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Should You Have Cheat Meals? (And Why?)

by | Nutrition

May 31, 2022

Have you heard the term ‘cheat meals’ and wondered what these meals really are? Well, think of them to be those meals you take when ‘cheating’ on your diet plans. Let us imagine that you are actively on a weight-loss diet plan; that you are sticking to eating low-calorie meals. 

Then one day, a cheat day, when you allow yourself to break the strict diet rules, you decide that you will have yourself some fatty meal, and maybe even some sugar. That fatty meal is considered a cheat meal because it was scheduled and has caused some kind of break in your weight-loss diet plan. 

Cheat meals do not necessarily have to be ‘unhealthy.’ They can also include healthy foods. In fact, a ‘cheat’ meal is usually a healthy food we eat on cheat days. 

People have cheat meals and cheat days for a number of reasons, and one of those reasons is as a means of reward. For staying away from meals they would naturally eat if they weren’t on a diet plan, they eat some cheat meals. 

They may even eat cheat meals because they feel strict adherence to dieting is taking a toll on them in one way or the other. 

Cheat meals are often consumed on a scheduled basis. A dieter can choose to eat cheat meals once a week or once in two weeks, depending on what the person’s goals for dieting are. 

Do Cheat Meals Work?

The goal of dieting is often to cause a change in our bodies. Low-calorie foods help us lose weight. But what happens when we choose to include one not-so-low calorie food, a cheat meal, into our diet plan?

Does that completely defeat the purpose of everything? Like cheating in a sport, do you just get disqualified and start over? 

Well, to answer that question, you would have to have an idea of how the body works. If anything, you have to know the body isn’t a football referee who fouls you eating cheat meals. 

The body uses what it wants, and once in a while, it might just want you to cheat on your diet, especially if your metabolic needs increase. 

If you used to sit in an office all day, for example, and all of a sudden you begin to jog more and exercise some more, your body might just want you to cheat on your diet a bit on days when you work hard.

Yes, cheat meals work. They work to keep you from feeling deprived and work to help your body’s metabolism and do not counter your weight loss. 

In fact, they can even make you lose more weight than people who stick to their diets without incorporating cheat meals. 

In 2017, The International Journal of Obesity conducted a study and discovered that people who took cheat meals for two weeks lost more weight than those who didn’t take any breaks. 

Funny, isn’t it? The body wants what it wants!

Should You Eat Cheat Meals?

Knowing whether or not you should include cheat meals in your diet is dependent on your diet plan, itself, and on you. 

Some diet plans are so strict that including cheat meals defeats the diet’s entire purpose. You either adhere strictly to the diet plan or adhere strictly to it. 

One of such plans is the ketogenic diet. You shouldn’t eat cheat meals with diet plans like these. 


You should, however, consider cheating on diet plans that are somewhat flexible. You should also eat cheat meals if you are sure you will burn all the calories before they are stored and before they hamper the effect of your diet plans. 

Why? Aren’t Cheat Meals Bad?

I have mentioned that you should eat cheat meals if you have the discipline to make sure they do not get in the way of your weight loss.

The question now is, why? Why should one eat cheat meals?

Before I answer that, I would like to say all once more that cheat meals aren’t necessarily unhealthy meals; they can be very healthy meals and can help your body instead of harming them. 

Here are reasons why you should eat cheat meals: 

1. Weight Loss and Psychology

The journey towards weight loss can be very tasking psychologically, especially if you are just starting to stay away from meals you used to consume a lot. 

So it is a great idea to reward and motivate yourself as you go on.

One reason why you should include cheat meals and cheat days in your diet plan is that cheat meals can serve as a motivator to you. 

You look at the calendar, for example, and see that you are going to have a cheat meal in two days. You most likely will go: “Okay, I’ll just stick around till Friday.” 

This reward system does work. But, sadly, not for everyone. Some people are unable to stick to their diet plans even when cheat meals offer some motivation.

If it works for you, eat cheat meals. But don’t eat too much. But if it does not, you just have to avoid it.

2. Your Metabolic Needs Change

If you start to burn more calories or start to see the effect of your weight loss plans, you might just want to include cheat meals in your diet. 

This is especially if you feel starved or something. Talk to your dietician or nutritionist about it. 

3. A Mental Break

When we stick to just the meals on our diet, we may feel burdened, especially if we do not like these meals very much. We may feel exhausted and not really enjoy our food when we get to eat. 

Cheat meals offer us a break once in a while. For the first time in a week or two, we get to feel really good when eating. We do enjoy our food and don’t have to squeeze our faces with every swallow or feel cheated. 

How to Eat Cheat Meals

The purpose of dieting is the achieve results that are visible. Cheat meals can defeat this purpose if we don’t go about eating them the right way. 


Here is how to eat cheat meals: 

1. Choose Good Quality Meals

Cheat days do not mean you can just eat any meal you find in the grocery store. Cheat meals have to be good and healthy meals too. Choose healthy meals that offer your body a good number of nutrients. Proteins. Healthy fats. Vitamins. Choose those meals. 

2. Don’t Feel Guilty

Sometimes, in certain people, eating cheat meals triggers a feeling of guilt. They eat the cheat meals and begin to feel bad for ruining everything. 

If you are adhering to your diet plan pretty well, you have nothing to feel guilty about when your cheat day finally comes, and it is time to eat a cheat meal. 

You are fine, as long as you are not binge eating or loading your body with excessive calories. Eat just what your body needs.

3. Work Out Before Cheating

The idea behind this is to use up the calories stored in your body before new calories come to join in. This way, there are no calories that can be stored in your thighs or belly, or anywhere else. You have used them all up. 

Before your cheat meal, it is a great idea to work out. Do simple exercises like jogging around the house or sit-ups and maybe even push-ups. Just working out for 20 – 30 minutes before you have your cheat meal can help you burn calories. 

4. Cheat Days Are Cheat Days

Do not overindulge yourself. Don’t say: “Alright, I’ll just add another cheat day and cheat meal to my plan; it isn’t going to cause any harm.” 

Well, it might cause some harm. The moment you stop being careful to follow your diet plans, you may just start to lose track of it from then on. 

Let your cheat days be scheduled, and do not encroach into other days. Go back to your low-calorie meals after your cheat days. Do not keep having cheat days all week long. Stick to the other meals. 

5. Cut Back Cheat Days If They Are Backfiring

The purpose of dieting is to achieve weight loss. If you think your cheat meals are making you gain more weight instead of losing any, then you have just got to stay away from cheat meals. 

At least for a while. Stay away from, let’s say, two to three months, and see how it goes from there. Talk to your dietician or nutritionist if you feel the need to. 


Cheat meals are scheduled meals that are incorporated in our diet plans, which are different from the other meal in that they contain more calories. 

There are a number of reasons to eat cheat meals, and some include motivation, mental strength to go on, etc. Just be careful not to defeat the purpose of your diet plans.

Photo by Kevin McCutcheon on Unsplash

By Sara Leandro

Sara Leandro is a certified health coach who helps others feel their best through individualized lifestyle changes that meet their unique needs and health goals.


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