You’ve been perfect on your diet all week. You’re feeling like you’re at the top of your game. Now, it’s time for the “cheat meal”—the chance to eat a big juicy steak or a cheesy slice of pizza or that luxurious chocolate you’ve been craving. Better still, you can still lose weight.
Does this sound too good to be true?
Believe it or not, when done right, a weekly cheat meal actually benefits your diet. More than anything, cheat meals help you carry on with your diet for the rest of the week by reducing cravings and overeating. In a sense, you can have your cake and eat it too!
But, it’s important to know how to handle your cheat meal because overindulging could end up throwing off your entire diet plan. So, what’s the formula for the best cheat meal?
There’s no exact science for what you should eat for your cheat meal. Your cheat meal is the one time where you really get to be in charge and choose what you most want to eat.
Maybe you’re on a low-carb diet but want to eat spaghetti one meal a week. Maybe you love pizza and want to grab a couple slices with your buddies. Or, maybe you want to use your cheat meal to eat out at a nice restaurant. All of these options are acceptable, as long as you are still fairly reasonable with your caloric intake during the cheat meal and throughout the rest of the week.
Some cheat meal enthusiasts recommend eating protein first. Protein helps you feel full faster. Getting enough protein also increases thermogenesis (fat burning). Plus, evidence shows high-protein meals lead to less food intake.
If you choose to eat a carbohydrate-rich cheat meal, select the healthiest carb sources. For example, swap out regular spaghetti for the whole-wheat variety. Or, try a slice of 100% whole-grain wheat bread instead of white. And, make sure to get some carbs from vegetables and fruits as well.
The same goes for healthy fats. If possible, swap your ice cream for frozen yogurt; trade your beef burger for chicken, turkey, or fish; or bake your food rather than frying.
Remember, if you just can’t live without sweets or fried foods, it’s okay to have a bite or two during your cheat meal, so long as you exercise moderation. The best cheat meal should be designed to satisfy these cravings and serve as a reward for a job well done.
Don’t be afraid to enjoy your cheat meal. Make it as delicious as you want, and then savor every bite. Let each of your senses revel in the “forbidden” food you’re about to eat. Smell the aroma, listen to the crackle or pop of your meal cooking, and let your eyes feast on the color.
Then, close your eyes and chew slowly.
As you eat, remind yourself, “I’m on a healthy diet, but that doesn’t mean I’m starving myself. I can still eat the things I like occasionally, as long as I’m making good choices throughout the week.”
By making your cheat meal a conscious part of your diet rather than a “mistake” or a “moment of weakness,” you take control of your diet rather than the other way around. You develop a healthier relationship with your food and learn how to manage your cravings.
Some dieters make the mistake of restricting themselves completely from foods they love. This could lead to binging and weight gain. In fact, dieting has been implicated as a contributor to binge eating disorder.
When you fully enjoy your favorite foods, you’ll find it easier to follow a healthier eating pattern.
When you’re indulging in your cheat meal, you’re probably going to eat more calories, fats, and sugars than you normally would. And that’s okay.
But, a cheat meal doesn’t mean a binge fest, where you snack mindlessly and eat whatever you want out of your fridge. And, it definitely doesn’t mean going to a buffet and stuffing yourself with everything you see. It’s important not to go overboard, or you could gain back the weight you tried so hard to lose.
As with other meals, you should pre-plan what you’re going to eat for your cheat meal to avoid grabbing quick-fix junk food. It’s also a good idea to eat sitting down, because this aids digestion and makes you less likely to keep reaching for food you don’t need. Stick with what’s in front of you rather than going for seconds and thirds.
The best cheat meal stays with a reasonable calorie amount, so by the end of your week, your average calorie total doesn’t suffer for it. If needed, consume fewer calories during other meals so you can splurge on your cheat meal.
Remember, everything you eat can and will affect you. However, if most of your diet is made up of whole grains, vegetables, fiber, and other healthy nutrients, it’s okay to eat what you like every once in a while.
Think of cheat meals as a little bonus on your paycheck. You’ve worked hard, you still have the extra calories in your “bank account,” and now it’s time to splurge.
 Thomas L. Halton and Frank B. Hu. “The Effects of High Protein Diets on Thermogenesis, Satiety and Weight Loss: A Critical Review.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2004; 23 (5): 373-385.
 Christine E. Howard and Linda Krug Porzelius. “The role of dieting in binge eating disorder: Etiology and treatment implications.” Clinical Psychology Review. 1999; 19 (1): 25-44.