How to Maximize A Cheat Meal

Now Part 3 of my interview where Tim and I discuss the diet portion of the Four Hour Body:

  • Why red wine is the most acceptable alcohol on a fat loss program (controversial)
  • The Cheat Meal vs Cheat Day Debate
  • His amazing step-by-step plan for maximizing a cheat meal
  • The one weird thing he puts on a pizza.

Craig Ballantyne: Now, there was one thing that was kind of surprising in there is that you said red wine was okay, beer and white wine are not.  Can you just explain that?  Some people are going to be super-duper happy to hear that.

Tim Ferriss: Yes.  And I will be honest.  I think part of it is just me trying to rationalize why I can drink red wine because I love red wine.  But there’s actually some science behind it.  So it has to do with residual sugar, and it has to do with glycemic index – or glycemic load I should say.  Now there are things that are wrong with the glycemic load.

We don’t have to get into the really technical side to that, but the short and sweet of it is beer almost always contains maltose.  And it triggers a tremendously high insulin response.  So if you could design the perfect foods for gaining fat you’d probably at the top of the list have beer and then doughnuts.  I would say those are probably right up there neck-and-neck.  So if you’re drinking beer just imagine you’re eating doughnuts.  That’s roughly the effect that you’re having on your body composition.

The residual sugar, meaning the sugar that’s left after fermentation, in white wine tends to be much higher than in red wine.  So I have not seen any negative effect in drinking one or two glasses of red wine let’s say four or five nights a week.  You certainly don’t have to do it that often.  But I like red wine.  I live in Northern California, in the middle of wine country, so I’ve tested this with myself and other people.  And really I haven’t seen a tremendous negative impact from drinking red wine at all.  Once you exceed two glasses for most people, once you really start to place a burden on the liver, then yes there is an impact.  But if you’re moderate and you’re doing one or two glasses to wind down at night, I don’t see any problem with it.

Craig Ballantyne: And then another question in there are some people just say one cheat meal per week and then some of you guys will be about the cheat day.  So can you explain just a little more about why you do that.  And then we’ll get into – you have a really cool structure for your cheat day that helps you maybe maximize results.  So just do the cheat day question and then go right into that structure.

Tim Ferriss: Sure.  It’s primarily psychological.  It’s less about the physiology and more about the psychology.  As you noticed in the book, the first 50 pages or so are dedicated to failure proofing whatever program you decide to go on.  It’s like how do you buy insurance against the worst of human nature, so that you actually succeed with what you’re doing as opposed to quitting or missing workouts or whatever.  And the psychology is very important.  So, in this particular case when people have a cheat meal, if you can pull it off fantastic.

There are a few reasons why the women I still suggest a cheat day.  Some women if they’re for whatever reason restricting calories, if they don’t get that binge day and a spike in calories they’ll have issues with menstruating and all sorts of things.  And this is true on any diet.  So having that one day a week if you’re doing any type of low body fat dieting is I think very helpful.

But for most people if they have a cheat meal they will either have more than a single cheat meal when they have their cheat meal, or they’ll have a really, really big extended cheat meal and they’ll feel guilty about it and feel like they went off of their program.  And as soon as someone feels like they’ve broken their promise to themselves the next step is usually saying, “Well, look, I’ve already blown it for today and tomorrow so I may as well just eat whatever, I want tomorrow as well.”  And that type of psychological response is really consistent.

So to avoid that I just say, “Look, from when you wake up to when you go to bed you can eat whatever the hell you want on Saturday,” or whatever you cheat day is.  I always use Saturday, and I recommend people use Saturday – Friday or Saturday.  And it’s just proven to be more effective is the bottom line when I’ve done it with people who have a lot of weight to lose.  Now if you’re a body builder, or if you’re trying to get to let’s say sub 8% body fat or – yes, let’s say sub 8%, which is really low.  Most people when you ask them what your body fat is, they’re like, “yeah. I’m like 8% or 9%.”  No way dude, you’re 14%.

Like I mean for most people 8%, like you have veins on your abs.  I know it sounds crazy but just having done hundreds of body fat tests, 8% is really, really ripped for most people, especially if they have some muscle mass.  But let’s say you want to get sub 8%, then maybe a cheat meal makes sense. When doing something a little more advanced like cycling calories make a lot of sense.  And that can make sense even when you have more weight to lose, but it’s not something I focused on.

