Anyone who is getting fit and making the necessary dietary changes has heard of the term “cheat meal”.   It is a very popular and widely accepted practice in the fitness world and many individuals are even encouraged to use cheat meals as a tool to achieve your goal physique.  The idea is that you are rewarded with a meal to splurge when you have abided by your stricter diet the rest of the week.  The benefits of these cheat meals are they allow individuals to remain positive by allowing them to indulge in these forbidden foods, call it a mental break of sort. Cheat meals are also seen as beneficial physiologically since it is believed that they can reset hormones that are responsible for metabolism and insulin regulation and also replenish glycogen for increased energy in those who have severely restricted their intake.

But before you go diving into making cheat meals part of your regular routine there are some points you should consider first.  When someone is just beginning to learn self-control over their food choices and they incorporate cheat meals into their program right away, they usually revert back to their old dietary habits.  Think about it, have you ever stopped any habit after just one week of restriction?  One week is not nearly enough time to break old habits and exposure to a cheat meal so soon can be detrimental.  It becomes way too easy to make a cheat meal a cheat day and before you know it you are right back where you started.

Another problem with cheat meals is the choices of foods that compromise these meals.  More often than not, these cheat meals are nutrient poor foods, highly processed, and loaded with sugar that can quickly ruin a whole week’s worth of clean eating.  From a calories-in and calories-out perspective you could easily erase the deficit you worked hard for all week and, even worse, end up in a surplus after just one calorie dense cheat meal.  Remember, there is a reason you have chosen to avoid certain foods in the first place and it is not uncommon to feel physically ill after consuming a cheat meal.  Additionally, if you have your planned cheat meal and then find yourself constantly craving sugar-laden foods it might be best to just avoid the cheat meal all together.  Processed foods are highly addictive and although it is hard initially, it is best to just avoid them completely.

Keep in mind the meals we choose to eat have a psychological effect and our goal should be to have a positive relationship with food.  If consuming a cheat meal is making you constantly fantasize about the next one, and you find yourself obsessing over food and lacking control, you will likely not benefit from cheat meals. They will ultimately cause more harm than good in your long term relationship with food.

It is up to you to decide whether or not cheat meals are best for you.  Be honest with yourself, consider how these meals will affect you both physiologically and psychologically, and then decide if it will help you toward your goals or lead you away.

Monica Millage