Here is a question I get asked at least weekly, if not more.
Should I or can I have a cheat meal?
Psychologically, cheat meals are thought to help keep you on track. Metabolically, you need a calorie deficit throughout the week to lose weight, but, you don’t have to have a deficit every day. Having that deficit every day could cause your body to adapt to “starvation mode.” So a day where there isn’t a deficit could help keep your weight loss rolling. Sounds good right? Everyone should have “cheat meals”?
Not. So. Fast.
My answer is the same answer I give for many nutrition questions I receive. The answer is: Well, that depends.
First, you have to tell me, what exactly is it that you are cheating on? Let me share with you two stories to help illustrate my point.
The first story a previous client told me about attending Weight Watchers meetings. She was sitting in the back of the meeting, and the lady next to her whispered, “I’m going to Taco Bell after this.” to her. Soon they were whispering back and forth about the delicious drive-thru cheat meals they were going to hit up after their weigh in. They both got a good laugh and probably found a lot of comfort in sharing each other “cheat experiences.”
The second story is short, head over to the Rock’s Instagram page. Every Sunday he shares his weekly “cheat meal.” Usually, it’s a massive stack of pancakes or a giant platter of sushi. He usually captions the photo, “remember to treat yourself don’t cheat yourself.”
The Temporary Dieter Vs. The Healthy Lifestyler
What is the difference between the Weight Watchers story and the Rock’s Sunday meals? It’s the intention behind it. Unless you’ve committed to Weight Watchers as a lifestyle (some people do, most don’t) likely you are “cheating” and not treating. The Rock, on the other hand, he follows a lifestyle of healthy eating throughout the week and treats himself one day a week.
My guess is, the week is not a struggle for him like it is for the temporary dieter. He goes about his week making healthy choices that support his workout and doesn’t mind it. He consistently eats enough protein and produce and therefore doesn’t struggle with a million sugar and junk cravings. In contrast, the temporary dieter struggles to resist every temptation all week long, hanging on for dear life until after that weigh in when they can finally cheat.
The Rock also knows how to time his cheat meal to his advantage. My guess is he eating that cheat meal after his hardest workout of the week. When all his glycogen stores (sugar stores) are depleted, and he needs to fill them up to trigger muscle growth. I do this, and I also teach my clients to time their highest carb, most indulgent meal of the week after or on the same day as their hardest workout of the week.
I also teach my clients how to balance their meal choices throughout the week so that treats can be easily included without derailing their efforts. I work with them to shift their mindset from that of a temporary dieter to a healthy lifestyler, because, if your mindset is that of a temporary dieter “cheat meals” will most likely set you up for failure. Instead of focusing on eating healthy, you’re in survival mode till that cheat meal comes along. You will not sustain this way, and you will not achieve the goals you set out too. Your willpower can only last so long before it becomes fatigued and wears out.
What is your mindset regarding this “cheat meal”?
So ask yourself these questions:
- Do you feel guilty after indulging in your “cheat meal?”
- Did you struggle to make it through the week on your “diet?”
If the answer is yes to either, then you need a new strategy. You need to work on balanced intuitive eating and developing an overall healthy lifestyle first. (If you need help I suggest signing up for my 52-week E-course or nutrition counseling.) Screw the idea of “cheating” it’s dumb. You are not bad for eating an indulgent meal like donuts. Bad people burn down orphanages, maybe they eat donuts too, but that isn’t what makes them “bad.”
Or if you answered no to those questions, try these:
- Do you eat pretty clean throughout the week, resisting most temptations with easy because you’ve developed a lifestyle of meal prep, meal planning, and healthy eating?
- Do you appropriately time your treat meal with your workouts so that it works to your advantage?
If the answer is yes to either, then surely the idea of a “cheat meal” might benefit you if you want to call it that. I prefer to call it “balanced eating” or the 80/20 rule. You eat healthy 80% of the time and 20% of the time you appropriately plan your splurges. Your splurges don’t derail all your healthy eating efforts they are just part of the balance of healthy eating.
If you want to call it a “cheat meal, “okay go ahead.
What about cheat days?
No. Just no. Days where your calorie level (if you are tracking) isn’t in deficit, maybe a slight surplus is a good thing and as mentioned earlier may help keep the weight loss coming. That doesn’t mean you eat as much crap as you can shove into your pie hole all day long just because you can. Not balanced, not moderation, and won’t help you lose weight.
You’ll end up in a giant calorie surplus that could wipe out your efforts from the week. Just because you have one indulgent meal doesn’t mean the day is shot. You don’t cut off your hand because you got a paper cut right? Don’t blow the whole day because you had one indulgent meal, that’s just… no, just no, mmmmkay? Instead, just get right back on the wagon at the very next meal.
More weight loss tips:
- Are bananas bad for you?
- Should you be taking collagen?
- Is Fasting Bad For You?
- Why 1200 Is Not The Right Number <— one of my most popular posts
- What Is The Best Weight Loss Program < —- read this before going on another diet!
- 10 Tips to Quit Late Night Snacking
- How to Detox the Right Way
- How to Handle Fluctuating Energy Levels
The question of the day: Do you have a weekly cheat meal?