Tips For Managing Your Cheat Meals To Stay On Track For Weight Loss

Having a cheat meal is the greatest part about being on a diet! You’ve worked hard all week, followed all the rules, and you have a solid gym routine. Seems like the perfect time to treat yourself to the incredible meal you’ve been waiting for!

But before we dive headfirst into an XL pizza while we watch Netflix, let’s talk about a few things we can do to minimize the damages. After all, the ultimate goal is to lose weight and be healthy. Let’s find out how it’s possible to have your cake and eat it too.

View It As a Benefit

Real serving of an A&W hamburger over a wood table surface.
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Cheat meals have specific benefits in the same way that a treadmill or squat rack have them. As crazy as it sounds, having the occasional cheat meal can actually be a huge benefit to your diet. Even Michael Phelps or The Rock, people famous for their strict diets, share the benefits of having a cheat meal.

Maintaining a strict diet can be challenging for most people – but sometimes knowing you have that cheat meal coming up is all you need to get through the week. Sometimes a little treat goes a long way.

Choose Your Cheat Days In Advance

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Gerald Matzka/picture alliance via Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

This opens the door to some complex strategies. Should you really eat out on Monday if you know you’re passing your favorite doughnut spot on Friday? Knowing the answer in advance makes that decision a little easier. Setting up designated times to eat your favorite cheat meal is just another helpful way to stay on track.

Also, choosing your cheat meal a few days in advance provides the perfect opportunity to make sure you aren’t wasting calories on something you wouldn’t really enjoy anyway. The trick is to embrace the cheat meal, not feel guilty about it.

Get Excited!

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Noel Vasquez/Getty Images
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Not only does your cheat meal serve as a reward for a job well done, but it also serves as fuel for motivation! Sometimes your perspective makes the biggest difference, and the subconscious benefit of having your cheat meal should make you excited!

If you know you’re stopping by McDonald’s on Friday, you might want to spend a little extra time in the gym on Thursday and Saturday to make up for your meal. While this isn’t a requirement, if it makes you feel less guilty, we’re all for it.

Go Hard Before You Splurge

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Another useful tip is to deplete your glycogen stores– the sugar in your system that your body burns up for energy. How do you do this? Hit the gym before your cheat meal! Your body won’t typically store carbs as body fat until its glycogen storage is at capacity.

So the less glycogen in your system, the more carbs you can enjoy without the worry of immediately seeing them show up on your hips. High-intensity cardio for 20 minutes before your cheat meal is all you need to make a huge difference on the scale.

If skipping a meal isn’t for you, take the next tip instead.

Don’t Wait Until You’re Starving

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Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Depriving yourself of food, going hard in the gym, then breaking your fast by overeating for your cheat meal is a very dangerous game. It can backfire in two huge ways: For one, if you’re ravished when it’s time to chow down, you’re likely to overeat and take in way more calories than you would if you weren’t starving.

Secondly, your metabolism may have dropped if you’ve been eating under 1,000 calories a day. This would result in your body storing your cheat meal as fat while it’s in starvation mode.

Eliminate Distractions During Your Cheat Meal

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Jill Brady/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Jill Brady/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Studies show that eating while distracted, on average, leads to a 10 percent increase in overall calorie intake. If that wasn’t bad enough, research also shows that people who eat while distracted by television go on to consume up to 25% more calories over the course of the day than non-distracted eaters.

Focus on enjoying your glorious cheat meal and save a few calories in the process. Simply indulging in the dining room instead of on the couch or while watching a game can potentially save you hundreds and thousands of calories over time.

Mentally Limit Your Food Options

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Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the large, colorful menus of your favorite restaurants, but it’s part of the reason why you aren’t reaching your body goals. Research shows a correlation between having too many options and overeating.

Focus on the foods you’re craving while you’re struggling to stick to your diet. When you know exactly what you want, you subconsciously limit your own options and eliminate the possibility of ordering more sides. It’s all about putting yourself in a position to minimize risk. Have a plan about what you’re going to order.

Choose a Healthier Cheat Meal

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Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

This one may sound obvious to some, but the name of the game is weight loss, and if you can manage to choose a cheat meal that has some nutritional benefits – it’s really a win-win. The key is to choose a high-carbohydrate, moderate-protein meal.

Carbohydrates have a direct influence on your leptin levels, which helps to burn fat. Protein has the tremendous benefit of boosting your appetite-regulating hormones while making you feel full and satisfied. A couple of sushi rolls or chicken and rice are great examples.

Don’t Select The Worst Option

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Shannon O’Hara/Getty Images for Pizza Hut
Shannon O’Hara/Getty Images for Pizza Hut

Dietary fat is similar to body fat and barely requires any energy conversion. What does that mean? An almost immediate cause of fat storage. Typically, the process of converting carbohydrates into fat is a chemical process that burns energy in and of itself (about 25 percent per gram of carbohydrate).

The only thing worse than empty calories is a high-fat meal. They don’t increase leptin levels, nor do they boost metabolism. Avoid items like Pasta Alfredo, greasy pizzas, or any kind of battered or fried foods. Don’t forget those naughty desserts!

