Around Valentine’s Day, I get one question from many of my clients: how can I have an enjoyable and romantic Valentine’s Day dinner with my partner while sticking to my healthy diet plan?
The answer I give never fails to surprise them, and I’m excited to share it with you: DON'T stress!
Valentine’s Day and other holidays are the optimal time for a cheat meal, a strategy I indulge in quite often when appropriate, not only for my mental health, but also as a fitness strategy. When used correctly, cheat meals can be a great tool to help reset the hormones responsible for metabolism and insulin regulation and keep calorie-burning and fat-torching up.
Some people refer this as the 90/10 rule: basically, it means to incorporate a planned “cheat” meal or even an entire cheat day once every six to ten days. This type of controlled cheating can produce positive physiological effects by restoring leptin, a protein that regulates appetite and energy balance in the body and plays a key role in regulating body weight. The ghrelin hormone is also a factor: low-calorie diets and regular exercise can increase ghrelin concentrations and lead to increased hunger.
Since changes in leptin and ghrelin levels have been seen after only 72 hours of a calorie-restricted diet, weekly high-calorie cheat meals can help raise leptin levels and lower ghrelin. This boosts your metabolism, lowers hunger drive, and increases energy expenditure and calorie burn, and can last for days.
There’s also an important mental factor: knowing you will be able to have a special cheat meal of a favorite food is better than giving into a moment of vulnerability or temptation at other times.  It gives you an element of control, by letting you enjoy your favorite foods on your own terms.
Simply put, cheating is a reward for your hard work and discipline in the gym and the kitchen. And unless you are getting ready for a photoshoot or a competition, it’s okay to enjoy the holidays rather than stress about them. An occasional cheat day or meal isn't going to sabotage your goals or progress if you're focused, disciplined and on-point between planned cheats. 
Keep in mind, a cheat meal is still food going into your body. Definitely indulge, but I still recommend avoiding poor-quality, high-sugar foods that will just make you crash and leave you unable to enjoy the rest of your Valentine’s holiday. The easiest way to make sure you still have some control over your cheat it cook your own Valentine’s Day dinner with a partner. It’s romantic, a great way to track what’s going into your body, and is sure to score you big points with your loved one.
What am I planning for Valentine’s Day? Still holding off on the final decision, but I’m thinking a big hearty pasta dish like lasagna or even lobster ravioli could definitely hit the spot and put me in a perfect holiday mood. And dessert will definitely involve some of my favorites: anything chocolate with ice cream.
What will you choose for your Valentine’s Day cheat meal?