Can Cheat Meals Help YOU While Dieting?

Many fitness professionals allow their clients to have cheat meals or even entire cheat days during a hypocaloric diet. I’m sure you can guess what the reasoning in doing this is: keeping yourself sane while limiting a lot of the food that you would LIKE to eat all the time. I tend to agree with using some form of cheat meal or cheat day for number physiological and psychological reasons. In this article I will focus on the how how a caloric restriction can effect our reinforcing value of food.

What is the reinforcing value of food. According to Epstein et al “A reinforcer is a stimulus that increases the rate of a behavior that it follows. For example, when a dog learns a trick to get a dog treat, the treat is the reinforcer.” Or in the case of a cheat meal, one might engage in an extra hour of cardio in order to consume a chocolate bar.

This can be used to one’s advantage under supervised or incredibly meticulous conditions. For instance in studies, which research just this subject, the researchers will feed their subjects, or have them record their food for a certain period of time. So they have a somewhat accurate picture of the caloric intake of their subjects.

In the real world, clients (at least mine) will follow a habit-based nutrition ‘program’ or a meal plan. Depending on their adherence (especially in the meal plan) to the ‘diet’ they will provide me with an accurate depiction of their caloric intake. If I know what they are putting in their mouthes, then I can alter their food intake to allow for something that would be considered cheating while they lose fat. I do this simply by replacing calories from other foods with calories from their cheat meal.

I know many people think that if they eat a piece of chocolate they will inflate to a fat-body. In this study one group of obese, premenopausal women consumed limited quantities of dark chocolate everyday for 18 weeks. The other group did not consume dark chocolate, but the caloric intake was the same in both groups. Here were the results: Women in both the dark chocolate snack and non-chocolate snack groups, respectively, experienced decreases in body weight -5.1 vs -5.1 kg, hip circumference -5.8 vs -5.4 cm, waist circumference -5.7 vs -3.5 cm, fat mass -3.9 vs -3.6 kg, and body fat percentage -3.4% vs -3.1%, with no change in lean mass.

Pretty cool if you ask me. Another study sought to measure the relative-reinforcing value of food under varying levels of food deprivation and restriction. They discovered that food deprived participants found food to be more reinforcing, but that this food reinforcement decreased over time. However, in food restricted participants had no change in the reinforcing value of food.

So if you continuously deprive yourself of a food or foods that you enjoy, you will feel better and better when you consume this food. If you have a large reinforcement of food, you may or may not go off the deep end when you consume it. This is where have a level of constraint and discipline comes in. If you diet hard, you deserve to reward yourself. You have to make sure that you don’t over-reward yourself though.

If you reward yourself with one chocolate bar you will be fine. If you reward yourself with 10 chocolate bars in a sitting you will end up going in circles. So if you do decide to use cheat meals, just try and be conscious of what you are consuming.

Thoracic Mobility and Shoulder Pain

I’ve seen many people in the gym with sore shoulders. I usually see them doing the same old things: external rotation variations!!! This is an old way of dealing with shoulder issues. I’m assuming the theory for doing this came from assessing the internal and external rotators. Since many gym goers think training their upper body consists of chest and bicep work, their rotator cuff get’s messed up. If you are looking only at the rotator cuff, then you would probably note differences in ROM into internal (IR) and external rotation (ER), as well as weaknesses into IR and ER.

I’m here to tell you that you are focusing on the wrong things by doing only this method. Yes there is a time and place for strengthening your ER’s, however there is a sleeping giant you should work on first! This is thoracic mobility! How on earth does your thoracic mobility affect your shoulder you might be asking? Let’s start with a visual representation.

Now let’s do a little experiment. Standing up, go into thoracic kyphosis. Round your upper back as much as you can, hold that position and lift your arms up as high as you can. Go for it, I’ll wait. You didn’t get very high did you? Now stand nice and tall, pretend that someone is measuring you and you are trying to get as tall as possible. Now try and bring your arms up as high as you can, did you notice the difference?

