Cheat meals, do you need them? Should you have them? What should you have? Is it normal to crave them? Should you feel guilty?
Cheat meals are a hotly debated topic among the fitness community and the term has even become a mainstream term used by people all over the world. But of course with this being something to do with health and fitness there are literally hundreds of opinions on the topic and hundreds of questions asked about them. As such I thought i’d put together a list of common questions asked about cheat meals and answer them myself. Just bare in mind that for some of these questions there is no direct answer and so the answers will be my opinion and my opinion only, which can change from time to time. So first of all let’s get the first question out of the way.
Q: What is a cheat meal?
A: A cheat meal is a meal that puts you over your calorie and macronutrient goals for that day. So let’s say your goal is to take in 2000 calories for that day, you’ve eaten 1900 calories so far and you have a burger. This takes you over your calorie goals and is therefor a cheat meal. Because of this you can technically cheat on your diet with clean foods like chicken and rice.
Q: Is it better to have a cheat meal or a cheat day
A: In nearly every single circumstance it is better to have a cheat meal. The issue with a cheat day is there can be no control. You wake up, you eat like shit and then you do so for the next three or four meals. There is a massive difference in calories and not only that there is the danger that your cheat day might turn into a cheat weekend or week, how many times have you eaten left over pizza in the morning? Finished off the box of doughnuts the next day or polished off the bottle of wine in the evening. I used to have cheat days and since swapping to to cheat meals I’ve found that i’m more disciplined with my diet. I’m more focused and I have less cravings. An exception to this would be if you have one cheat day a month, and only if you can control yourself for the next few days. That way you can eat properly for most of the month and reward yourself with a day of eating whatever you want. But it all comes down to discipline.
Q: How often should I have a cheat meal?
A: It depends on your goals and your metabolism. If you’re trying to lose weight you should start with one a week and then up it to two and possibly three after a few weeks. If you are still losing weight after two cheat meals a week but not losing weight at three cheat meals then take it back down to two and you’re good to go. If you’re maintaining your weight then the same principle goes but i’d start off with three. If you’re having four cheat meals and you’re gaining weight then bring it down until you’re staying the same each week. Finally if you’re wanting to gain weight, then any more than four or five cheat meals a week and you’re risking gaining fat and not muscle. If that’s fine with your goals then go ahead, but if you’re wanting lean mass then stick with three or less cheat meals a week.
Q: What’s the benefit of cheat meals? Should I even bother?
A: I go over most of it here. But it’s mainly to control your cravings while following a strict diet and to ensure your hormones are in good condition.
Q: What should I eat?
A: Honestly that’s down to you. You could just swap the chicken and rice for pork and rice, steak and chips or lamp chops. Or you could just go for a pizza and a few beers. Equally you could just go for a tub of ice cream. It’s really up to you, whatever you’re craving have it.
Q: I often feel guilty after a cheat meal, is that normal?
A: I’d say so, even though some would disagree. I’m not saying you should feel guilty though, you need to enjoy your life and that starts with enjoying your food. We don’t have to survive on rice cakes and white fish. When you have a cheat meal don’t hate yourself for it. It’s normal to crave tasty foods. You’re only human. So long as you aren’t having a cheat week or month or year then there really isn’t an issue. One meal won’t hurt you unless you’re doing a contest or something similar.