Establish Your Eating Time

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Insights/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Insights/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Limit your time at the table, but don’t make it a competition with yourself. Cheat meals can be dangerous if you don’t impose a few limitations on it. Want a great example of what not to do? Don’t order an entire pizza to yourself and eat it over the duration of a two-hour movie.

Savor your delicious and well-deserved cheat meal! You don’t have to scarf down your food but choosing a meal that you can finish in a few minutes is much better than the previously mentioned alternative.

Minimize or Skip the Meal Before

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Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

If your cheat meal is for dinner – You can minimize your food portion at lunch, or skip your meal entirely. When every calorie counts, you can create a buffer for yourself to take some of the guilt away from chowing down with your cheat meal.

Reducing the number of total hours in a day that you’ll spend eating also means you’ll be shifting your body into a fat-burning state. Fasting for short periods of time is shown to boost metabolism while increasing HGH and insulin levels.

Have A Great Pre-Cheat Meal

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Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Natasha Breen/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If skipping the meal before isn’t really your thing, you can always make sure your pre-cheat meal is as beneficial as possible. Ideally, you’ll want to grab something with high-protein, high-fiber, and low-starch vegetables. The trick here is to eat something that’s going to make you feel full while taking in as few calories as possible.

A good example would be a leafy, green salad with chicken breast and a squeeze of lemon. This is going to make sure you aren’t starving when it’s finally time to enjoy your cheat meal.

Control Your Portions

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DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

We get it, a cheat meal doesn’t really feel like a cheat meal if you’re only eating 2 ounes of the food you love – Stop it! If you’re going out to a restaurant, be sure to order an appetizer-sized portion of your favorite pasta.

It’s highly recommended that if you must have a cheat meal, portion control is vital. Especially considering the monstrous portions provided at restaurants. It’s possible to quench your craving without completely lighting your diet plans on fire.

Water, Water, Water

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Media for Medical/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Media for Medical/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The best cheat meals typically have a lot of salt or sugar – probably both! The good news is that drinking a ton water a day after your cheat meal helps to flush your body of all those salts, sugars and other toxins.

After all, our bodies are 60% water and our blood is 90% water. The benefits of drinking water go far beyond simply losing weight. Just to name a few: Boosts metabolism, cleanses the body of waste and acts as an appetite suppressant. Research shows that if you weigh 200lbs, you should be drinking 100 ounces of water.

You Don’t Always Need To Rush

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The basic concept here is that eating more slowly will allow your body time to notify you when it’s actually full, that way you don’t overeat. It takes your brain about 20 minutes to realize your stomach is full. In other words, slowing down and savoring every single bite is beneficial for, not only enjoying your cheat meal but also for feeling full after eating less food.

You can also take this time to chew your food a little more – Chewing more promotes fullness and weight loss by increasing your sense of fullness.

Don’t Make Excuses

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It’s happened to us all, your friends invite you out for burgers and beer, but you’ve already had your cheat meal for the week. You don’t want to disappoint your friends or miss out on a fun night and you definitely don’t want to ignore your diet.

You don’t have to choose, and you don’t have to make excuses for having another cheat meal. Simply put, you can out with your friends and have a great time while also ordering a salad and drinking water. Just don’t make excuses.

Watch Out For The Slippery Slope

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Mike Kemp/In PIctures via Getty Images
Mike Kemp/In PIctures via Getty Images

Cheat meals are great – Cheat days, weeks, and months are not. We also understand that sometimes life happens, so the lesson here is to make sure you don’t fall down the slippery slope of poor decisions. It’s way too easy to have a few cheat meals and say “Ah, I’ve already messed up today, what’s one more?” – It’s the difference between reaching your goals, and not.

Ultimately, you’re the master of your own life, but it’s important to remember the slippery slope and to be cautious of its temptations.

Work Out Like You’ve Cheated

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Brett Hemmings/Getty Images
Brett Hemmings/Getty Images

You shouldn’t feel guilty about having a cheat meal, but if you do, it absolutely gives you some additional motivation for the gym. At the end of the day, you’re trying to lose weight, and as beneficial as cheat meals may be, you still want to work them off.

Try making a mental appointment for the gym the day after your cheat meal, and aim to stay there a little longer. Maybe you’re there for 30 minutes a day but after a cheat meal, you like to go for 45 minutes. Do you.

Experiment With Food Effects

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PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA/AFP/Getty Images
PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA/AFP/Getty Images

If you’re noticing that the gym is getting a little tougher, weight isn’t being lost consistently, or you’re just not feeling the same during your workout – Maybe it’s time to experiment. You may realize that if you have a plate of creamy pasta for your cheat meal, maybe it gives you a little boost in morale or energy.

Whether the meal is healthy or not, food has interesting effects on your body. Pay close attention to how your body reacts to certain foods. It’s possible that you’ll be able to use this to your advantage.

Re-Wire Your Brain

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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“Cheat meal” can sound so… negative. Research shows that the words you choose can have a serious impact on the way you think and behave. So calling it a “cheat meal” can make people associate guilt for something that’s healthy and beneficial. Those negative feelings can then impact your mood and motivation.

If it helps you, try referring to your cheat meals as “having off” or “taking a day off”. Albeit small, it just might be the little change that helps you stay on track.