In terms of the structure of the cheat day, there are a couple of things you can do to minimize the fat gain during that cheat day.  The first is to just make your first meal so you wake up, and you have one small non-binge meal.  So my default tends to be one or two whole eggs – free-range organic eggs – two whole eggs with some spinach and vegetables, like in a small bowl.  It’s not a big meal.  And that will slightly inhibit your appetite for the rest of the day.  And it’s not a bad thing.  My next meal is usually I’ll walk down the hill to my favorite bakery, and I’ll get two chocolate crescents, a big cup of coffee and grapefruit juice.  And there are reasons for this.

So the grapefruit juice, you’ll notice I’m breaking my rule but this is my day off.  If you have fructose, especially something like grapefruit juice, it flat lines your glucose response.  It can help prevent huge glucose spikes when you eat a bunch of crap.  So I will make a point of having this early I the day on my binge day.  It also solves fat loss.  But here’s the thing.  It solves fat loss, but for this particular day it will minimize fat gain.  So those are two different things, but it’s important to realize the difference.

The caffeine is also important.  You don’t have to consume caffeine, but by having coffee, and I’ll do this two or three time throughout the day, it increases the speed of gastric emptying, so the speed at which food leaves your stomach and passes through your digestive tract.  So what does that mean?    That means you’re absorbing through your calories.  So there’s a message to that madness as well.

And then throughout the day you can use various types of tricks.  In the chapter “Damage Control” one of them very simple would be just getting the juice from let’s say three to four limes or lemon wedges and consuming than before you have your meal, which when I tested – I had a medical device implanted in my sides to measure blood glucose 24/7 for about three weeks and tracked everything – it tends to lower the blood sugar response by at least 10%.  And that’s significant if you compound it over time.  Cinnamon also very helpful.  So I always put cinnamon in my coffee at the same time I have the pastries, which is usually my second crappiest meal of the day.

Lunch I might have let’s just say Thai food with some rice.  I usually don’t have rice, but I’ll have Thai food with rice because I love rice if I’m allowed to have it.  And then for dinner that’s when I’ll also go crazy, so I might have a huge full pizza, wild nettle pizza with an egg on top with some wine and then afterwards I’ll have an espresso and some ice cream.  And that’s pretty much what it looks like.

You can also use exercise very effectively during that day to minimize fat gain by understanding how you can increase insulin sensitivity.  I won’t go into all the details, but there are a lot of things you can do to prevent fat gain while binging.  So this is also very helpful for times like Christmas or Thanksgiving or New Years.

Craig Ballantyne: I’m sorry, you put an egg on a pizza?

Tim Ferriss: Oh man, it’s delicious.  Yes, absolutely.  It’s like a soft cooked sunny-side up egg on a wild nettles with proscuitto pizza.  It’s the greatest thing.  You put it right in the middle. It’s so delicious.  I highly recommend it.

Craig Ballantyne: Wow, that’s some impressive stuff.  Now there’s one term that you mentioned in the book called “deferred eating”.  Can you explain how you use that to get through the week to the cheat meal?

Tim Ferriss: Sure.  So many of the people who use the slow carb diet, particularly in the first two weeks.  Past the first two weeks, it’s usually not very hard.  The hard part of any new dietary approach, any lifestyle change like this, is finding your default meals.  Once you find what your default meals are, like your two or three meals you have for breakfast, you two or three meals you have for lunch, which everyone has.  People overestimate the variety of their diet.  But you look at what you ate for breakfast this last week, how many of those were the same two meals?  Pretty much all of them for most people.  So once you find your default meals you’re usually fine.

In the first two weeks you’re like, “Oh my God, I just want to have some pasta.  Oh my God, I just want to have macaroni.”  Or “Oh my God, I just want to have a sandwich, and I need bread.”  You just take a note and write down all those things that you want to have, and you just put “For Sunday” or “For Binge Day”.  And you write down all the things you’re going to eat on Saturday, and that consistently reminds you, “I’m not giving up this food forever.  I’m just giving it up for three days, two days, one day.  Bang, now I can do whatever, I want.”

Craig Ballantyne: Cool.  And then why don’t you go over some of the exercise tips quickly.

Tim Ferriss: Which exercise tips?  I’m happy to go into whatever you like.

