There’s light at the end of tunnel — spring is just a few short weeks away. Not only is it hopefully the beginning of warmer weather, but it also marks the beginning of cutting season. It’s time to shed those pounds and get that lean, ripped physique that you’ve been working so hard to achieve.

Diet, the worst four-letter word in the gym that applies to the most extremes: gaining mass or losing weight. There are no cutting corners in the lifting world, only cutting calories. Eating clean can get you far, but drastically cutting calories brings an expense. To get ripped, the cutting phase involves several weeks of a caloric deficit followed with a low-carb diet. You’ll only see the lean results for so long — a plateau is inevitable. That’s why it’s important to understand what changes occur within your body with drastic cutting and how a cheat meal can actually be beneficial.

To count calories or hormones, that’s the question. It’s a multifaceted answer because calories influence hormones and hormones affect calories. When you’re significantly cutting back on calories, your body will respond by slowing down it’s metabolic rate — it’s unavoidable. From there, you’ll get hungrier and crave that greasy slice of pizza with a side of cheese fries. Fast forward to next winter: all that weight you lost, is now back on you. Don’t be that guy in the gym with the yo-yo diet. Approaching fat loss with hunger hormones will not only decrease hunger but also control cravings while boosting your energy levels. And to bring in the facts, a 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that a significant calorie restriction could cause damage to leptin, ghrelin, and other hormone levels —inciting a rush of hunger and a plummet in metabolism.

curb your junk food cravings

Your Hormones

Three hundred calories a day, 1,500 calories a week — I guarantee you that you’re cravings will kick in during week three and your metabolic rate will start to slow down. Enter: cheat meal, a meal that can offset that because its function is to be a metabolic re-activator — refueling ghrelin and leptin levels. They are your two leading hunger hormones, which can assist you in shedding some serious weight. Obesity Reviews published an analysis of a group of studies on the role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight. It concluded that leptin is involved in long-term regulation energy balance and that ghrelin is a fast-acting hormone that shows meal-related changes.

Your stomach is rumbling and making weird noises — yes you are hungry and that’s the work of ghrelin right there. This hunger hormone is made and released by the stomach and stimulates your appetite. But how is it controlled? The answer is simple: food regulates ghrelin levels. Levels of the hormone are high before eating and when you’re seriously dropping calories. When you get hit with the hunger pangs, that’s when you know it’s time to eat. Also, you may have read somewhere that high ghrelin levels stimulate the release of human growth hormone (HGH) from the pituitary gland. The fountain of youth hormone helps to burn fat and build muscle — it sounds like a win-win during cutting season. But what you don’t know is that high ghrelin levels promote the storage of fat in the abdominal area—getting a shredded six-pack will be hard. That’s why a cheat meal is a necessity; you’ll reduce your constant hunger and cravings while preventing a “beer belly.”

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Known as the gatekeeper for fat metabolism, leptin is a hormone that’s secreted by fat cells and it plays a vital role in regulating appetite, food intake, and body weight. When you have a normal, balanced diet, leptin is capable of suppressing the appetite because you’re consuming just enough calories and have an appropriate amount of body fat. But when you put your body through a significant caloric deficit, there will be a reduction in leptin secretion and leptin circulating in the blood in the bound form. Circulating bound leptin acts on the hypothalamus — that’s how you know when you’re full. But when you’re leaning out, there will be a decrease in bound leptin, preventing your brain from knowing if you’re full or not. A cheat meal will help control you’re cravings by surpessing your appetite at the appropriate time. 

The Cheat Meal

Instead of being at the mercy of your will power, know when to have a cheat meal. It only takes 72 hours for changes to occur with your hunger hormones — low energy and a slower metabolism. You should be consuming a cheat meal at least once every two weeks, and the cheat meal should be higher in calories and carbs. As mentioned before, a cheat meal will refuel your hunger hormones, which will also boost your metabolism. The increase in metabolism will last for a few days post-cheat meal. And to make a cheat meal really work, be smart with what you eat. Just because it’s a cheat meal, doesn’t mean you should overindulge; instead of going for the sweets, opt for high-protein pasta or chicken cheesesteak pizza.