Should You Have “Cheat Meals” In Your Diet?

You may have heard the term “Cheat Meals” before. It’s a common approach to dieting and nutrition where people “eat clean” or follow a strict diet for X amount of time.

They then set a regularly occurring meal or day where they purposefully indulge in all the things they’ve restricted themselves from having throughout the diet phase. After this “Cheat”, they go back to their restrictive dieting regime.

Some trainers, nutritionists, and dieters love it, but here’s why I’m not a huge fan of the concept…or even that choice of words.

Why I don’t like “Cheat Meals” in a diet?

First, I feel that having a “cheat” meal in a diet promotes an unhealthy mindset towards food and long-term enjoyment of the things we eat to nourish our body, mind, and spirit.

It speaks to the fact that there’s something to “cheat” on in the first place, or that there’s a need to cheat. This is the food you eat to nourish yourself and help your body perform at its best. Should we need to cheat on that?

Here are a few point form notes. I believe “cheat meals”:

  • Create anxiety, guilt, and an unhealthy fixation on food

  • Label foods as “good” or “bad”

  • Speak to the belief that healthy eating is “hard work” and takes more effort or willpower than eating unhealthy

  • Show an unproductive mindset. “Cheating” and purposefully “choosing” are very different!

  • Calling it a “treat” or reward is more positive, but still means that we are fixated on “clean” eating and rewarding our dedication with something “unclean” or “dirty”

Here’s some food for thought regarding “Cheat Meals”

What if your diet is like a human relationship? What if you said to your spouse or partner, “Hey, it’s been a long hard week of dealing with you, I’m going out tonight to pick up some cheap one-night stand, but don’t worry, I’m back tomorrow and everything will be back to normal.”

cheating in a relationship

If your spouse is anything like mine, that wouldn’t go over too well. Additionally, I wouldn’t feel very good about the situation. My thought is…if you feel the need to cheat (especially on a regular basis), you are in the wrong relationship!

I can already hear people yelling that this is unrealistic. That they can’t have a perfect diet forever. That it’s normal to ”want to eat the foods they enjoy” and have “treats” and “cheat meals”.

While I’m but one voice in the noisy nutrition landscape, here are my 5 cents (inflation) on the solution. 

Diet is a lifestyle choice. We all have different visions of the lifestyle we want to live. This vision may change over time, but there will always be events, special occasions, trips, and situations where the food we would normally eat isn’t available. Plus our individual nutritional needs are always changing (due to seasons, activity levels, sleep, stress, etc.).

In my opinion, this is part of life. We can plan for some consistency, but life is sometimes messy, unpredictable, and we need to go with the flow. Other times we make a conscious choice to eat a specific way.

This may mean we eat more, less, or differently than we have planned. That’s OK.

In the short term, these fluctuations have minimal impact on our health and well-being when we approach them as a natural and normal part of life. The stress and negative connotation that many people apply to eating certain types and categories of food have a much worse impact on health and well-being than the actual food itself.

It’s the long-term trend that makes the biggest difference on our diet 

It’s the long-term trend that makes the biggest difference in our ability to be healthy, happy, vibrant, and at our desired body composition. If life gets messy and outside our norm so often that we’ve set a “new norm”, then it’s time to evaluate if we are heading in the right direction.

Identify the type of person you want to be, and how you want to live, then make diet decisions based on that value system. I believe that this should include variety, variability, and indulgences that are not necessarily part of our everyday diet, but that is consumed with purpose and positive emotions.

While this is definitely not a “Eat This, Not That” approach to nutrition, who am I to tell you what you can and can’t eat? That’s up to you and your goals.

If you are tired of the diet roller coaster and ready to transition to a sensible, enjoyable, and highly effective approach to nutrition and eating for real life, then you should enroll in our Fuel Your Body For Success course

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