How often should you have a cheat meal?
Every week on Sunday?
Once a month?
You have been dieting hard and eating clean. You are wondering when you can have some time where you can come off your diet and indulge a bit.
Maybe have some foods that aren’t allowed on your diet and relax a bit.
Well don’t you worry. We are going to cover the question of how often should you have a cheat meal and plenty more here in this short article.
Just so we are clear on the guidelines, make sure to not skip around and read the entire article.
I promise it will be worth it.
Let’s dive in.
How Often Should You Have A Cheat Meal?
Consider This First…
You came here because you were wondering how often should you have a cheat meal, right?
Well, I want to challenge you first and foremost on this question.
Why do you need a “cheat” meal?
Oftentimes when people embark on their diet, it looks something like this.
Trying to eat only chicken, broccoli, oatmeal, and egg whites. Everyday, all day, forever.
Only eating “clean” foods. Not allowing themselves to have things like burgers, ice cream, or cookies.
This usually leads to the thought process of needing to “cheat” on your diet in order to have said food.
Sound familiar at all?
If so, I am going to shock you with something.
You can still eat burgers, ice cream, and cookies, and lose weight.
Yep, it is totally true.
This is because no one food inherently makes you gain body fat.
Not ice cream, not donuts, not French fries.
You see weight loss all comes down to an energy balance equation.
Energy for humans is calories.
Whether it is 100 calories from chicken and broccoli, or 100 calories from a donut.
They are both 100 calories.
Now of course chicken and broccoli and a donut have very different nutritional value to them.
Chicken and broccoli is going to be a bit higher in protein, fill you up more, and give you more food for the calories.
But that doesn’t mean a donut is “bad” or you have to “cheat” to have it. It also doesn’t mean that it isn’t 100 calories.
If you have less energy (calories) coming in than what you burn, you will lose body fat.
Simple and plain.
This is called being in a calorie deficit. You need to eat less calories than your body burns on a daily or weekly basis.
If you want to know how many calories that is for you, feel free to head to my free calorie calculator HERE .
This calorie deficit has been backed by scientific study after scientific study.
Like this one for example where people only ate rice, fruit, and juice yet lost an average of 141 lbs .
Only eating carbs yet still losing body fat!? Shocking right. But nope, because they were in a calorie deficit they lost weight.
Now should you go and do that? No. Yet it is proof you can still have foods you enjoy in moderation in your diet and still lose weight.
You do not have to cut out all of your favorite foods or make any foods off limits.
In fact, the more you try to label foods “Good and bad” or “off limits”, the less likely you are to succeed with your diet long term.
We as humans hate the idea that we can’t have something. As I am typing this the world is in a global pandemic and people can’t live their normal life.
Now, people want to go more than ever!
The minute you make something off limits is the minute you start to have trouble.
So, How Often Should You Have A Cheat Meal?
Well judging based off of what we just learned above, I would now challenge you to the verbiage you are using.
Using the word “cheat” implies you are doing something wrong. It implies you are going off script and it is a negative thing.
Yet we just learned that you can have literally any food you want and still lose weight.
You are not doing anything wrong by having a certain food. Eating a donut or a burger isn’t a going “off plan” or “cheating”.
It is possible to enjoy these foods in moderation and still see weight loss progress.
So in terms of how often should you have a cheat meal, I would venture to say never.
You don’t need a “cheat meal” because you aren’t cheating on anything.
Rather, you are actually sticking directly to your plan.
You can simply work these foods you enjoy into your diet, still hit your calorie limit, and still see weight loss progress.
Every single one of my clients do that, including my online coaching client Mary who lost over 80lbs by having some kind of desert every single night.
Also, Food For Thought (Get It!?)
I would also argue that if you are here reading this right now, wondering when your next “cheat day” can be, your diet is entirely too restrictive to begin with.
You probably want / need a cheat day because like we touched on earlier, your diet is way too restrictive.
