Why Cheat Meals are your Diet Downfall

I always hear people talking about “cheat days” or “cheat meals” and in the same breath hear people talking about how they’re frustrated not being able to loose weight or they’re struggling on their diet and I just shake my head.

The idea that you have to “cheat” on eating healthy breeds guilt, it trains your brain to think about your cheat foods as something forbidden and therefore encouraging cravings, which in turn lead to you “breaking your diet” causing you to feel a sense of failure and could lead to binge eating and resulting weight gain.

Just think about it; when you binge on your cheat day you probably consume around 3,000 – 5,000 calories in a single sitting because you can – you justify it as “it’s just one day, I’m going to the gym tomorrow”. But that amount of calories is more than the average grown man should consume in a day, in fact it is closer to two days worth.

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Cheat meals are supposed to prevent you from feeling deprived, boost metabolism, and increase chances of success with a diet; at least that’s what they tell you. Sure the occasional indulgence is not going to kill you, in fact it could benefit you – even if that benefit is just a mental one – but that does not mean that pigging out on sugar and empty carbs until you feel like you’re going to pop is the right way to do it.

In fact, chances are that by over-indulging on the foods you’ve restricted yourself from you’re going to make your cravings worse, meaning you’re going to spend the whole week dreaming of that burger, pizza or milkshake waiting for you on Friday.

Thinking about cheat meals and cheat days increases the chance of you “falling of the wagon” and binging. If you’re spending your week waiting for your next cheat meal, you’re going to become obsessed, you will loose focus and it becomes almost like a self hypnosis, the more you think the more you crave, the more you crave the more you think.

Break the vicious cycle.

When you change the way that you eat your body will take some time to adjust. Your system needs a few months to adapt to the new way of eating and figure out where and when it needs to get its nutrients. This process can take up to three months, so by throwing “cheats” at it every week you are confusing yourself and you’ll find yourself struggling to loose weight or build muscle.

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Things like transfats, gluten and various oils can linger in your body for longer than most other foods; so when you find yourself scarfing down a Burger King on a Friday afternoon, chances are that by the next week you will still be suffering from some of the effects of your cheat meal whether it’s obvious or not.

Instead of a cheat meal why not just find a healthy alternative to your favourite binge foods, yes without the sugar, empty carbs and grease, the chances are they won’t immediately fill the craving but it is all about training your body and mind. Fight the craving with homemade burgers topped with all your favourite bits and some homemade oven baked fries, wedges or sweet potato fries. Make a simple flat bread base, whip up a quick pizza sauce with tomato paste and spices and top it with a delicious cheese and the toppings you love the most and serve it with a salad.

Change your perception.

I’ve had people tell me that they have woken up craving a smoothie but because it was their cheat day, they knew that if they didn’t indulge in a full English breakfast, they wouldn’t be able to get their bacon, egg and beans fix for another week, so they forced themselves to have a full English, even though that wasn’t what they wanted.

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Listen to your body, if you’re craving something, have it. If you feel like having a salad for lunch but it’s your cheat day, don’t force yourself to have a burger, you will end up feeling worse for it. In fact you should feel proud of yourself and your body that your commitment to a healthy lifestyle has paid off and your body and mind have started to learn what fuels them rather than hurts them – listen to them.

There’s a difference between wanting a small treat and a craving. Cravings are often a response to environmental triggers, habit or emotions and aren’t good reasons to eat. Take the time to learn to control cravings by figuring out what they are, what has triggered them and try work through it; cravings will often last about 20 minutes and you can normally encourage them to pass by distracting yourself with another task. But most importantly, in order to control cravings, stop making certain foods forbidden by labelling them as “good,” “bad” or a “cheat,” and you won’t feel deprived.

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23 comments

  1. What I read makes complete sense though when I’m dieting I allow myself a cheat meal once a week as a reward for my effort! It is something that motivates me and so far I’m doing alright. I guess it depends on one’s discipline?

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  2. I totally agree. I believe in balance. You shouldn’t deprive yourself of stuff but you shouldn’t overindulge either. It’s all about moderation. Have a treat if you feel like it but change your mindset. If you are on a strict diet and only eat foods that you hate it’s never going to work. You need to find what works for you and your body.

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  3. These are great tips! We don’t really do cheat days but we have very hectic schedules so we pick one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner per week to not stress over as much. If we are forced to eat out one day due to our schedule we just do the best we can and don’t worry too much about it! It works well for us and we are still losing weight!

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  4. I’m trying to quit refined sugar at the moment so this was a good article to read. I agree that giving yourself cheat meals when you are trying to adjust to a new diet is counterproductive because it just reinforces your cravings and puts you through a difficult cycle of cravings and deprivation. I’m going to a few weeks cold turkey on sweets and soft drinks (my biggest temptations) and then I can reassess and see how I am feeling and whether I want to reintroduce them as a sometimes treat.

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  5. I feel like many people have difficulty putting in the mental work of making the change of perception. I agree with you, focusing more on this instead of the food itself will help make success a long term possibility:)

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  6. Good motivation… Many times I also skip the diet (carving for extra calories) and always think I will manage with my exercise.. but that’s not get possible.. I will try to keep my mind undistracted… Thanks for boost.

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  7. Absolutely agree with u. The cheat meal can complete ruin you. I instead when want a little bit , just have that piece of chocolate or 2 sips of cold coffee once in 2-3 days … rather than wait a whole week and then binge

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  8. I love a balanced diet. Most time I eat healthy and with lots of variety of fruit and vegetables but sometimes I do love a MacDonald’s. Normally don’t crave much!

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  9. This is so true. I constantly excuse myself when I eat unhealthily on the weekend because it’s a ‘cheat meal’. In reality, they’re so frequent! I think you should still treat yourself at least once a month to a guilty pleasure food though

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  10. Cheat meals to me are cheat beers 😦 My nutritionist told me I have to reduce alcohol (because when it comes to food there’s very little I can reduce). The matter is not losing weight but having a healthy life. And I think your tips and recommendations are perfect also when not related to losing weight.

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  11. My doctor recommends 6 small meals a day to maintain my weight. Small meals as in really small portions. I can eat everything to curb the cravings. A little bit of everything and I am good with that. It is all about discipline and sticking to the right proportions. I do have a problem though when it comes to family get togethers. The older members of the family get “offended” if you don’t stuff yourself with food. Ha ha.

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  12. Could not agree with you more on this topic. Cheat meals break your routine and block all your efforts to lose weight. Besides being unhealthy they create help problems if taken regularly.

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  13. I agree, the very fact that you want to cheat makes your diet not good enough and not work too subconsciously!

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  14. great topic, I agree with a lot! I don’t believe in eliminating treats altogether though, here and there (as long as it’s not all the time) is okay! Oh, and making sure all portion sizes ‘of anything you eat’ is rational and not over the top eating to get full (just enough to kick the hunger).
    very informative thanks for sharing ; )

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