A burger. A slice – or seven – of pizza. A whole tub of Ben & Jerry’s. What do you think of when someone says ‘cheat meal‘? Essentially it is a way to keep your diet on track. As soon as you hear the word ‘diet‘ your cravings go into overdrive and want you to demolish that whole tub of Nutella with nothing but your fingers and a spoon.

I personally don’t like using the word ‘diet’ as it holds way too many negative connotations. So when I use the word I am using it as describing the foods you eat on a daily and weekly basis. For most people eating healthy, controlled diets, they see a cheat meal as something to look forward to – it is a way of keeping on track for 7 days a week because you know that you will be able to eat whatever you want to in that meal. But, others disagree, saying it is merely a chance to stuff yourself to the point of feeling sick with very negative emotional consequences.

This is a topic I’ve always been interested in, and now there is so much debate surrounding it, I’ve decided to do some research and really understand why opinions are so divided. I’ve also called upon the professional opinions of two personal trainers, mine and a very close friend, to give their views on the growing argument surrounding cheat meals too.

Cheat Meals vs Cheat Days
This is where most people tend to go wrong. Unless you’re Dwayne Johnson, don’t think you can have cheat days consisting of eating pizzas and pancakes all day long without having repercussions. People slip up when they spend their whole day eating crappy foods and then top it off with a unhealthy dinner and dessert and snacks, only to justify it by saying ‘it’s fine, today’s my cheat day!’. This avoids the whole concept of a cheat meal. Really it should be a portion-controlled single meal that satisfies the cravings, if any, that you’ve had during the week. That day shouldn’t be spent eating anything less than your usual meals to ‘accommodate’ for the extra calories, but you should eat what you would usually eat, enjoy your cheat meal, and then get straight back into your meal plan afterwards. It’s recommended that your cheat meal be your evening meal so that you don’t have time to snack on other unhealthy foods. As the saying goes one unhealthy meal won’t make you fat, just like one healthy meal won’t make you skinny. 
The argument: This is a pretty obvious one. People say cheat meals should just be completely avoided so as not to even give yourself the chance to overload on calories. Kris Gunnars, CEO of Authority Nutrition, once calculated he ate over 5,000 calories in one particular cheat meal binge and is perfectly aware that there are many others that can do the same. That is enough to ruin your whole weeks progress. He argues it simply isn’t worth it and advises to cut out cheat meals completely.

Psychological Side Effects
I asked my personal trainer, Bradley Watts, about whether he thinks they’re a good thing. He states “It’s not so much about the science behind what breaking your normal routine can do to your body, but more so about giving someone something to look forward to’. As humans, we hate being deprived of things we know we have easy access to, so psychologically, by saying to yourself that in 4 days you can have a meal of whatever you want, you’re much more likely to stick to eating 100% clean.
The argument: Feeling bloated, guilty and miserable after eating a cheat meal is very common. I’ve felt it a few times and I know others that have too. While the meal may give you pleasure while you’re eating it, there’s a chance you’ll feel horrible when you’re done. Don’t use your cheat meal as an excuse to be unhealthy for the week following. It is a cheat meal, not a day or a week.  BUT if you’re comfortable knowing the meal is meant to be just that and completely guilt-free then you can focus on the positive benefits of a cheat meal. You wake up the next morning and carry on with your routine; eat the same, exercise the same and stay hydrated.

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Amy Shockett Feature
Amy is a very close friend of mine and has been transforming her body for a few years now with aims to compete in competitions next year. I asked her opinion on whether having cheat meals are a good or bad idea for those eating clean and exercising regularly.

“To cheat or not to cheat, that is the question!? I hear so many people talk about cheat days rather than cheat meals, so lets get a few things straight.
Do I believe in cheat days? HELL NO. But cheat meals, yes yes yes. Besides from the fact of being lovers of food, cheat meals keep us sane! Lets be honest, eating clean all the time can be hard and we all need a little treat here and there, and so we should! If you’re working hard in the gym and eating clean all week then you shouldn’t feel guilty for having your cheat meal – you deserve it! Also, a cheat meal could provide your body with a random insulin kick which could spike your metabolism! So there you have it fitness bunnies, enjoy your slice of pizza or bowl of ice cream, just be sure to keep everything in moderation” 

How I do Cheat Meals
I generally plan my cheat meals for when I go out for dinner as it’s usually once a week that I will do and then I’ll chose something I fancy. This is sometimes something boring like a chicken Caesar salad but can be something a little more ‘adventurous’ like some chicken with a sauce and some vegetables. I tend to avoid starchy carbohydrates, but stick to brown wholemeal versions if I do. Alternatively, a roast dinner or home cooked BBQ on a Sunday would be considered my cheat meal. It’s essentially a meal that isn’t in my weekly meal plan, but I do try to stick within the same rules I follow during the week i.e. no bread & keep an eye on portion size. After eating clean for a while now, if I do eat more than I’m used to, or something that is unhealthy, my stomach doesn’t agree with it. So I tend to avoid it for that reason anyway.

Cheat Meal Tips
1. If you’re not craving anything, and not heading out for a meal, then stick to your meal plans and don’t have a cheat meal. If you don’t feel the need to, then don’t.
2. You can have clean cheat meals. These are essentially larger portions of the usual foods you would eat, or clean foods that aren’t usually eaten during the week. E.g. adding a sauce to your chicken breast and vegetables, or doubling up your portion of vegetables.
3. Be sure to incorporate an element of protein in your cheat meal
4. I don’t believe in weighing yourself on scales at the best of times, but after a cheat meal the night before? A definite no-no! With water retention both inside and outside your muscles you could put on up to 5 pounds. So put them away until you come to take your measurements
5. Don’t fast! As I said before, don’t starve yourself on the day of a cheat meal knowing you’ll be having a larger meal for dinner. You shouldn’t feel guilty about it and should have a normal routine on the day and the day after
6. Don’t use your cheat meal as a trigger for more bad eating. Do it, love every second of it, and move on.

So really, if you eat clean all week, then treat yourself with a cheat meal just because you can. But don’t allow yourself to have a cheat meal if you haven’t spent the week eating clean. At the end of the day, everyone is human. I have slip-ups, eat certain things I shouldn’t. But moderation is key in life. Remind yourself that this cheat meal isn’t going to be the last time you can eat those foods and that if you stick to the rules, you’ll be able to do it again soon!