You are trying to eat incredibly low calories, restrict food choices, and never have any of your favorite foods.
That is why by the time Friday, Saturday, and Sunday roll around, you are searching for a cheat day.
Because the entire week you have just over restricted yourself.
That is not the way to achieve long term sustainable weight loss. Dieting does not have to be incredibly strict and rigid.
There can be some flexibility along the way. I would argue if you are wondering how often you should have a cheat meal, you need to re assess your diet from the beginning.
Stop over restricting your food and calorie limits, cutting out your favorite foods, and labeling foods as “good” and bad”.
You are probably doing that to try and lose weight very rapidly as well.
That is not going to work for a slew of reasons, some of which I talk about HERE in this video.
Realize that taking a slower, more flexible, more sustainable approach is going to be the best way to go about losing weight.
But Okay, How Often Should You Have A Cheat Meal?
We have learned that you don’t need a cheat meal because you can enjoy your favorite foods in moderation. I do want to talk about taking dedicated time away from being on a diet.
I would believe that what we discussed above is going to help clear up a lot of you.
When you go less restrictive and start incorporating more foods you enjoy into your diet in moderation, your current desire for having cheat meals will subside.
With that being said, I do think there is a time and a place to not be on a diet or at least take a break from it.
Dieting is a mental, physical, and emotional stress on your body. That is why it is hard.
Let’s briefly cover each aspect of those stresses to set up the later information in this article.
It is no secret dieting comes with a mental stress.
You have to be sure you are planning out your day, entering your food into my my fitness pal app, staying under a certain calorie goal.
Your mentally in this state of mind of having to eat less food because the only way only way to lose weight is to be in a calorie deficit.
It requires you being conscious of your decisions when you go out to eat with friends or order out at dinner.
It is mentally taxing on you.
This is completely normal and most people who go on a diet feel this way. Especially if they think they have to eat like this forever with no end in sight.
Being in a calorie deficit, aka eating less calories than your body burns, is a physical stress on your body as well.
Your body likes to stay the same, it likes homeostasis.
It does not care if you want to lose body fat, you want to lose body fat, not your body. Your body would much rather stay exactly where it is because it is much easier that way.
When you go into this calorie deficit, you are automatically putting more stress on your body. Your body has less energy to go around.
Less energy to keep your hormones in check, to deal with your stress from workouts or at work, to put towards recovering and sleeping.
Essentially, it is going to slow down your metabolism.
Now, you shouldn’t be scared of this or fear this, this is totally normal.
A lot of people will try to scare you into fearing this, this is normal and a necessary part of losing weight.
We are going to touch a bit more on metabolism here below shortly.
I also did a whole video talking about this topic HERE if you want to check that out later.
Yet nonetheless, it is a stress you are putting on your body that adds up over time.
I am sure you can relate to this.
Getting on the scale each day, tracking your weight, wanting it to go down so badly.
Feeling like you may have done something wrong or f*cked up somewhere along the way.
Getting incredibly wrapped up in the emotions that come along with losing weight can be a stressful thing as well.
Oh not to mention all of the other stress you have going on in your life with your kids, work, spouse, etc.
This can make it incredibly hard to continuously stick with your diet 24/7 365.
How Often Should You Have A Cheat Meal To Keep Metabolism High
In the old school body building days people used to think that having a cheat day was going to speed up their metabolism.
This was based on when you decrease calories your metabolism slows down.
Well, when you increase calories your the opposite happens, your metabolism speeds up.
(Hint : This is why you should not be worried about damaging your metabolism. If and when you increase calories, your metabolism will increase as well).
Yet over time and through research we have found that just eating more calories in one meal or one day is not going to speed up your metabolism.
It takes time just like a calorie deficit takes time.
Unless you eat higher calories for at least one week, your metabolism is not going to have much increase to it.
