The Dos and Dont’s of Cheat Meals

If you have stuck to your nutrition plan for a week or more, you may be thinking about indulging in a cheat meal. In my experience – both as a coach and a living, breathing human being – we may even begin to daydream about a cheat meal as soon as we eat our first green vegetable on Day 1 of our plan.

But a cheat meal, if done wrong, can definitely set you back and undo your hard work. Having a few boundaries around an indulgence can make all the difference in the speed at which you reach your goals. 

I know, I know. The last thing you want to do after eating broccoli and protein every day is to “restrict” yourself.

But let’s put aside our hanger for a minute and face the truth: we can easily do a lot of damage in a single night of indulgence. It is easy to undo an entire week’s caloric deficit if we are not careful.

This information can make a marked difference in your progress, so listen up!

First Things First – A Cheat Meal is Not A Reward

Sticking to your diet is not a punishment; it is an act of care and love towards your body and mind. It is the fulfillment of a promise you have made to yourself.

A meal that deviates from your diet is not a “reward” for sticking to your diet.

The point of a cheat meal is that it enables you to:

  • Enjoy delicious food with your friends and family.

Eating is one of the most popular social activities. Is it your daughter’s birthday party? Or perhaps your friends are celebrating that new promotion? You can join in with the festivities without becoming a social pariah.

  • Get psychological relief from eating similar food everyday

Eating broccoli and chicken breast can get a bit repetitive. But knowing you can eat your favorite chocolate cake or pizza on Friday can help you stick to your diet today.

  • Receive a small boost in metabolism

The research on this is inconclusive, but some nutritionists believe that having a cheat meal can boost your metabolism. Others say that the boost is negligible and the excess calories of the cheat meal cancel out any metabolic enhancements. 

So take the last one with a pinch of salt, and maybe accept that the only reasons to have a cheat meal are psychological, not physiological.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, here are some parameters for cheat meals which can make all the difference in your progress.

1. Go To A Restaurant
Whether you go out with your family on a Sunday evening, or you have a mid-week sundae with your dog, it’s best to go out. That way, you won’t have to bring any of the highly seductive food into your kitchen and have it lying around after you are done. But, avoid all-you-can-eat buffets. You know why. This is a special meal, so go out with your loved ones. Or your respected enemies. Your choice.

2. Post-Workout Meal
Have a cheat meal on a day when you have exercised. Or, exercise on the day you plan to have a cheat meal. Exercise – especially weightlifting or high intensity workouts – cause a cascade of physiological changes. This means that much of the energy obtained from your cheat meal will go towards building your muscle rather than fat stores.

3. Dinner Time!
From personal experience, I can safely say that dinner cheat meals are far superior to breakfast or lunch. This way, you can stick to the diet through the morning and afternoon, and look forward to your dinner like a kid looking forward to opening his birthday presents. Have your meal. Go to bed. Wake up and get dive back into your normal diet.

If you eat hyper-delicious food during the morning or afternoon, you are more likely to turn your cheat meal into a cheat day. And by “you”, I mean “me”. Your mileage may vary.

But be honest with yourself. Know your own weaknesses and plan around them.

4. What To Eat
In an ideal world, you will keep your normal source of protein along with some vegetables in your cheat meal. This should fill you up nicely and you can still enjoy some of your favorites. Add some carbs (bread, pasta, rice, etc) Split a dessert with someone. Just keep it reasonable!

So there you have it. Adhere to these rules and you can enjoy a great cheat meal before you get back to your regular scheduled programming. 

Neha is a fitness coach at MyHealthBuddy who became inspired to help others after going through her own transformation. She is also a freelance copywriter, biology student, futurist, and wonder junkie, pursuing her dream of alleviating human suffering.


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