By Zach Shivers, RD, LD

What is a cheat meal?

While all of us understand what going off plan is and means, not everyone is familiar with the terms cheat meal and cheat day.  To clarify, a cheat meal is simply an off plan meal that is pre-planned.  Typically manifested by, “Tonight I’m having a cheat meal consisting of x,y, and z.”  Now a cheat day is when you apply this same philosophy to an entire day.  Today I’ll talk about cheat meals and cheat days and about why they are almost always a bad idea.

To begin, let’s go back to what is your goal?  If you are reading this, likely your goal is weight loss.  Therefore, logic dictates that going off plan runs counter to our weight loss efforts.  We can summarize this as going off plan means eating extra calories and/or foods that are not conducive to achieving our goal of weight loss.  From a purely logical standpoint, it is evident that having a cheat meal or day is not a wise idea to help us improve our health and wellness through weight loss.

That being said, some may counter this and talk about how a cheat day or meal are actually beneficial to weight loss.  What they are describing is a client who has a very precise and specific off plan stint (cheat meal).  For example, let’s say a client has been craving pizza and decides to have a cheat meal of pizza.  They eat one slice, which removes the craving for pizza, return to following their weight loss plan fully, and end up losing weight at their weigh in.  Seems wonderfully easy doesn’t it?

The truth is that it depends. It depends on you and how disciplined you are.  I see clients every day that vary in their discipline and for some, a cheat meal works wonderfully, while for others it is nothing short of a terrible idea.  For the latter, having a cheat meal is similar to opening “Pandora’s Box” and leads to consuming way more than they planned.

Taking the above example, let’s say the client who decides to have that cheat meal of pizza eats more than one slice of pizza (not an unrealistic expectation, pizza is quite tasty after all).  Say they eat two slices, three slices, or even end up eating half of the pizza.  Let’s say the pizza was so good that they ate the entire pizza…  While this may seem silly and/or unrealistic to some, there are many of us who could easily find ourselves in this situation.  Similarly, it may help to visualize yourself in the above scenario eating your favorite “trigger food” such as ice cream, candy, chips, cookies, the list goes on and being unable to stop after just one bite or serving for that matter.

We are left with two clients, two cheat meals, and two very different outcomes.  For the first client, they kept on smooth sailing having reduced cravings, lost weight, and increased confidence in the cheat meal mentality.  For the other client, they felt guilty afterwards, gained weight, and decreased their confidence in both the cheat day mentality and them self.  This is the problem with cheat meals and cheat days too for that matter.  Their effectiveness varies depending on the client and almost every time they are applied, they leave clients worse off.  Furthermore, you are tempting fate with either of these “strategies” and it’s just a matter of time before the rare cheat meal or day becomes a regular occurrence.  Experience has shown us that many clients end up eating off plan more frequently which decreases their weight loss, motivation, and in turn grinds their progress to a halt or a plateau.  Neither you nor I want either of these things for you so please at least be both cautious and skeptical of the cheat day/meal mentality.

It may help to ask yourself, what do I want?  What is my goal?  You wanted to improve your health and wellness via weight loss so much so that you came to us to help you achieve this!  Furthermore, we love nothing more than helping you to do just that!  Weight loss is not an easy task, it is effectively a second full-time job with no days off.  It’s an all-out battle where just about everything and everyone tempts you to go off plan just a little or just this once.  However you can do this!  You can choose to not give in and work towards your goal.  You can choose to not fall victim to the cheat day/meal mentality. Likewise, you took the first step and signed up with us, put your trust in us, and you’re here now reading this blog. That means this matters to you, not just a little bit, enough that you devote 15 minutes a week to coming in and being accountable to us.

I once heard someone say, “If something matters to you, you make time for it.”  Likewise, you matter, you are worth it, and you should put yourself first!  So hang in there, pick yourself up after a bad week and refocus on how you will do better this week.  Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, your weight loss isn’t going to be as fast or as easy as you’d like.  However, time is going to pass regardless of what you choose to do.  Would you rather work on your goal today or start 6 months from now?  Don’t waste your time, put yourself first starting today, and let us help you become the best version of you!