Cheat Meals: Do or Don’t? Plus Cheat Meal Ideas

Burger and fries

You might hear a friend talk about her “cheat meal” this weekend. She might be pining for it or debating about what to eat as her cheat meal. Or, maybe she’s regretting eating it yesterday. When it comes to weight loss, some will add a cheat meal to their plan so they won’t feel like they are constantly depriving themselves. But, do cheat meals work or should you skip them?

What Is a Cheat Meal?

A cheat meal is a meal you plan that does not follow your typical daily nutrition plan. For example, if you follow Keto, you might plan a meal that isn’t Keto on the weekend. Or, if you are following a low-carb diet, you might plan to eat more carbs than usual. Or, maybe you’re planning to eat ice cream sundaes this Saturday. A cheat meal is whatever you feel makes you “cheat” on your diet.

Are Cheat Meals a Good Idea?

On the one hand, cheat meals help you avoid the feeling of depriving yourself of a particular food you’ve said should be off-limits. In addition, a cheat meal helps you stick to just ONE meal that is in excess calories that might help you avoid the slippery slope of “going off your diet.”

However, I’d like to pose the possibility that eating “cheat meals” can derail your entire healthy eating lifestyle. I think it’s this type of thinking that leads to many people abandoning their new “diets” because that said diet wasn’t the right fit in the first place. It can also lead to binge-eating which is unhealthy.

If you are on the right diet, you won’t need a cheat meal or a cheat day. It will be incorporated into your nutritional plan!

Food Is Not Good or Bad

Do you ever feel like there’s one study that says a type of food is good for you and then another one that says it’s bad? And, then it feels like you can’t really eat anything? It’s this frustration that can make people stay in their rut of unhealthy diets. Decision paralysis. Not knowing what to eat.

One thing I hope you will take away from this article is that there isn’t “good” or “bad” food. Some foods are simply healthier than others. Sure, there are some foods that are very NON-nutritive but as soon as we categorize some foods as “bad” this can start a list of “foods I can’t eat” which can grow to an unhealthy length or lead to the feeling of deprivation. This can lead to yo-yo weight gain and, in extreme circumstances, a certain type of eating disorder called Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

Moderation Is Key But How?

You must eat fewer calories than you are burning in order to lose weight. That is the only way to lose weight and the faster you want to lose weight, the more you cut calories or should burn compared to how much you eat.

The main issue with foods that might be included in a “cheat meal” is that they have high caloric density. In other words, that means there is a large number of calories in a small amount of the food item. A simple example is peanut butter. One tablespoon of peanuts has 52 calories but one tablespoon of peanut butter has 94 calories, almost double. Another example is an entire baked potato has 161 calories but a medium french fries has 365 calories.

From a health standpoint, it is recommended to limit “empty calories” to approximately 100-150 per day for women and 200-250 for men. This is good news! It’s not that your diet needs to eliminate all junk food but simply limit it. Of course, the faster you want to lose weight, the more you will want to limit it but it’s not necessary to view it as “cheating” on your nutrition plan. After all, if you eat 100 calories a day in junk food, that’s 700 calories a week. If you omit even half of those calories, you will obviously lose weight faster and it will be healthier for your body.

Example of Moderation

One Cheat Meal example is ice cream. I can’t personally eat dairy but I’ve found that Cashew Milk and Almond Milk ice cream is really good! I don’t care much for coconut milk ice cream but everyone has their own preferences!

The key to maintaining your weight isn’t to avoid ice cream altogether or have to “cheat” to eat it.

Simply plan to buy one pint every two weeks. Although it’s not a good idea to binge the entire pint in one sitting, if you did, you simply wouldn’t eat ice cream again for two weeks. That would follow the “cheat meal” definition more precisely but it’s not a good idea to eat nearly 1000 calories in one sitting, cheating or not.

However, if you KNOW you agreed with yourself not to buy another pint for two weeks, you might savor it over a period of 3 days throughout those two weeks instead. A tip to do so is to NOT eat directly out of the pint but proportion 1/3 of the container into a bowl and then pop a piece of gum in your mouth when you’re done!

Practically speaking, if you choose one or two unhealthy items to buy every other week, you can still achieve weight loss without “cheating.”

Cheat Meal Ideas

Now that I’ve said you don’t need cheat meals, some people will still prefer approaching their diets this way and that’s totally fine! We all need to find the approach that keeps us on the right path. And, oftentimes, it’s simply better not to have junk food in the house at all.

But, you can still eat cheat meals the “smart” way. After all, if you spend all week shaving 1,000 calories during he week only to eat an extra 1,000 calories on the weekend, you have a net-zero effect and won’t lose weight!

Here are a few cheat meal ideas:

  • Half a Cheeseburger – some of the burgers nowadays are HUGE! Cut it in half and enjoy two cheat meals in one weekend. I like to warm my leftover burgers in the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, take the top bun off, warm the burger for 5 minutes, then place the top for 1-2 more minutes, and enjoy.
  • Power Bowls – We often get take-out on the weekends and we sometimes go to this place where we get teriyaki chicken, for example. Instead of the rice, I get a “power bowl” which means it’s made with all veggies but still yummy. It’s still not good for me or paricularly “low calorie” but I save at least 250 calories. Places like Chipotle also have “lifestyle bowls” too. Alternatively, you can get it with rice but eat half of it today and half for lunch another day.
  • Pizza – If you eat pizza, plan to eat a quick side salad with it. You wil eat less pizza because you will get full faster. Better yet, eat the salad first. You still get a taste of pizza without piling on the calories.
  • Tacos – Opt for corn tortillas rather than flour. A flour tortilla has 159 calories and 27 grams carbs while a corn tortilla has 62 calories and 13 grams carbs. Even better, skip the tortillas and have fajitas.

There are so many ways you can make small tweaks to your nutrition to reduce the calories but still enjoy the foods you’ve always loved! Be sure to download our e-Book, 10 Practical Ways to Lose Weight Without Counting Calories if you haven’t already.

Do You Eat Cheat Meals? What’s Your Favorite?

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