We have all seen this on social media… People with bodies you only see in magazines with 6 pack abs, lean legs, beautifully defined shoulders and what we can only assume is an unreal metabolism as well. They post pictures of the chips they eat, the chocolate they consume and the burgers they devour on a weekend.
They hashtag #cheatmeal and post a picture of them looking even better than what they did the few days beforehand when they were eating ‘clean’ and only consuming lean meats and vegetables.
It makes no sense right?
Well, while I wholeheartedly disagree with consuming a cheat meal by terminology, the actual consumption of the calories achieved in a cheat meal can have a lot of benefits. The issue I have with a cheat meal is the underlying guilt attached to certain food groups, labelling them as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and similarly, I find the whole forcing yourself through suffering in the week to then ‘reward’ yourself on the weekend strategy to be inherently negative… we aren’t circus animals!
But that aside… why can you “Eat more pancakes to burn more fat”?
Because your metabolism loves you, that’s why!
Let’s break it down a little further - Ever heard of metabolic damage?
The concept of metabolic damage essentially states that the body will have a negative response to a reduction in calories, whereby your metabolism adapts in a way to slow down and prevent the loss of more tissue (fat) in order to preserve your life, as you are, in essence, starving yourself to a slow death.
Sounds a bit excessive I know… but it's physiologically true!
When dieting in a caloric deficit, whereby you are eating fewer calories than your body burns in order to lose body fat, very particular signals from your fat cells and your hypothalamus (the traffic controller of the brain) begin to be sent out to the body and particular organs in order to tell your it/them to slow down the burning process. In response to this, your appetite increases, your satisfaction post meal decreases, your thyroid function slows (metabolism) and a whole host of negative hormonal cascades begin.
The sad reality is, that unless you gain the fat back that you are burning or you eat more calories (which eventually lead to weight gain), these negative adaptations will not stop and in some cases will continue to get worse.
Which is where the term metabolic damage comes from.
We live in a society that is hell bent on chasing the perfect physique and as a result of this, we have a tonne of people over dieting (eating too little calories) for far too long, training far too much and in the end they are causing ongoing damage to the health of their bodily systems that regulate the calories they burn.
The good news is, we can somewhat 'trick' this system!
And yes, we trick it with pancakes.
Ok, pancakes themselves aren’t the key to fat loss specifically, but the carbohydrates they contain most certainly are.
Let me take a step back:
- Eating in a calorie deficit decreases metabolic function
- Gaining the fat back rebuilds metabolic function - But we don’t want to gain it back
- Eating at maintenance calories rebuilds metabolic function - But consistent higher calories leads to body fat gain
By that notion, this would mean that we are damned if we do and we a damned if we don’t... so don’t gain fat in the first place right?
Well no, not quite. We can trick it… sort of.
The reality is this… we can’t beat our bodies at defending against what it considers to be a major stressor, but we can certainly minimise the strength of the defence it puts up.
And what we know now is this…
A short period (2 consecutive days) of hypercaloric intake (eating back to maintenance calories or just above) with the majority of calories being consumed by carbohydrates (>60% of calories), stimulates the metabolism to increase its performance in the short term.
So we can’t beat the defence mechanism forever, but during a fat loss phase, it is critically important to ensure you are consuming a deliberately high amount of calories and more specifically carbohydrates, on a fairly consistent basis in order to minimise the negative responses to dieting.
In doing so, you will essentially be going through phases of reduced metabolic function due to low-calorie dieting, followed by hyper (increased) metabolic function after high-calorie days, which leads to an improved metabolic rate as a whole.
Eg: Eat more pancakes to burn more fat!
Let’s put this into something practical
|1. If you have been dieting for greater than 4 weeks, I would suggest having 2 consecutive high-calorie days every 3 weeks.|
|2. If you have been dieting for greater than 10 weeks, I would suggest having 2 consecutive high-calorie days every 2 weeks.|
|3. If you have been dieting for greater than 20 weeks, I would suggest having 2 consecutive high-calorie days every week.|
Please note – And this is another reason why I don’t like ‘cheat meals’ or ‘cheat days’.
Consuming high fats in a calorie surplus day/s during a dieting phase achieves ZERO benefit for your metabolism and has a higher risk for storing fat than eating carbohydrates does.
Focusing on high carbohydrates, low fat and moderate protein during a fat loss phase is most advantageous for a high-calorie day trying to improve metabolic function.
This is what we now call, refeed days.
Now let's wrap it up
Fat loss isn’t all about eating less and doing more to burn more fat. It is critically important to also have times of eating higher calories and more specifically higher carbohydrates if you want to maintain a healthier metabolism long term, which will allow you to burn more fat more frequently.
Above all, dietary consistency is the number 1 determinant of achieving the results you want.
While implementing consistent higher calorie days within your diet is positive for your metabolism, it has also been shown to enhance dietary adherence as well, and this will be hugely important for the long term success of your fat loss phase.
You have to find the balance!
So grab the maple, mix up an awesome pancake batter and enjoy yourself during your next fat loss phase instead of starving yourself into reduced results!