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There is so much conflicting nutrition advice out there on the internet that it can be really confusing to know what is true or not. And cheat meals are definitely part of this confusion. Some people claim that cheat meals undo all of your hard work and make you gain weight, while others claim that they help fire up your metabolism and speed up your weight loss. So what is actually true? Are cheat meals helpful or hurtful for weight loss? Let me break it down for you…
What is a “Cheat Meal”?
A cheat meal is basically a meal that is usually considered unhealthy and one that normally wouldn’t fit into your diet. So if you’re somebody who tracks your calories or counts macros, this meal would typically be something that would never fit into your daily numbers.
The idea behind a cheat meal is that it allows you to indulge a bit and satisfy a craving, without turning into a weekend binge. It gives you a break from your diet mentally, which can be really helpful for long term success. If you think about it, if you are someone who loves ice cream but are told you can never have it again, wouldn’t that just make you crave it more?
So this all sounds great right? But is it actually helpful? Or is it the reason you aren’t seeing the results you want?
Are Cheat Meals Helpful?
If you are following a strict, low calorie diet then I think allowing yourself an untracked meal every once in a while can be helpful. I’m personally not a fan of low calorie diets, as I believe they can be harmful long-term, but that is a totally different story (Related Post: 6 Sings You’re Not Eating Enough). The extra boost in calories can be a nice way to to give you more energy and keep your metabolism firing.
Cheat meals can also be helpful if you’ve been dieting for a long time. They give you a mental break, which can be really helpful for long-term adherence.
Cheat meals can be anything. They can be that huge ice cream sundae you’ve been eyeing up, going out for drinks with friends one night, or just going out to a nice dinner and ordering whatever you’re craving.
Can Cheat Meals be Hurtful?
Cheat meals can be a really wonderful tool when used correctly. However it can also be easy to go overboard. For some people, it’s impossible to just have one cheat meal, so it can easily turn into an entire weekend binge. This can be hugely detrimental to your progress and undo most of your hard work from the week before. If you’re someone who finds yourself gaining weight every weekend, then take a look at your weekend diet and see where you might be going wrong.
Cheat meals can also be hurtful if they get out of hand. For example, you might technically only cheat on one meal, but if it’s a 4,000 calorie meal then you can definitely expect to see the scale increase the next day. This doesn’t mean you should put a calorie limit on your cheat meal, but it also shouldn’t be more than a full day’s worth of calories.
How to Decide if You Should Implement Cheat Meals
Deciding whether or not to implement cheat meals into your lifestyle can be a difficult decision. If you have a coach that you’re working with, talk to them about the pros and cons. If you don’t have a health professional to talk to, then I recommend testing it out yourself. Start out having a cheat meal maybe 1-2x a month and see if it is impacting your progress at all. But also make sure to think about how it’s affecting you mentally. Make sure it’s helping you, and not a struggle.
Need help? I offer 4 and 8 week macro coaching programs where we can decide if incorporating cheat meals would be good for you or not.