What You Should Know About "Cheat" Meals

Indulge Without Derailing Your Fitness

It is not sustainable for anyone to remain on a calorie-restricted diet every day for many months without cheating. Trying to do so in order to lose weight will take a toll on the body, physiologically and psychologically.

While not necessarily the right choice for everyone, occasional cheat meals are unlikely to make you gain weight if you are otherwise sticking to a healthy weight loss plan. In fact, they may actually help you lose weight when following a diet.

Physical Benefits

Close-Up Of Large Hamburger On Table
Cheat Meals Increase Our Leptin Levels. Jedrzej Kaminski / EyeEm / Getty Images

Prolonged restriction of caloric intake below recommended levels can lead to nutritional deficiencies and reduced muscle growth. It also may lead to a drop in leptin, a hormone that helps the body regulate hunger and metabolism. Contrary to the intended goal, these lowered leptin levels can lead to a slowed metabolism and reduced fat loss over time.

Periodically increasing calories by eating cheat meals, especially those high in carbohydrates, will spike leptin levels and boost metabolism for a return to efficient fat loss.

Psychological Benefits

Those new to adopting a healthy lifestyle and/or people who struggle with emotional eating may have trouble moderating their meals and get discouraged by too much rigidity.

Planned breaks from an unnatural restriction in calories can provide psychological relief and increase chances of sticking with the diet. If this fails, it may be a good time to switch to a more balanced nutritional strategy that doesn't rely on calorie restriction.

How to Cheat On Your Diet

The best strategy for cheating on your diet is to plan your cheat meals in advance. This will promote a positive diet outlook within the context of the diet, stave off cravings, and keep you on track with your overall health and fitness goals without disrupting your routine so much that it becomes difficult to get back on track. Here are some other great cheat meal tips:

  • Eat until you’re satisfied, not stuffed.
  • Don’t go back for seconds.
  • Share your favorite cheat meal with a friend.
  • Don’t let a cheat meal turn into a cheat day.

If you usually eat around 1500 calories on your diet and have 2300 one day, don't stress—the extra calories on that single day will not completely derail your diet. Use an 80/20 rule and consume lean proteins, good carbs, and healthy fats 80 percent of the time, leaving 20 percent for cheat meals and snacks.


A Word From Verywell

Trudging through the week on reduced calories takes a toll on the body. Refueling with the occasional cheat meal has been found to help people reach and maintain fitness goals. That said, cheat meals are a personal choice and not for everyone. If you are worried about how cheating may adversely affect a medical condition, consult with your doctor.

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