When you start out on a weight loss journey, being told by your coach or nutritionist that ‘you
can have a cheat meal once in a while’ can sound like music to your ears. Usually on a calorie deficit, it becomes a challenge to include your favourite meals every day and therefore, the concept of a cheat meal is to basically allow you a window of flexibility which in turn helps you stay on track.
What is a cheat meal?
Nutrition is highly personalized and so are cheat meals. Cheat meals can mean a variety of
things to people but broadly speaking, a cheat meal is an indulgent meal where one is permitted to eat their favourite foods that are otherwise restricted in their daily calorie intake.
Benefits of a cheat meal
The rationale behind consuming a cheat meal is that by complete and strict abandonment of
your favourite foods in your weight loss diet, you are more likely to fall off the wagon. Many
people begin to get massive cravings in the initial phase of their diet due to heavy restrictions and end up losing the motivation to carry on. A cheat meal, hence, can add that extra dose of psychological satisfaction to keep going.
A study released by Blechert et al., (2014) where complete restriction on chocolate consumption was imposed for a week among participants. The study found an elevated like,
desire or craving, and an increase in chocolate consumption at the end of the week by participants compared to the week where no such restriction was placed. (1). When they were deprived of chocolate they also experienced elevated ratings of frustration and depression (1).
Another study (2) revealed that cheat mails can keep you track on your weight loss journey.
The participants of the study were first asked to imagine either being on a 1,500-calorie diet
every day or a 1,300-calorie diet with a 2,700-calorie splurge day at the end of each week. Those with the option of the splurge predicted that they would exhibit more self-control at the end and that they would be able to overcome temptation even though they were on a diet
with fewer calories. After this, the participants were actually asked to do the diets for two weeks. The ones who had the option of a cheat day found that they were able to keep up their motivation and self-control than those on the 1500 calorie diet.
Lastly, a new set of participants were given a questionnaire to describe their personal goals
and were told about the two plans- one with a cheat day and one without. The subjects found the cheat-day plan more helpful for their motivation irrespective of their goal.
When can cheat meals become problematic?
There is a downside to cheat meals too. Cheat meals can become a problem when;
- They become full-fledged cheat days!
Suppose a heavy cheat meal consists of 1500 calories. Imagine a cheat day with three such meals, the total of these meals will be 4500 calories! Along with the food, cheat meals also cause people to mindlessly consume colas and soft drinks that are loaded with calories.
2. They interfere with your weight loss progress
Weight loss is all about being in a calorie deficit. If you are on a daily diet plan of 1500 calories, creating a deficit of 300 calories per day.
This means that in a week, you will be creating a deficit of;
300 calories deficit x 7 days of the week = 2100 calories in the week
With this deficit, you could lose more than 1 pound of weight in the week.
Let’s add a cheat meal of 1500 calories to this meal plan over and above your weekly
You are now left with a deficit of only 600 calories (2100-1500) in the whole week.
This will lead to negligible change and progress will eventually get stalled.
And the fact is that most of us easily consume a 2000 calorie cheat meal. It would seem that the progress of an entire week is getting washed away with just one meal.
3. Cheat Meals can spoil our food relationship
Many of us do not have a healthy relationship with food. We use it to fuel our emotions, we reward ourselves and punish ourselves with food. The concept of a cheat meal reinforces the thought that some food will not be part of your normal diet plan. If you have a bad relationship with food, then cheat meals might not be a good idea.
Cheat Meal can be an excellent tool to channelize your motivation, test your self-discipline and eventually, to aid the process of weight loss. These are some simple steps on how you can use them as a leverage.
- Plan your cheat meal in advance. Better still, keep it within your calorie limits, off-
setting your intake by a maximum of 500-600 calories.
- Cheat meals, not cheat days, can be included in your diet to keep you motivated.
Many people also tend to indulge in unplanned cheat meals and cause more
damage by turning it into a full-fledged cheat day. If you have a tendency to do,
only consume cheat meals that have been planned in advance.
- If you notice a pattern of binging and compromised self-control and adherence
while consuming cheat meals, it might be time to do away with them and figure
another method that may work for you. If you are craving something on a daily
basis, it may be plausible for you to incorporate small amounts of that food in
your diet rather than over-doing it with a calorie-laden meal.
About the Authors : Anshul Dhamande, INFS Faculty, Standard Coach @ Fittr
Co-author: A psychologist by education and a fitness enthusiast by choice, Saakshi dreams to combine these worlds. Content writing and social media management is a passion that keeps her in the constant learner mode.
- Blechert J, Naumann E, Schmitz J, Herbert BM, Tuschen-Caffier B. (2014). Startling
sweet temptations: hedonic chocolate deprivation modulates experience, eating
behavior, and eyeblink startle. PLoS ONE, 9(1): e85679.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0085679
- Rita Coelho do Vale, Rik Pieters, Marcel Zeelenberg, The benefits of behaving badly
on occasion: Successful regulation by planned hedonic deviations, Journal of
Consumer Psychology, Volume 26, Issue 1,2016, Pages 17-28,ISSN 1057-7408.
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