Should I have a Cheat Meal?

Cheat Meals. I don’t know where the term came from but I know it’s problematic. I’ve been hearing (and for a time using) the term “Cheat Meal” since I began my health and fitness journey. Over the years I’ve come to find the idea of a cheat meal to be more harmful than helpful.

Typically any meal that falls outside of whatever nutritional plan you are following could be called a cheat meal. This implies that there are things that are off limits in your diet and you choose to do something “wrong” and cheat on your nutrition plan. There are two main reasons I find this troubling.

Cheating Big

I have yet to meet anyone who holds back on a cheat meal. Once they’ve given themselves permission to break the rules the go all out and eat anything and everything they can get their hands on. Afterwards they feel awful and have a lot of negative self talk about their poor choices and lack of self control. This added stress may actually do more harm to the goals set for the diet than the actual food eaten in the cheat meal.

We treat fitness as a lifestyle. It’s not about fad diets and being restrictive. We want to find a sustainable approach to fueling your body to reach your health, fitness and aesthetic goals. Binging on an entire pizza and large cream sundae and then hating yourself is not a sustainable approach. This doesn’t help you feel successful in making lifestyle changes.

A Cheating Relationship

More often than not our discussions with clients get more complicated when we talk about food than when we talk about training. Everyone seems to have an unhealthy relationship with food on some level. I think it’s safe to say that as a nation our relationship with food is dysfunctional. We’re bombarded everyday with the latest and greatest get skinny quick scheme or thing you should or should not eat at a certain time of the day. All of which is a distraction.

Eating well is an ongoing up and down relationship with food, and like all relationships it can be really hard to deal with. A cheat meal is not only mentally unhealthy in developing a functionally healthy relationship with food, but it opens the door to more and more cheats. Some diets recommend a cheat meal to makeup for calorie restriction in the days leading up to the cheat, but that sort of up and down cycle on your emotions, mental processes and hormones is not a practice that makes developing a healthy relationship with food any easier.

We prioritize health (of all kinds) over everything else. For us that means we want to you have skills for eating healthy for the rest of your life and we don’t want you to sacrifice that big picture for a quicker way to lose body fat. In a society that celebrates life hacks we say slow down. Look at what’s most important and do things the right way. Follow sound nutritional practices 90% of the time. When you’re at your niece’s birthday party have a piece of cake if you really want to, and don’t give it a second thought.