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How Cheat Meals Help You Lose Weight

nutrition May 09, 2023
How Cheat Meals Help You Lose Weight

When I first met Dionysus (not his real name), he was a 50-something guy with a stressful job, large family, and expanding waistline.

He had been struggling to lose weight for years, trying every diet and workout under the sun without success.

When we initially talked about his goals, I asked him about past struggles.

He described a pattern of monastic dedication to boring gym workouts paired with bland meals (think quinoa and raw vegetables).

After several months of this "funless lifestyle" (his words), Dionysus reached his breaking point.

One fateful night, after his wife and kids were fast asleep, he was wide awake in bed trying to resist the siren call of the refrigerator at midnight.

Here's what he said about the incident:

"It was actually calling my name. 'Dionysus, come get a snack!' I could even smell the peanut butter from my bedroom. The aroma was like a warm hug from a childhood friend, except it's peanut butter. How am I supposed to ignore that kind of temptation? It's like asking a cat to resist a laser pointer."

The allure was simply too great so he slipped silently out of bed to conduct a clandestine kitchen raid.

An hour later he had consumed half a jar of extra-crunchy peanut butter and an entire large pizza, about 3,500 calories in total, all by himself.

He described the guilt he felt the next day and how it set him into a frustrating spiral of poor nutrition and weight gain over the following weeks.

But then I explained the simple concept of cheat meals and how this one powerful strategy could help him create long-term success.

By allowing himself to indulge in his favorite foods once a week, he could stick to a healthy eating plan the rest of the time without feeling deprived.

Even better, he didn't have to sneak around or feel remorse after his planned cheat meal.

Over time, he lost weight, gained confidence, and even started enjoying the healthy foods he used to consider unfun.

Thanks to a little bit of balance and the occasional pizza night, Dionysus was on the road to health.

You see, so many 50-plus folks think they have to practice perfect nutrition 100% of the time.

But that's simply not necessary.

When it comes to long-term success in your health, practice moderation in everything (including moderation).

How Cheat Meals Help You Lose Weight

I can still remember the weekly lunch menu at Saint Catharine of Siena, my elementary school.

Taco Tuesday. Barbecued beef sandwiches on Wednesday.

Hamburgers on Thursday.

And we always had pizza on Fridays, the square kind with sweet tomato sauce and extra-salty mozzarella cheese.

We chased down the lunchroom fare with chocolate cow's milk or something called "orange drink."

But I rarely ate the cafeteria food.

As a kid, Mom always packed me a healthy lunch in a metal Star-Wars themed lunchbox with the matching thermos. She would write a little inspirational note on the paper napkin.

For me, lunch was typically a tuna sandwich on rye bread with a red apple.

Occasionally Mom included a "Devil Dog" snack cake.

I still remember the decadent white icing sandwiched in the middle of two chocolatey cakes, about the size of a hot-dog bun.

This was my first exposure to strategic "cheat" foods.

Why am I sharing this?

Except for a few years in college, when I was about 30 pounds overfat, I've always maintained a healthy bodyfat while indulging in the occasional splurge food.

Cheat meals are one of the most controversial topics in the world of nutrition and fitness.

You've probably seen some lean-and-strong looking fitness influencer on social media.

In one video they're doing pullups and crunches while showing off their six-pack abdomen.

And in the next video they're devouring a tall stack of blueberry buttermilk pancakes topped with whipped cream and maple syrup, talking about how they "cheat their way to six-pack abs."

And you're thinking, "There's no way I can eat pancakes and look like that! Now I'm frustrated and hungry."

But when it comes to following a healthy diet, many people consider cheat meals to be a form of indulgence or weakness.

Truth is, including strategic cheat meals in a balanced nutrition plan can actually benefit you in more ways than one.

1. Cheat meals can help to prevent diet burnout

You know what's harder than being on a diet? Trying to spell "quinoa" correctly.

Sticking to a strict diet can be tough, especially if you are trying to lose unwanted belly fat or improve your cholesterol.

Eating the same foods day in and day out can get monotonous, and eventually, you may start to feel like you are missing out on all the tasty treats that you used to enjoy.

This is where strategic cheat meals come in.

By allowing yourself to indulge in your favorite foods occasionally, you can satisfy your cravings and prevent yourself from feeling deprived.

This, in turn, can help you to stick to your healthy eating plan in the long run.

2. Cheat meals can help to boost your metabolism

When you follow a low-calorie diet for an extended period of time, your body may start to adapt by slowing down your metabolism.

This can make it harder to lose weight, as your body is burning fewer calories than it used to.

By incorporating cheat meals into your nutrition plan, you can give your metabolism a temporary boost.

When you consume more calories than usual, your body will have to work harder to process them, which can increase your metabolism and help you to burn more calories overall.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should go overboard with your cheat meals.

If you spend every Sunday eating plates of spaghetti and meatballs at an all-you-can eat pasta bar, you will likely have a calorie surplus and, as a result, unwanted fat gain at the end of that week.

And unless you are training several hours daily, like you are preparing for a triathlon, you simply cannot offset your calorific eating and drinking. 

It’s important to strike a balance between indulging in your favorite foods and maintaining a healthy nutrition plan.

A good rule of thumb is to limit your cheat meals to once or twice a week, and keep your portion sizes in check.

3. Cheat meals can help to improve your mental health

The concept of "dieting" can be stressful.

I've heard people say that dieting is the only time you're hungry and angry at the same time.

Feeling "hangry" is a real thing.

Constantly worrying about what you eat, counting calories, and trying to resist temptation can take a toll on your mental health.

By incorporating cheat meals into your nutrition plan, you can give yourself a mental break from the discipline of mindful nutrition.

Knowing that you have a cheat meal coming up can help reduce stress and anxiety, which can have a positive impact on your overall mental health.

4. Cheat meals can actually help you to stick to your healthy eating plan in the long term

Many people fall off the wagon when they try to follow a too-strict nutrition program, and end up bingeing on junk food or giving up altogether.

By incorporating cheat meals into your nutrition plan, you can give yourself some flexibility while still maintaining healthy nutrition.

This can help you to stay motivated and on track, which can ultimately lead to better results.

Now, I know that some of you may be thinking that cheat meals are just an excuse to sabotage your progress with a plate of fried tortilla chips covered in guacamole, sour cream, and melted cheese.

But I want to emphasize that one or two planned cheat meals should be viewed as a part of a balanced nutrition plan, not a free pass to eat whatever you want.

When choosing your cheat meals, try to focus on foods that you truly enjoy and that will satisfy your cravings.

This could be anything from pizza and ice cream to a cheeseburger with a side of fried onion rings.

Just remember to keep your portions in check, and to balance out your cheat meals with healthy, nutrient-dense foods the rest of the week.


Traditional diets are like a rollercoaster at an amusement park, one minute you're up and the next you're down. Incorporating cheat meals into a balanced nutrition plan can be beneficial in more ways than one. Not only can they help to prevent burnout and boost your metabolism, but they can also improve your mental health and help you to stick to your healthy eating plan in the long term.

So, once or twice per week, go ahead and indulge.

To your success,

Coach Joe



Joseph Arangio helps 40+ men and women get leaner, stronger, and happier. He's delivered over 100,000 transformation programs to satisfied clients around the globe. If you want to lose weight from home, with the best online personal trainer, or you want to visit the best personal trainer in the Lehigh Valley, you can take a free 14-day trial.

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