The obvious difference is our thoracic spine. When it’s aligned properly, you get the appropriate shoulder ROM, when its’ ROM is decreased, you get a lower shoulder ROM. How does this apply in the real world? Well, people spend so much time in this kyphotic posture that they end up in this posture even when they aren’t stuck behind a desk. Imagine overhead pressing when you can hardly even put your hands above your head! You’re going to have all sorts of issues with your shoulders if your thoracic spine ROM is limited.

A few of my favourite exercises for increasing thoracic mobility is the rib pull:

I prefer to elevate the upper leg to a proper level. You can begin by putting a medicine ball under your upper leg and making sure it stays on top of the ball. This ensures that you are rotating about your thoracic spine and not the lumbar. When you gain mobility, use a smaller medicine ball or take it away completely. I also like to cue proper breathing when using this exercise. Take a deep breath in when you are relaxed, exhale while you are rotating. On your next rep try and get that shoulder even lower.

The quadruped rotation-extension is also a great thoracic mobilization:

I like to keep the knees wide to limit rotation at the hips which a lot of clients seem to do while performing this exercise. Try and reach your elbow up to 12 o’clock.

Lastly, the sidelying thoracic extension-rotation is another great one to add to your arsenal:

If you have shoulder issues and your t-spine extension and/or rotation sucks, try adding some thoracic mobility drills to your warm-up or do them on off days and see if it helps reduce any of your pain. Remember, try to progress into more and more t-spine rotation. You can start with 2 sets of 8 reps.

Social Support and Weightloss

This has been a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. I feel social support doesn’t receive nearly the amount of attention is deserves when it comes to weight loss. You can have a highly motivated person, who knows everything about macronutrients, yet if they surround themselves with saboteurs, they aren’t going to be able to reach their goals. This is especially true after you have lost weight and are trying to keep it off.

A very interesting study came out in August of last year talked briefly on this subject among many others. The study was titled ‘An exploration of the experiences and perceptions of people who have maintained weight loss.‘ The study aimed to discover a few of the effective strategies the participants used after they lost weight. As a byproduct, the study also discovered a few of the roadblocks that they went through after they shed their fat. Seeing as only 17% of Americans are able to maintain a 10% reduction in weightloss one year later , finding strategies to keep weight off is just as, if not more important than finding the best way to lose it in the first place.

One of the major obstacles that the participants agreed on was the presence of dietary saboteurs. These saboteurs are co-workers, friends, and family member who are “Debbie Downers.” For instance when an individual loses a substantial amount of weight, they are told by a friend that “they look good the way they are and they don’t need to worry anymore about losing weight.” Other examples off the top of my head:

“You look way too skinny now.”

“You shouldn’t diet anymore you look unhealthy.”

“Maybe you aren’t meant to be as small as you want.”

Now don’t get me wrong, in some instances individuals take their weightloss to extremes. If someone was bolemic or anorexic, then yes, the quotes above may be valid. However, I have hear a few of my clients go through this kind of stuff when they were at a perfectly healthy bodyweight and it bothered me. My one client lost 40 pounds over a 6 months period. He looked awesome and made an excellent transformation. I later heard that he was being told that he looked to skinny and unhealthy. He was nice and lean and he worked his ass off to get there. I had to be his social support and let him know that these people weren’t full of hot air.

There are many more examples of how your social support network can boost or completely destroy your weightloss goals. For instance, if your significant other is always making food that is deemed unhealthy, (when they know about your goals) it is hard to say no. They obviously put in work to make something good for you and you don’t necessarily want to shut them down. If they knew about your goals, they could do their best to make healthier choices that would be a little more in line with your goals. In other words, if they knew about your goals, maybe they’d lay off the baking!!!!

If your social network is full of people who enjoy exercising and living a healthy lifestyle you are lucky. If your social network is full of sedentary individuals, you will have to put in a little more work. Even if you don’t have an active social network, doesn’t mean you are doomed to a life of obesity. You will need to add active members to your network or attempt to convert a member or two to become active with you. Other groups like weight