If you don’t know anything else about me, one of the first things you will learn is how much I love chocolate. I love it so much that I have designated one day a week to enjoy my indulgence. In addition to my chocolate day, I normally have a “treat meal” every week, depending on my social calendar for the weekend.
A common question I’m asked is how many treat meals should be allowed per week, especially when trying to reduce body fat. You want to be able to enjoy your favorites while in pursuit of your health goals. And having that balance is crucial to your success. Nobody wants to feel overly deprived, so managing your “treat meals” can make or break your progress. How often should you splurge? That really depends on a few factors:
- What are your fitness goals?
This is the most important question to answer. What are you trying to achieve? This is important because you need to understand what you want your body to do with those calories. Are you trying to gain weight? If so, you’d need extra calories anyway. Trying to lose weight? You’d need to be in a caloric deficit overall. Since most people reading this post are wanting to reduce their body fat, I’ll continue this article assuming the common goal is fat loss. To lose fat, you must consistently eat less than your body needs to maintain its weight. Treating yourself too often will put you in a calorie surplus, causing you to gain weight.
- How many calories do you eat a day?
The number of treat meals eaten per week really depends on how many calories you consume daily. If you normally eat a higher calorie diet, you’d be able to eat splurge meals more often. If you eat a lower calorie diet for weight loss, you cannot splurge as often. Why? You don’t want to give your body a reason to store fat. Eating high calorie meals is a recipe for weight gain. Let’s get more specific.
Say you normally eat 1500 calories per day for weight loss. You decide to go out to dinner on Friday night and eat a high-calorie meal with drinks, which totals about 3,000 calories (because restaurants don’t care about your health goals. They just want the food to taste good!). You also do Sunday brunch, complete with mimosas and cocktails (another 3,000 calories).
Let’s count it up. You’ve eaten an additional 1500+ calories on Friday and another 1500+ calories on Sunday (because we didn’t even count the other meals you ate on Friday and Sunday). Monday, you go back to “eating healthy,” but you’re now carrying around an additional 3,000+ calories. What is your body going to do with all that extra food?
If your eating is ON POINT during the week, AND you work out, your body may burn away most of those extra calories, but you won’t lose any extra weight… all you did was burn off the extra food and drinks. If your eating is NOT on point, you will gain weight because your caloric intake is too high, so you cannot burn off the extra food you ate or burn off any stored fat.
On the other hand, if you normally eat 2000-2500 calories per day, those meals would only total an extra 1,000 or so calories above your normal intake. MUCH easier to burn off and way less likely to be stored. Make sense?
So the less calories you consume daily for your fitness goal, the less you are able to splurge.
- How much weight do you want to lose?
The amount of weight you want to lose, and how close you are to that goal, will determine the amount of sacrifices that will need to be made. Treat meals affect your results, especially if trying to lose the last few pounds. And, if you want to lose weight more rapidly, you need to decrease the number of times you splurge, if any at all.
You can gauge this by tracking your food intake along with your progress. If you splurge a couple times a week and do not lose any weight, try reducing how frequently you splurge to see if that makes a difference.
Typically, the more weight you have to lose, the more splurge meals you can have, because your body already requires a lot of calories to maintain your weight. As your weight decreases, your number of splurges should also reduce to continue seeing results.
- How big are these treat meals?
HOW BIG ARE THESE TREATS lol? When you eat out, do you get an appetizer, entrée, drinks, and possible dessert? If so, you are doing THE MOST, especially if it’s once a week. The bigger your treats, the less frequently you should have them. I have my chocolate day once a week because that’s an extra 500 calories, which is as many calories as one of my meals. If I splurged a few times a week on chocolate, that means I’m essentially adding in an extra meal on those days. What will happen over time? I will gain weight.
If you’re having something small, you can have it more often because it won’t kill your calorie consumption. If it’s a big indulgence, those should only happen once or twice a month, if that.
And keep in mind, multiple small indulgences add up! A piece of chocolate, a soda, or a small fry would be considered small indulgences if eaten by themselves. But eating them all on the same day, and eating them frequently throughout the week would no longer be considered small indulgences because the calories are adding up. Now, they’ve just become part of your normal daily intake. Let the weight gain begin!
Sometimes we overlook these small indulgences and wonder why we’re not losing any weight. Take note of how many “treat” foods you’re eating daily. They could be keeping you from reaching your goal!
- What’s your body type?
Let’s address the elephant in the room… some people can eat whatever they want to eat, whenever they want to eat it, and they won’t gain weight. Matter of fact, they may even lose weight! So, your body type is going to also determine how often you can splurge.
There are people who have a whole treat DAY. There are others who can only allow themselves one treat MEAL per week.
Chances are, you know which side of the spectrum you’re on because you’ve lived with your body your entire life. You know whether you can eat to your heart’s content and not gain an ounce or whether a slice of cake will take a couple weeks for you to burn off.
Genetics makes a difference. Your body type will help determine how your body responds to extra calories, particularly carb intake, and how quickly you will burn them off.
There are three main body types: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph.
- Ectomorphs are typically long and lean. This is the person that can eat anything and not gain weight. They can probably out eat everyone and have them wondering where all the food goes.
- Mesomorphs have a naturally athletic build. When they overeat, they may gain a few pounds, but it’s normally easy for them to lose it once they get their eating back on track. They also gain muscle easily.
- Endomorphs have a soft, more rounded appearance. They have typically struggled with weight gain most of their lives and carry a larger amount of body fat.
Which body type do you identify with? Even if you are carrying more weight than normal, think back to how your body looked when you were younger. You may also be a mix of a couple body types. I’m a mix of an ectomorph and mesomorph.
If you are a mesomorph or endomorph, you will not be able to splurge as often as an ectomorph and still be able to lose weight. If you are an endomorph, you will find it harder to burn off your splurges once you have them, so stick with small, less frequent splurges.
Finding balance between your fitness goals and your lifestyle can be a challenge. But without that balance, you will be in a constant struggle of gaining and losing the same weight repeatedly. It may take some trial and error, but you have to find what works for you. What allows you to still enjoy life while progressing toward your goal? How can you still enjoy your favorites while reducing your body fat? There are tons of different factors. But, always remember that food affects your overall quality of life. No matter your weight goal, you should be striving to nourish your body with healthy foods most of the time.
What’s ecto- in the morning, meso- in the afternoon and endo- in the evening?
Whatever it is, it’s how I feel as I’ve matured. I miss gettin’ my splurge on: I could splurge all week (in college); then just weekends (in grad school) but still all weekend; and now…well, (yeah) splurge wisely.