch with my friends, or chose water over a coke, I kept myself from living the life I so desperately craved. I was constantly suffering from a bad case of FOMO, and at a certain point, I broke.

My choices were not logical, they were emotional. Although I knew an order of McDonald's fries was 400 calories, it felt like a stab to the chest—a sign that I was not strong enough to resist the craving.

Cravings are human. Mistakes are human. Forcing yourself to miss out, however, is not.

How many cheat meals, when to have them, and what to eat during them is not a plan I can prescribe. Letting myself indulge once a week and letting myself live a little, was all the motivation I needed to keep myself pushing along my fitness journey. I learned to believe that all hope was not lost every time I chose to enjoy a night out, a missed workout, or a greasy meal.

I’ll be the first to admit, my newfound ability to balance health and indulgence did not develop on its own. I found inspiration in those around me, and leaned on them as I learned to straddle the line between the occasional cheat meal and exclusively cheat meals. My roommate, Caroline, noticed my struggle to find consistency in my fitness habits and willingly offered to start a meal/fitness plan together. At first, I fought the idea out of fear of judgement if (and when) I fell off the plan. She reassured me that we were in this together, and we were.

The first time I slipped up and ate sushi on our new diet, Caroline didn’t shame me for my choice, but rather joined me and savored the experience. The next day, she did not speak of the meal as if it were a mistake, but as a treat to fuel our next workout. She taught me that those cheat meals weren’t really cheating—because I wasn't doing something wrong—they were simply a choice. A choice I made, and a choice I can be okay with.

I recently joined Kai Coach, a personalized fitness coach that communicates entirely via text message. At Kai, we believe in the power of cheat meals. We believe that fitness is NOT an all-or-nothing sport and that becoming healthier is not a simple one-step solution. Sometimes, life gets in the way and it’s okay to indulge those cravings!

Kai is your own personal Caroline—someone to share your indulgences with while keeping you accountable to get to the gym. Even if that means getting to the gym... tomorrow.

Lauren Gabrio