It's never OK to cheat, right? On your significant other, on a test, sure, but on your diet? It's almost a necessity.

Why do we cheat?

"Cheat meals" are deliberate, planned meals where you allow yourself to deviate from your set food plan and consume something not on your plan and/or that you would usually consider unhealthy. While the break is good for you mentally, it is also good for you physically. When done right, cheating can actually get you closer to your goal. When done wrong, it can do the exact opposite. While the rules are more relaxed, a cheat meal is not a free-for-all to eat loads of junk. The trick is knowing how to cheat responsibly.

When should you cheat?

Do one cheat meal per week for best results. If you are on a strict regimen, like training for a show, your coach should factor your cheat meals into your meal plan. If you are on your own diet to shed fat and lose weight, you should still leave yourself one cheat meal per week. That's cheat MEAL, not cheat DAY, which can easily undo any calorie deficit you have worked hard to create.

When shouldn't you cheat?

Not everyone can handle cheat meals; for some, they do more harm than good. Cheat meals (and possibly meal planning) may not be the best approach for you if it takes you several days to get back on track; if you eat until you become ill; if your cheat leaves you fighting horrific cravings; or if it plays too many mind games with you and your body image. Mental health is just as important as physical health.

How to cheat

Remember: a cheat meal is not an excuse to overindulge- you'll regret it almost immediately. 

  • Cheat meals are meal replacements. They are higher in calories by design, so do not adjust the calories in your other meals. Your instinct may be to skimp next time around, but skipping or shrinking meals before or after could backfire, causing you to overindulge. 
  • Your cheat meal should still be well-balanced, including proteins and fats while being higher in both calories and carbohydrates than your normal meal. Smart but still satisfying cheat meals could include a cheeseburger with the bun, or pizza, or a pasta dish with protein, or a filet mignon with a potato and vegetables. 
  • While you can indulge in a small, sugary treat here and there, avoid high sugar, nutrient-poor empty calories. These are the cheat meals that will derail your progress. 
  • No need to pass on the white carbs. White carbs like bread and pasta can help you make the most of your cheat meal, replenishing muscle glycogen stores.
  • Pay attention to how your meal affects you and adjust accordingly. Some people prefer their cheat meal to be breakfast, while others prefer evening, and that's ok because timing is relatiavely unimportant. You may also discover that your cheat meal after a long week on a Friday is more satisfying than a Monday morning cheat meal. Find what works best for you and go for it: this allows you to safely and happily reach your goals.

by Kelly Turner

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