True Confessions: How 11 Philly Fitness Pros Indulge on Their Cheat Days



When I sent out an email earlier this week asking local fitness instructors to cop to their “cheat day” indulgences, I knew at least half of them would chastise me for using the phrase “cheat day.” And yes, yes, I get it: If you’re eating well 90 percent of the time, you’re totally within your rights to have something indulgent every now and again, and using the word “cheat” makes it sound restrictive, off-limits, “diet-y,” etc.

Well. While I totally follow their logic, and while I personally aim to adhere to the whole everything-in-moderation mantra, too, am I the only who thinks calling it a “cheat day” makes it seem, well, a little more fun? Maybe it’s something latently devilish in me brimming to the surface, but the phrase makes me feel mischievously sinful (in a totally good, non-guilty way, of course), and I kinda like it.

And as it turns out, cheat days are actually pretty darn important, according to Brian Maher, owner of Philly Personal Training and occasional Be Well Philly contributor. “I don’t usually like to call them ‘cheat days’ because that seems to imply my diet is so restrictive that I need to have one day of binge eating to keep my sanity,” he says. “But they do serve their purpose because they ‘trick’ your body into letting it think it’s getting too many calories and fats, which encourages your body to keep burning at a high rate.” It’s the whole carb-cycling thing I told you about last month.

So whatever you prefer to call your semi-regular non-healthy-food indulgences, I think we all can agree that even the most saintly among us have them from time to time, fitness pros included. Here, 11 of them cop to their favorite treat yo’ self foods. What’s yours?

Roger Dickerman, co-owner, Relentless Fitness

Three words: chocolate chip cookies. How often do I indulge?  With myself and my clients I encourage using the phrase ‘up to.’  I indulge ‘up to’ once per week.  That takes the pressure off.  If I need a release, I have one. If I’m motivated and rolling along, I skip it.”

Theresa Conroy, owner, Yoga on the Ridge

“Honestly, I would trade any cake, any bowl of pasta, any ice cream sundae for a good, fresh, local beer. Yup, I save my calories for hoppy ales, rich stouts, complex Belgian tripels.  There are so many fabulous local breweries—Yards, Barren Hill, Iron Hill—it’s impossible to deny yourself. Can’t drink beer everyday—empty calories and all that—so when you do indulge, I cut back a bit that day, work out a bit more. Making room for beer is never a bad thing.”

Brian Maher, owner, Philly Personal Training

“When I do indulge a little bit, I like to ‘cheat’ while also getting some sort of nutritional value. My favorite foods are baked chips and guacamole (the avocado is a great source of heart healthy fats) or a hamburger (high in calories but still gives tons of protein and iron).”

Kimberly Shrack, instructor, The Wall Cycling Studio

“Living in Manayunk, I have a LOT of options on those fuggedaboutit days. My favorite? The Great White pizza from Couch Tomato and some Sweet Elizabeth’s to top it off. Also, wine. I don’t get this crazy more than a couple times a month (okay, maybe three or four) but it is WORTH it.”

Juliet Burgh, vice president and nutrition director, Unite Fitness

“I have one to two cheat meals per week, Friday and Saturday night! I look forward to them and it helps me stay focused the rest of the time when I eat very clean. My favorite indulgence is buying a Whole Foods super-sized vegan chocolate chip cookie and pairing it with coconut ice cream and pouring almond milk over top. I usually fall right asleep from a sugar coma afterwards, but it’s so worth it!”

Marshall Roy, owner, RISE Gym

“My favorite way to indulge on a night off is to pick up a huge steak—ribeye, my favorite—from Whole Foods or a good butcher. I cook it perfectly in my cast iron skillet, and pair it with a big, cold bottle of stout. Then I cue up a mindless action flick on Netflix and dig in. Eating that way every night wouldn’t be smart, but this calorie-laden meal does support my heavy strength-training efforts.”

Juliet Sabella, owner, The Wall Cycling Studio

“Sunday is the only day of the week I have off from everything, so after teaching 12 Spin classes a week, I look forward to a day that begins and ends with nothing. My husband and I head usually over to Winnie’s LeBus in Manayunk for their brunch, where I order a lox plate. There’s something about a heaping pile of cream cheese and smokey/salty salmon on top of a big piece of bread that always gets me.

“When my body wants something sweet later in the day, I don’t deprive it. I usually have a piece of ‘end cake’ from a local bakery and always look for the piece that has the most frosting on it. Or, I head on over to Rita’s water ice and have ½ Swedish fish, ½ chocolate water ice. My husband says I treat my water ice scoopers as well as someone treats a bartender in a high-end bar.”

Perry O’Hearn, owner, Philly Phitness

“Truth be told, I have the appetite of a hippopotamus.  To help keep myself under control, I follow a pretty strict nutrition regimen during the week. However, once the weekend hits I like to loosen up the reins and enjoy the sweeter things in life—no pun intended.  Some nice red wine with pasta or pizza among friends is always a solid choice in my book.  A better choice may be peanut butter cups or a nice cookie from Insomnia. I try not to look at it as a cheat because I don’t think I should feel guilty about it.  To me as long as the ‘exception does not become the rule’ it simply helps break up the monotony of my week and keep a fun social life.”

Vivian Camphor, personal trainer and group fitness instructor, Philadelphia Sports Clubs

“My favorite go to guilty pleasure is ice cream—Haagen Dazs butter pecan,  specifically. None of that ‘fat free, sugar free’  stuff, and I prefer it with hot fudge. Right now, I’m prepping for a physique competition so I’m only allowed one ‘cheat meal’ per week. But when I’m not competing, I allow myself one cheat day where I will almost always indulge in one of my favorite foods: pizza, French fries, ice cream or a big juicy burger. I think that it is important to indulge every once in a while because being too restrictive can cause binge eating. Plus, life is too short to live in total deprivation!”

Leslie Marant, personal trainer, Temple Building Fitness and 2013 Be Well Philly Health Hero

“Instead of cheat days, I look at them as cheat meals.  I eat five to six meals per day for a total of approximately 35 meals per week.  When I’m in fat-loss mode, I eat two cheat meals per week; when I’m in maintenance mode, maybe three. My favorite cheat meals: a stromboli and pizza fries from Overbrook Pizza, and the breakfast buffet at Thirteen in the Philadelphia Marriot. Those waffles? Yummy!”

Gavin McKay, president and head coach, Unite Fitness

“Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE ice cream.  Capogiro Gelato is of course the Philly classic when you are out on the town, but when I want some comfort at home my favorite is Three Twins Organic Cookies ‘N Cream. IT IS THE BOMB!”

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