I got an overwhelming response of interest in a post about the difference in a free meal vs a refeed. I also thought covering a diet break would be helpful to include. So let’s dive in!
While tracking macros is a great approach to being able to incorporate foods you love on a routine basis, there’s more nuance to things then just “making it fit.“ Finding the #SatisfactionFactor for your forever way of eating is important. That’s why I personally love the occasional free meal in addition to sprinkling in foods I enjoy daily.
First, for purposes of clarity, when I use the term “free meal,” I am referring to the same thing others would call a cheat meal, treat meal, and/or untracked meal as being one and the same (also, it’s ONE meal, not an entire day; those can be appropriate but are different IMO). My personal preference is to call this type of meal a free meal or a treat meal, rather than a cheat meal because of the negative connotation cheat meal can have. IMO, if something (like a free meal) done occasionally helps you stick to your overall plan consistently, then I don’t think it is “cheating” on your lifestyle approach to food. It’s like taking an occasional day off of work. You’ve earned the leave, use it!!
What do I define a free meal to be? Any combination of the following factors: different foods than you normally eat on a day to day basis from a nutrient density standpoint, having larger servings of those foods which you do eat on a day to day basis (which would be above your daily total allotment of macros), foods prepared by others / restaurant meals that you don’t have the macros for and/or don’t want to estimate into your tracking, eating foods which don’t make you feel your best to have routinely but you want to enjoy occasionally because they are mentally fun to have (and you’re willing to deal with the physical side effects after), eating a meal higher in fats or carbs than would be allotted within your daily total than usual and not hitting your protein requirement, etc. Why have one of these meals? Well, for starters, they are fun! It’s a way to include less nutritious foods without guilt because it’s built into your plan. It allows wiggle room for social events. It can help those recovering from restrictive tendencies to neutralize fear foods. It can help with cravings. In summary, it allows you to enjoy food you don’t eat regularly in whatever quantity you want for one meal in order to have mental pleasure and not just “food is fuel.” This can be appropriate for anyone at any stage in their journey, from those with fat loss goals to those in maintenance, and even those eating in a surplus.
A refeed is similar to a free meal in that you increase calories, but it is specifically calories from carbs and can be spread over the course of the day (rather than limiting the surplus to one meal). It is also typically an increase from real food carbs (ie rice, oats, sweet potatoes, honey, etc.) and is advisable to refrain from meeting the increase in calories from anything and everything (ie just processed foods). That’s not to say that some can’t come from sugar or processed foods, but a refeed is less about mental freedom for a day and more about physiology of a sustained fat loss phase. Refeeds are generally only recommend for individuals with 20% or less body fat because otherwise they aren’t needed. They are designed to offset the negative effects of a sustained cut and lower body fat. They work by restoring glycogen in the muscle tissue and resetting the hormone leptin so that metabolic compensation is mitigated and cravings are reduced. Fat intake for the day is lowered to compensated or increased carbs (usually around 20g total is recommended). Refeeds are typically used for very lean individuals who are in a cutting phase for something like a bodybuilding competition or photo shoot. Most individuals don’t need to be below 20% body fat as a lifestyle, so they’re typically not necessary for the average person. However, if you are very lean and don’t necessarily enjoy the thought of a free meal as described above, they can be used as an alternative, or as a way to maintain a leanness level without the hormonal repercussions if you do them frequently enough (ie at least 2 times a week). The #FighterDiet lifestyle phase is a good example of this. I will say that I tried this method and it didn’t work for me. I still mentally wasn’t satisfied. Other people love it, so it’s something to play with, if it applies to you.
Diet breaks are essentially a period of time where you come out of a cut and increase your macros to maintenance in order to offset the repercussions of a cut. It’s much like a refeed, but this is applicable to the average individual regardless of body fat percentage. Diet breaks can be great for things like vacations and holidays when you want to be able to include a bit more fun food on a regular basis into your daily macros. I find this to be a very useful strategy for these reasons, and for clients who want to continue to sustain fat loss over a longer period of time because you can’t diet forever.
Questions? Lemmie know!
P.S. If you are interested in getting a custom set of macros, you can find out more here. If you want something more in-depth, you can get 1:1 coaching via my Meal Mastery Mentorship. You can head to this link to find out more.
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