Craig Ballantyne: Like just the body weight exercises you did.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, right.  So I’ll give a simple one because I think for most people they may not want to do the air spots or chest pulls, things like that.  So you can increase your muscle cell’s ability to absorb carbohydrates by doing some contractions, muscular contractions, around the time of your meal.  So usually what I’ll do is I’ll have an appetizer and then when my entrée arrives, I’ll go to the bathroom, this is really simple, and put my hands on the wall about shoulder width apart at shoulder height.  And then I’ll move my feet back – so I’m standing straight up – I’ll move my feet back let’s say foot-and-a-half or two feet, so I’m leaning forward into my hands.  And then I’ll just do tricep extensions.  And do 30 or 40 of those.

And what that’s going to do – I did a lot of research into what are called glucose transporters – and that’s enough to open the channels and allow more carbohydrates to make it into your muscles, in this case your upper body musculature, as opposed to being put right on your abdomen.  So that’s another approach to minimizing fat gain when you have to overeat, or when you choose to overeat.

Craig Ballantyne: Very nice, very nice.  And then one other thing that you mentioned in there, in the book, not related to the cheat meal per se, but for weighing for women that – what was it, the 10 days before menstruation you should just kind of like not even acknowledging those weights because that’s when the water retention is occurring?

Tim Ferriss: Yes, exactly right.  That’s another way that women can get derailed is if they misinterpret water weight associated with menstruation with some type of plateau awaken.  So I don’t know the exact number of days, but I do recommend that they avoid a certain period around menstruation.  And just avoid the body weight completely.  Don’t pay attention to the scale for that period of time.  Absolutely.

Craig Ballantyne: Okay.  And another rapid fire question.  You had almost every single method of body fat measurement done.  Which one would you choose if you were going to try and go for the most accurate and reliable method, if there were no limitations?

Tim Ferriss: Yes.  If there were no limitations, I’d say my first choice is probably something called DEXA, which is – it is usually a GE device.  It’s used for measuring osteoporosis.  It’s used for looking at bone density very often.  But you lay down on this bed.  It’s a full body scan.  And the radiation risk is low to my knowledge, compared to CAT scans, x-rays, etc.  And not only do you get your body fat composition, but you get to see the mass analysis.  So if you have some type of muscular imbalance that could produce an injury later you’ll see that very clearly.  You also get your bone information.  So if you can do that for $50 to $100, I highly recommend doing it.  And so it’s either D-X-A or D-E-X-A.

My second choice would be – it’s kind of a tie.  I’d say the one that people will probably have the access to if they look for it is Bod Pod, B-O-D P-O-D, its just You can find locators.  This is a cool device.  It’s actually a chamber that you sit inside, and it’s like a space capsule.  And they use pressurized air to determine your body fat composition.  It’s pretty wild.  But it basically replicates hydrostatic weighing, underwater weighing that’s considered the gold standard.  It’s as accurate as the hydrostatic weighing, but you’re not wet, and you don’t have to hold your breath.  Not really, you hold your breath like a second when they take it.  But you sit in this capsule, and it’s all done with air.  So those would be the two recommendations.

If you can’t do that, if you’re going to use calipers, which is most common.  So if you go to a gym, and you’re going to have someone take your caliper reading, it’s very important that you have at least three points and that one of those measurements is a leg measurement.  If you leave the leg measurement out forget about the body fat percentage that you see as a result.  It’s telling you your upper body, body fat percentage.  But if you want something for your whole body you need a leg measurement.

What I would recommend is they use different algorithms, different equations.  If you go in use the same person every time to do your measurement, and ask them to use what’s called the Jackson Pollock algorithm, much like the artist.  Yes, Jackson Pollock is the one that I would recommend as being most reliable from my experiences.

Craig Ballantyne: Awesome, that’s great.  And then just before we go, before we finish up here, why don’t you just tell us what you had the most fun learning about in the book, excluding the sex chapter which I’m sure was obviously probably the most fun.  And again, anybody listening to the call I’m just going to leave you hanging.  You’ll have to go read that one yourself.  But what about the training staff?  Kettlebells, the running, the deadlifting.

Tim Ferriss:
The most fun for me was – I’m really tied, but I think I know which one is the winner.  I’d say the maximal strength.  I mean putting 20-30 pounds on your deadlift almost every time you go in is crazy.  I mean that’s just, it really kind of blows your mind.  That was incredible, number two.  And actually the first place winner would be the swimming.  The swimming was one of my biggest embarrassments and insecurities for my entire life, and I fixed it in one week.  That just completely changed my paradigm, of how I looked at everything that I thought was impossible.  I had given up so many times.  I had tried so many classes and just given up, completely given up on being able to swim.  And I went from two laps to about 40 laps a workout in a week.  And then very soon thereafter was swimming a mile open water in the ocean.  I mean it’s crazy.  It’s completely unbelievable to me, even now, that I was able to do that.  And it’s very easy to replicate.

