Cheating on your diet isn’t really cheating if it’s properly planned and executed. In fact, cheat meals give you a powerful advantage in the fight against fat. At least, that’s what many nutrition experts say.
Cheat meals are weekly indulgences in foods you “shouldn’t” be eating. You know the ones—all the unhealthy, empty calories that lead to weight gain over time.
By planning cheat meals, however, you allow yourself to keep eating the foods you love while learning importance of moderation and portion control. Over time, cheat meals increase willpower and make the day-to-day drudge of dieting a bit easier to bear. All that adds up to lasting weight loss.
1. More Willpower for Weight Loss
The biggest reason some nutritionists advocate cheat meals is the increase in willpower. According to a poll of women in the U.K., the average diet lasts just 5 weeks, 2 days, and 43 minutes until temptation becomes too great to bear.
And it’s no wonder. Being asked to forego favorite foods without prelude is difficult and becomes discouraging quickly. That’s why built-in cheat meals or cheat days are so helpful.
According to Marjorie Nolan, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, cheat meals break up the monotony of dieting and give dieters something to work for.
“A cheat day can help you stick with a plan the rest of the week,” Nolan told Forbes Magazine. “It’s easier to stick to your healthy plan during the week, avoiding Little Debbie brownies, when you know you’re saving your calories for rich chocolate mousse on Friday.”
By giving dieters a positive mentality, cheat meals help your garden salad looks more appetizing and manageable than it would ordinarily. And that’s key to prolonging your diet longer than 5 weeks.
After all, a successful diet depends just as much on positive thinking as it does on healthy eating and a caloric deficit.
2. A Healthier Relationship with Food
The idea that certain foods are “bad” and should be banned doesn’t do much to help you maintain a positive mindset, and it certainly doesn’t foster a health relationship with food.
When you start thinking of food as the enemy, it’s easy to start feeling deprived, angry, and guilty whenever you eat less-than-healthy foods. Over time, this develops into a negative emotional reaction to food, which may cause you binge, develop an eating disorder, or give up on your diet entirely.
Cheat meals, by contrast, help you develop an appreciation for portion size and moderation.
This is particularly important for emotional eaters. According to experts, 75% of overeating is triggered by emotions. Among these emotional triggers are negative feelings towards food or self. If you identify a food as “bad,” for example, you may punish yourself for wanting it and lose the willpower to resist. This leads to splurges and overall caloric excesses.
Additionally, you’ll start craving unhealthy foods less and less over time, if you allow the occasional cheat meal. As your tastes change, so will your body.
3. A Metabolism Ready to Rumble
A more tangible benefit to cheat meals is the effect on metabolism. While dramatically decreasing caloric intake causes the metabolism to slow and the body to store calories, cheat days and individual cheat meals spike caloric intake and cause metabolic rate to stay on top of the game.
Or, as 4-Hour Body author Tim Ferris puts it, cheat meals ensure the “metabolic rate doesn’t down-regulate from extended caloric restriction”. There is no single scientific study that supports this hypothesis, but the logic behind it is hard to deny.
In this way, cheat meals are good for both the mind and the body.
How to Cheat the Right Way
Even a cheat meal requires some attention to moderation and control. Most nutritionists say if you follow 90 percent of your diet plan, one to two cheat meals per week give you something to look forward to without sabotaging your weight loss efforts.
To further balance cheat meals with your weight loss plan, try to plan your cheat day on your hardest day of exercise. If you can, factor in high calories, protein, and carbohydrates.
After your cheat day, try to keep calories low in order to recover. You should also load up on vitamins and water.
If you properly balance your lifestyle and dietary choices, you’ll be able to use cheat meals effectively, maintain your willpower, and lose weight without contracting a fateful case of the dieting blues.
-  Davies, Taryn. 12 February 2013. “The length of the average diet: five weeks, two days, and 43 minutes.” Female First
-  Cohen, Jennifer. 23 January 2013. “Can Cheating on Your Diet Actually Help You to Lose Weight?” Forbes Magazine
-  WebMD.com Staff Writers. 2013. “Emotional Eating and Weight Loss.”
-  Fuhr, Lizzie. 1 April 2013. “Why It’s Good to Take a Cheat Day Each Week.” FitSugar.com