Cheat Meals

One of the most common questions I get asked is “Is it acceptable to cheat once in a while?” I restrict my opinion to their ability to “cheat eat,” once in a while and not to cheating in general (whole different subject). Let me start with the good news. It is acceptable to have a cheat meal (emphasis meal, not day). Before you go out and pop the bubbly, let me explain. A cheat meal means one to two meals every week.

The psychology behind cheat meals is simple. Once you know, there is a reward waiting at the end of the week (say your Sunday brunch), you are more motivated to be disciplined the entire week. The weekend bonus allows you to consume a nutritious diet all week that will help you remain in good health. There is a more scientific benefit as well. If you are always on a restricted diet or a low-calorie diet, your hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin will go through an adaptive process impacting your hunger and energy balance. This adaptation will also cause your energy levels to fall. The net impact will result in you putting on weight much faster even will a small increment in energy intake (extra food) one of the reasons why people bounce back after losing weight.

The best practices, therefore, is to not cheat in your adaptive phase – when you are losing weight over a three to six month period. Cheating at this stage will make it harder to lose weight. Once you have achieved your weight loss, it is best to add back cheat meals into your diet plan slowly. The cheat meal will prevent adaptation of low-calorie diets and keep your body guessing. I would caution against adding saturated transfats or high sodium foods for your cheat day. However, some chocolate, pasta or pizza might just be that urge that you want to fulfill. Happy Sunday!!


Ritesh is a born again health enthusiast and holds a Certificate in Physiology from Harvard Medical School and a Certificate in Nutrition from Tufts University.

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