You’ve been good, no, great on your diet. You’ve been tracking your calories, staying away from foods with high fructose corn syrup, and those with high sugar and salt contents. You’ve packed your lunch, forgone eating out, and stocked your kitchen with healthy, feel good foods. What’s next?

Cheating on your diet is next.

Whoa! Did I just suggest you cheat on your diet?

I did. However, allow me to explain what I mean by “cheating.” When leading a healthy lifestyle, we hear much about hormones and proteins and supplements. One hormone that we don’t hear much about is leptin. Coming from the Greek word leptos, which means thin (awesome!), Leptin is a hormone that has a primary function of regulating one’s metabolism. Leptin is produced by fat tissues and shot into the bloodstream, eventually traveling to the brain and other organs. You’re probably thinking, “thanks for the science lesson, but how does this relate to cheating on my diet?”

Calorie restricted diets

Because leptin helps regulate your metabolism by decreasing appetite and jump-starting weight loss, it’s vital to control how much leptin your body is produces. When you’re on a calorie-restricting diet you have to be careful, because too much caloric restriction can be detrimental to your body. When your caloric intake is too low, your body will hold onto fat and instead – burn muscle tissue. Any diet that restricts your caloric intake to the point that you begin to lose muscle tissue is, simply put, bad for you. And once you begin losing muscle, your body tries to compensate by lowering your energy level and decreasing your leptin production. Less leptin means less metabolism regulation and that means there’s more of a chance to gain any weight back that you may lose on these types of diet. By adding more calories with a “cheat” meal, you’ll increase your leptin levels and give your body a change to burn more fat instead of muscle tissue.

Getting pass a plateau

If you’ve hit a plateau that has caused your weight loss to slow down or even stop, then building in a “cheat” meal may be helpful to revamping your weight loss results. This is no way an article that encourages you to splurge at McDonald’s or The Olive Garden. The focus is building in a meal or 2 each week were you have more calories than you’re used to, followed by your normal caloric intake. Over time, the leptin levels in your system will become confused and begin to increase, thereby awakening your body to lose the last few pounds you’ve been wanting to take off.

So, go ahead and have an additional snack or a larger meal once or twice a week. It will be good for your body and your sanity! Then, keep exercising and eating well. Don’t be surprised when you finally see yourself shedding those last few stubborn pounds.