Therefore if you are wondering how often should you have a cheat meal to increase your metabolism or stop it from slowing down, just know that unless it is going to be for more than a week straight, it will not have that much metabolism boosting effect.
How Often Should You Have A Cheat Meal : 3 Options
I don’t think of it as a cheat meal. I think of it as having planned out times where you are not on a diet.
You are not eating in a calorie deficit.
This will give you a mental and physical break from the diet that you probably need every now and then.
Now this does not mean you are free for all binging and eating whatever the hell you want.
This is simply periods of time where you are going to plan on eating higher calories, usually right around maintenance calories.
If you want to find out what your maintenance calories are, I have a free calculator HERE as well you can check out after reading this article.
There are 3 main things I want to cover here which are re feeds, diet breaks, and periods of maintenance.
A refeed is basically a period of 1-3 days where you are eating at around maintenance calories.
This can be beneficial if you have been in a calorie deficit for a little while, but maybe you have a birthday weekend coming up.
Or maybe you just want to take a day on a weekend and enjoy a meal with your spouse.
This can give you that option of taking a day where you simply increase calories a bit to maintenance giving you a bit more flexibility with your diet.
A dit break is a more extended period of time. Usually anywhere from 1-4 weeks is how long a diet break will last.
This is usually more beneficial if you have been on a deficit for a good while and just been putting your nose to the grind stone.
Taking this time period to mentally, physically, and emotionally recharge can be a huge advantage for you.
In fact, I am going to put here below a post from one of my Clubhouse Members who recently took a diet break and it helped her tremendously.
Periods Of Maintenance
Taking a period of maintenance where you are not focused on fat loss usually lasts anywhere from 4 weeks to 4-6 months.
It would truly just depend on the individual.
I have had multiple of my online coaching clients, like Nadia here below who have taken a good 4 months of maintaining their weight, not focusing on fat loss, and giving themselves a mental break from the diet.
So, What Is Right For You?
Well, unfortunately I can’t really tell you that unless I work with you one on one and know your entire situation.
But here are some things I will say.
Number one, remember that consistency is king.
These tools are great strategies to use, but unless you are at least 85% consistent overall with your diet, you will not see results.
That means in a 31 day month, if you have not hit your calorie deficit target goal at least 26/27 days, then you will not see fat loss progress.
Number two, just because you aren’t at your goal body weight yet doesn’t mean you can’t use any of these strategies above.
Often times I get people quite reluctant to this idea of taking periods of maintenance or simply not being in a calorie deficit because they have not hit their goal body weight yet.
They feel guilty not eating in a deficit. I am here to tell you that is a very short sided way of thinking about it.
Yes you need to be at least 85% consistent to see results, but that doesn’t mean you have to be 100% consistent.
In fact I don’t want you to be 100% consistent because that would be incredibly unsustainable.
Remember, you have to keep the bigger picture in mind.
If taking a one week diet break is going to allow you to have a bit more flexibility, de stress a bit, and then get back to killing it with 90% consistency.
You are going to see better results that way, as opposed to trying to continue to trudge on with only 72% consistency.
Personally, what I do with my online coaching clients is we map out their month each month and see what events they have coming up.
If we know that they have a weekend with two birthday parties on two back to back days, we are probably going to take refeed days those days.
Maybe they are going on vacation for a week, we are probably going to take a diet break.
Or maybe they are someone who has been killing it month after month, gotten to a decent body fat level, and just wants a break. We will take some time to maintain for a bit.
It really just depends. There is no one right answer, only a right answer for you.
How Often Should You Have A Cheat Meal : Final Word
Well, I told you at the beginning of this article you were going to get the answer to how often should you have a cheat meal and so much more.
I hope you got just that.
If there is one thing I want to make sure you leave here with is that remember, you don’t need to “cheat” to have any specific food or go a bit over in calories.
You aren’t doing anything wrong, rather you can work it right into your plan and actually do everything just right.
If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to drop them below.
Hope you enjoyed and talk soon,