A cheat meal or day is a period of time when you are more relaxed around your food choices. You usually end up waking up from a food coma with a KFC grease tache and cookie crumbs in your belly button. They are an excuse to show off your unhealthy eating habits, stall progress and will give you something to post on Instagram at the weekends. As you may have guessed, I’m not a big fan of cheat meals as they are a glorified pig out, disguising shitty eating habits.

More food NEVER means more fat loss

For some reason, cheat meals are seen as a way to increase fat burning during a period of being in a calorie deficit. I still struggle to comprehend this. As we all know, the only way to lose body fat is to be in a calorie deficit (burn more calories than you eat). So how would eating more food help this situation? The aim of the game is usually to eat less food or exercise more (or a combination of both). If you are struggling to get lean enough, the chances are you are not in a calorie deficit (or you aren’t patient enough). Adding in a large high calorie meal is going to push your goal even further into the future.

Binge/restrict cycle

Do you need a cheat meal

Let me paint you a picture.

Imagine walking down a warm white sandy beach in a white linen open shirt.

Oh shit, sorry, wrong picture.

Imagine you have been making sensible food choices all week. You have avoided Sally’s cakes for her birthday, have been to the gym 3 times and even been for a 5k run. The weekend arrives and the cracks start to show. A takeaway gets accidentally ordered on Friday night and your friends manage to convince you to come out for a few beers on Saturday. On Sunday, whilst hungover on the sofa, you vow that you will “start again Monday”. This cycle repeats and results are few and far between. You bust your balls all week, but at the weekend a piece of fruit or veg wouldn’t be seen near your mouth.

This binge/restrict cycle continues. Add a cheat meal into this mix and it only fuels the fire. Adding in a meal of highly palatable, highly calorific foods and this is only going to get worse. The aim should be to enjoy food but also be able to control it when needed. I would love to say you can eat what you want, but I would be lying. There needs to be restriction, but also the ability to control certain food groups.

Let me offer an alternative…

Instead of a cheat meal/day/week, let me give you a solution that could solve all of your problems. People feel the need to include a cheat meal because they are hungry, bored of ‘diet’ food and are ready to give up. It is a glimpse into the carb filled dream world that consumes your mind on a daily basis. There are a couple of things you could change that would prevent the need to cheat on your diet.

Don’t be boring

do you need a cheat meal

If you are eating nothing but boiled chicken and broccoli every day, the chances of being miserable are guaranteed. In the first week you may be thinking “no pain, no gain”, but by week 2 you will be gagging at the thought of eating another mouthful. Include foods that you enjoy! Keep it interesting, varied and exciting. This may also include a splash of some of the foods that are less than ideal (chocolate, cake, sweets) but in small quantities. You don’t have to save them all up for the weekend.

Diet Breaks

If you have been trying to lose weight for a long period of time (over 4 months), progress has stalled or you have lost a large amount of weight, it may be time to take a break from dieting. This doesn’t mean a free for all binge taking a face dive into a Chinese buffet. I would recommend slowly increasing calories to maintenance. This means you are not losing or gaining weight. It can be a welcomed break psychologically from dieting and give you chance to relight the fire in your belly and to get back on track. This needs to be controlled carefully to prevent a huge weight increase and bouncing back to where you started.   

So the next time you think “should I have a cheat meal?”, the answer will be “don’t be a dick”. I even hate the word ‘cheat’ meal. It makes you think of guilt and failure, and that should never be associated with food. Don’t let other people draw you into their disordered eating patterns and disguise it as a glorified pig out.

I hope you have found this helpful and you can implement some of these tips into your own diet. If you need a little bit more help then get in touch. For 1 to 1 personal training click here to book a free session or join my online coaching program here.