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Does a Cheat Meal Really Affect Your Diet?

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To cheat or not to cheat? That is the big question those looking to have a clean diet face often, sometimes on the daily. Having a cheat meal doesn’t seem like it has poor consequences in theory. But how much does having a cheat day really affect our overall diet?

There are pros and cons to having a cheat day. Allowing yourself your favorite food or snack once a week or every once in a while won’t really result in major changes.

But it could derail you from your diet when done often.

Cheat day or cheat meal? And is it even worth it to indulge at all?

Should we take a cheat day
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Benefits Of Giving In To Cravings

Taking a cheat day or at minimum having a cheat meal depends on the person’s goals.

When looking to lose weight, it may not be the smartest idea to have that slice of cheesecake. At least not at the beginning of adapting to a healthier lifestyle.

Then again, completely restricting yourself from foods you enjoy that aren’t the healthiest could lead to abandoning the diet altogether. It sounds backward, but “cheating” can help you stay on track with your diet plan.

It’s best to take a slightly stricter approach to an “everything in moderation” philosophy. This means focus on eating healthy, nutritious foods. But also allowing yourself to have that snack or meal that you are craving.

Having a cheat day is beneficial because you won’t feel deprived. This means fewer cravings overall while preventing binging on unhealthy foods. It’s like compromising with yourself to have a well-deserved treat, instead of eating whatever all the time.

Portioning and weighing foods for those following a stricter diet plan like tracking macros can be time-consuming and stressful. Having a cheat meal provides that mental break in the routine process of eating. It’s okay to enjoy food! But focus on mostly wholesome, satisfying and flavorful options and chances are you won’t really need—or dare we say want— that cookie. 

Photo by Khamkhor on Unsplash

Diet Down The Drain?

Many people struggle with having a cheat day because it is like opening Pandora’s box. Once the carbs and sugar start coming in, it’s hard to close the gates.

Another problem is that many eat healthy five days a week and then apply the “treat yo self” mentality for the entire weekend. So all the progress made is then erased.

But that is only if you go off the deep in. Having one high caloric meal or day, in general, isn’t going to really tip the scale.

Well, expect to see the scale go up after a cheat day. But this is most likely water weight, not fat. This is all thanks to glycogen, broken down from carbs, bonding with water (This can lead to holding more than two pounds of water weight when consuming up to 300 grams of carbs), as well as extra sodium found in less than healthy foods that add to water retention.

It’s actually impossible to gain a pound of fat in one day.

The idea is that burning more calories than consumed leads to weight loss. 

If there are 3,500 calories in a pound of fat then cutting 500 calories each day for a week will result in losing a pound a week.

Apply this mentality to gaining weight and it takes consistently consuming more calories every day to gain that extra pound of fat.

So even if you ate 500 more calories on a cheat day than the rest of the week, chances are you didn’t just gain five pounds.

The Answer

So should you even take a cheat day? Does it affect the diet that much?


And no. When done “right.”

Those looking to adopt a healthier diet in general and aren’t specifically looking to lose weight generally have a more relaxed approach here.

Why not have a cheat day? As long as the following day is full of healthier choices and you remain drinking lots of water and at least attempt to get some veggies in.

In general, it’s better for some to think of their eating habits, not as a diet and more as a lifestyle change. This helps to keep you on the path longer, allowing for a cheat here and there while mainly making more conscious food choices.

But should it be just a cheat meal or a full-on day to indulge? This depends on the person and their goals.

There are no set of rules for the rewarding for healthy choices approach, so it could be whenever and how often you want. Just know that it might be easier to stick to just one meal at first instead of losing control all day.

Cheat has a negative cognition to it, but this means treating yourself. This is more of a psychological approach to dieting to remain motivated and dedicated to healthy eating. 

Tips To Surviving The Treat

The key is to cheat the right way. Plan in advance for that cheat meal or cheat day, like when knowing you are going out for dinner and drinks with friends.

Planning not only keeps you on track for other meals, but it also gives you something to look forward to. It’s that prize meal after working out all week and sticking to a healthier and more structured diet.

Track calories for the week and allow to increase this from 20 to 40 percent on cheat day.

This helps to jumpstart metabolism since the body won’t be burning fat if you aren’t consuming enough calories or if it got used to the calorie amount and you have plateaued if going back to a low carb diet the next day.

You should also be open to trying new foods or make healthier spins on what would traditionally be considered a cheat meal.

Cheat with low-carb options and instead reach for slow carbs, the kinds that take longer to digest like sweet potatoes.


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  2. In Body USA, Does A Day Day Undo A Week at the Gym?, Heath Blog
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