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The Truth About Cheat Meals

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A cheat meal is a meal that is high in calories, fat, and sugar. It is typically eaten once a week on a day when you are more active (e.g. leg day) or when you have a party to attend. Cheat meals are often called treat meals or reward meals and can be either an entire meal or just snacks.

Why do people have them?

According to fitness gurus, cheat meals are not a bad thing. In fact, they can benefit your health and well-being in many different ways. erhaps the most obvious is that they allow you to maintain a mindset that allows you to keep on track with your diet and consistently eat healthy foods despite any cravings or yearnings for something less healthy.

By allowing yourself to indulge once in a while when you want it, you are less likely to go off track or splurge on an unhealthy meal if you know that at some point soon there will be a day where it is perfectly acceptable.

Cheat meals also help increase metabolism and energy levels as well as promote muscle growth while protecting against injury and lastly, cheat meals are just plain fun. Eating healthier over time can become repetitive and stale without giving yourself some variety as well.

Are they good for you?

If you’re like most of us, when you see the words ‘cheat meal’, your mind immediately goes to a giant burger and fries, a huge bowl of ice cream, or something else indulgent that makes you feel like you’re falling off the wagon. That’s not what we’re talking about here. Sure, it can be that kind of meal for some people, but I’ve actually been using the term cheat meal in my own health and fitness journey for years now to describe something more of a ‘refuel’ meal than anything else.

A refuel meal is simply an opportunity for a person who eats healthy most days to allow themselves one day per week where they can eat whatever it is they want (as long as it fits into their calorie budget).  This type of refuel doesn’t have to be big either; sometimes just having some popcorn while watching TV at night is enough to make me feel satiated in the moment and keep me on track for the rest of the week.

Do cheat meals work?

According to research, when you have a cheat meal, your hormone leptin increases by up to 30%, which means your body will burn calories faster than usual for up to 24 hours. 

Psychologists and nutritionists also say that cheat meals allow you to eat better throughout the week. This planned splurge in calories often allows people to forgo other unplanned and often binge-inducing meals- meals that take much longer to bounce back from and could throw you off the wagon altogether.

That being said, plenty of people lose weight without ever indulging in cheat meals, so they aren’t necessary either.

How to do cheat meals right

If you’re going to do a cheat meal, and you want to do it right, here are some pointers from the model-turned-personal-trainer himself:

  • Pair your increased intake with intensified output. While it’s true that cheat meals are a great opportunity to satiate your cravings, it’s important to remember that they don’t have to be opportunities to completely blow your diet. If you’re going for a cheat meal that’s 100% indulgent, it’s crucial not just to eat less than usual in the following meals, but also to increase your activity level. You can offset some of the intake by ramping up the output.
  • Plan your cheating. It’s best to schedule your cheat meal for a weekend or social occasion. This way, you know exactly when and what you’ll be eating- and you’ll have time to burn off the extra calories throughout the day.A lot of experts agree that one cheat meal per week is sufficient. If you’re not sure how many calories you should be consuming, check out a calorie calculator to learn more about how many calories you need to consume each day to reach your goal weight. Finally, don’t waste valuable cheat-meal calories on something that’s just ‘OK’.  Pick your favourite food, take your time, and enjoy.
  • Don’t go overboard. Don’t make this an excuse to eat badly all day long. Also, don’t make it an excuse to stop exercising and practicing good habits altogether just because you ate some bad food today, that’s like saying ‘I failed at my diet so I’m not gonna try anymore.’ That isn’t how it works! You can have this one meal, it’s OK. Just promise yourself that you’ll get back on track after and keep making good choices for the rest of the day. That way tomorrow will be a clean slate instead of another bad day in a string of bad days because we’ve all been there and nobody wants that week to spiral out of control into two weeks or even more! Your health is important to take care of yourself no matter what but sometimes you need that slice of cheesecake in your life, am I right?
  • Cheat meals should still have nutritional value. If you’re going to indulge, indulge in a way that will benefit your body. That means taking advantage of protein, fat, and carbs, even if that means eating something with more calories than foods you’ll find at the gas station. We don’t mean to tell you what to do; we just know that you want to make smart choices so you can feel your best.
  • Drink plenty of water. We know you probably want to wash down that pizza with a soda, but the stuff is loaded with sugar and empty calories. Water will slow your digestion, help your body get more nutrients from the food you’re eating, and fill you up faster so you don’t end up overdoing it on cheat day.

Cheat meals can be a good thing, as long as you don’t overdo it

So, the truth about cheat meals is that they’re great, but only if you use them in moderation. A cheat meal can be an effective way to treat yourself and make you feel better when you’ve done your best. There’s no need to feel guilty about eating the foods that you enjoy, but it is important to be aware of how much you’re eating.

The point of a cheat meal is to help you stay on track – not to derail your eating goals. If you’re fueling your body with the right foods most of the time, then you get to have a little fun and enjoy a meal without worrying about whether it’s healthy or not.

Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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