So for me, I would say that was probably the most eye-opening and certainly the most – of some of the training, the most gratifying for me just because it had been such a fear and insecurity for so long.  I would say that those would be two of the highlights out of many.

Craig Ballantyne: That was very cool.  Well, I highly recommend everyone grab the book.  It’s a nice Christmas for you or for someone else.  It’s literally a handbook and a guidebook to making your life a whole lot better pretty quickly.  So, Tim, is there anything else you want to mention about the book or anything at all about the topic before we close off?

Tim Ferriss: Sure, absolutely.  There are two things I would say.  The first is that if you want to improve productivity, business performance, relationships, whatever it might be, there’s a lot of research done on this.  I won’t bore you with the particulars, but improving your physical machine, your physical body, is the absolute most effective way to do that.  It affects everything else.  That would be number one.  So if you’ve accepted any type of genetically supposedly genetically fixed limitation, endurance, strength, fat loss, whatever, this is the right time to really test those assumptions because I’ve yet to see more than a handful of cases of anything that can’t be fixed with the proper training and nutrition in terms of body composition and performance.

The last thing I would say is that if people are interested, I had to cut between 100 and 150 pages of content from the book just because the publisher was concerned with the cost of printing.  They’re good chapters.  It’s just the cost of printing.  Some of them include things like spot reduction.  I actually kept it topical approaches to fat loss, which ends up working on the abdomen and thighs, things like that, genetics testing, so how do you determine what type of supplement you’ll respond to or not respond to, things like that.

If people buy three books, let’s say they get one for themselves and two for gifts for Christmas or something like that, if they send an email – so email their Amazon receipt to – that’s not Craig’s real email address, it’s just for the email receipts – if they email their Amazon receipt for three books to Craig, C-R-A-I-G, @fourhourbody, all spelled out, .com.  I’m happy to send them a PDF of one of the lost chapters.  I haven’t figured out which one I’m going to send out.  It will be whatever one I think is the most specific and helpful and actionable.    But if people are interested in that I’m happy to send them one of the chapters that they won’t be able to find anywhere else by sending an Amazon receipt for three books to  And last but not least, thanks for having me.  This was fun.  Good questions.

Craig Ballantyne: Yes, yes, it really was.  And we’ve met a couple of times, and we had a good time learning how to kill terrorists and drive cars in a short amount of time.  We did that this year.  And so it was just like your book, it was concentrated learning, and you leave with a skill set that if you try to do it half-hazardly you wouldn’t have accomplished in two or three months.  So it’s really just a focused block of time and then away you go.

Tim Ferriss: Absolutely, agreed.  So thank so much for having me.

Craig Ballantyne: Yes, thank you very much.  And maybe someday we’ll have another chat here for our readers.  But until then everyone, this is Craig Ballantyne from  Make sure you pick up a copy of The 4-Hour Body from Tim Ferriss, and then try his other book as well.  And Tim, what about your blog?  Is there a way that people can read some of your really cool articles that you have?

Tim Ferriss: Yes, absolutely.  So if you’re in a place – if you just want to check out all the crazy stuff that I do, case studies, or if you’re not in a place financially to get the book also totally fine.  Just go to, so F-O-U-R-H-O-U-R, blog  And there’re tons of stuff.  I’ve got 300 different posts, all categorized.  You can search by popularity.  And I’ll spend as much time on one of my blog posts in many cases as I will for a piece for The Economist or something like that.  So I usually put quite a lot of thought into those.

Craig Ballantyne: Awesome, that’s great stuff.  So everyone, have a great day.  Check out that book.  And I look forward to hearing about your maximum results in minimum time experiments from The 4-Hour Body.  Bye-bye everyone.

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PS – By the  way, you definitely need to get this book…

…it covers fat loss, secrets to amazing sex, better sleep, running long distances faster (without a lot of running), getting stronger, amazing sex, and becoming a better athlete…oh yeah, and secrets to amazing sex. There might also be a massive sextion devoted to better sex. I think.

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