The concept of the ‘cheat meal’ or ‘cheat day’ has become very popular, particularly on social media, with the likes of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson setting the standard incorporating gigantic portions of sushi, platters of cookies, and stacks of pancakes as a feature of his diet. Obviously, we aren’t all on the same dietary plan as The Rock, but ‘cheating’ culture is still prevalent amongst the general population. At Protein World we don’t believe this concept promotes a healthy relationship with food or a balanced lifestyle.
Whether your goal is weight loss, weight gain or weight maintenance, all of these goals can and should be achieved in the long term by subscribing to a healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle. These two terms, ‘healthy’ and ‘balanced’ have been somewhat misappropriated when it comes to diet in recent years. They are taken to refer to ‘clean eating’ whereby everything consumed is dense in nutritional value and that there is no place for high sugar and high fat foods such as cookies, doughnuts, and cakes. However, this is an unhealthy attitude and mindset which will likely result in demotivation and a lack of perseverance.
Cheat meals afford the individual the opportunity to indulge in their favourite high calorie, typically considered unhealthy foods, but this behaviour shouldn’t be termed ‘cheating’ because that gives it a negative connotation that it doesn’t deserve. That is assuming it isn’t too regular of an occurrence for it to lead to a long-term negative effect on your progress towards your health goals!
The best diet to achieve your goals is one that you can sustain, and this will of course differ hugely between individuals in terms of structure. For some people the cheat meal method will work as they will be able to endure a period of eating foods they may not favour for the benefit of achieving their goals and with the knowledge that at the end of that period they can have something they really enjoy. This likely could result in progress towards a weight goal, however it may encourage unhealthy behaviours, such as binge eating.
While there can be negative impacts of the cheat meal culture for mental health, often there are reported physiological benefits of cheat meals, however this may not actually be the case. This relates to hormonal change causing hunger, satiety and the supposed ability to control eating behaviours. By having occasional high calorie meals it has been said that it will enable an individual to better control their eating habits, however the scientific evidence to support such a claim is very limited.
If you find the cheat meal structure works for you but you want to do so with a healthier outlook that should encourage a better mindset for success, then ‘cheat meals’ should be thought of as ‘treat meals’ instead. You should see the treat as a reward for your hard work, rather than the connotation that you are doing something bad by eating it, and thereby undermining your hard work.
If the ‘treat meal’ concept isn’t for you then there are certainly alternative behaviours that you can implement which can replace it. Cheat meals/days typically involve binge eating resulting in a vast calorie surplus which is of course not going to result in progress towards a weight loss goal. But if there are certain foods that you couldn’t live without but know you can’t eat them all the time to achieve your goals, then it might be possible to incorporate them into your diet without harming your progress by planning ahead. Were you to wish to consume a 400 calorie piece of chocolate cake after dinner, you could compensate by reducing your breakfast, lunch and dinner by 100 calories each, and also reduce your morning and afternoon snack by 50 calories each. This would result in a net change of 0 calories whilst also literally having your cake and eating it!
Often diets are hard to maintain because it is thought that ‘healthy eating’ means only eating foods people don’t like, which makes people really feel like they need cheat meals in their lives. When really this isn’t the case at all! Eating towards a goal, particularly weight loss, doesn’t have to be boring. We have plenty of recipes on our website for delicious, low calorie meals and snacks!