The How and Why I Include Cheat Meals

Loaded Sweet Potato

Going out to eat while dieting or trying to lean out can be daunting. Sometimes it feels like it’s more trouble than worthwhile. I get it. It’s hard figuring out what is healthy, what is not, is there anything even worth having on plan?

Our automatic assumption is to think not.

Why would we even risk it when we are trying to be so good following a plan? In one word to keep our “sanity”!

I personally feel a meal out is important for so many reasons. It helps us mentally to regroup. It gives us a change of pace, a  change of scenery, a change of food, a change or routine, and a change of company. It allows us to step back in to the “normal world” where we usually spend most of our time anyway and order food like a normal human being. Eating out on occasion can help us to feel satisfied. It can help us to feel connected with the rest of the outside world.

But before we even get to that I think it’s important to first identify why you are eating out. What is your purpose? What are you trying to accomplish?

Are you eating out to enjoy a “cheat” or “treat” meal?


Or are you eating out in hopes to still stay as close to possible on plan?

My recommendations for both would be completely different.

In this blog entry I want to focus on why I feel it’s important to include a cheat meal. Now remember this is my opinion only. It’s not a rule, and it’s not even something everyone agrees with. That’s fine, but this is my opinion on what has helped me keep on plan. I’m a clean-eater by definition, but this clean-eater sill has cravings that don’t fall “on-plan”.

If you already eat clean or are following a regimen to help lose weight or tighten up and are looking forward to a cheat meal, I say enjoy it. Think about those things you’ve missed or an ovewhelming craving you’ve recently had. Whatever it is, try and include that in your reward to yourself. Missing your nightly ice cream or Mexican burrito? Maybe one of those should be your treat to yourself. Whatever it is, a cheat can be what helps carry you through the week – knowing you have it to look forward to. It will help keep you sane and will help you from going off track because you will still be allowing something not normally “included”. As for frequency, I’m of the belief when possible to keep your cheat meals to once or twice a week. Again, I use that recommendation loosely because it really comes back to what your goals are, how strong those urges are, how you define a cheat meal, and how quickly your body metabolizes food. One of my dear friends who has a lot of muscle on her body is highly active, can get a way with 3 cheats per week, and she’s still leaner than I am – just proof that our bodies are all uniquely different. You know your body better than anyone and will best be able to gauge what it’s tolerance is.

Also, I wouldn’t go too incredibly overboard. Again, that’s just me, but I think about some of the popular diets out there  – one in particular that encourages you to devote an entire day to eating whatever you want. Remember, both Greg and I did that. What worked at first became excessive. We ate and ate and ate until our tummies hurt. We overdosed on things we craved and before long we carried some of those cravings beyond the 24 hours. For some it might work great. For me with personal experience, I found keeping my cheats to a couple of times a week worked best. Get your mind around that. An example might be you are going out for Texas Roadhouse with some friends, and you’ve decided in advance you’ll allow yourself a roll, a yummy steak, and a fully loaded sweet potato with sides. Once your meal is over, so is the cheat. You don’t move on to the next location and gorge yourself some more. A good rule of thumb I learned somewhere that I try to adhere to is keeping my “cheat” meals to no longer than 90minutes. Outside of that time frame it becomes a second meal. Just food for thought…(no pun intended). **smile**

Also, when I go out for cheat meals, I don’t always go all out or nothing. Using the Texas Roadhouse example again, when I go there I still eat fairly clean even when having a cheat meal. Now that’s not always the case but it is the norm. If it’s something I won’t miss, I don’t order it, or I ask to have it left off. It’s not my time to use as an excuse to have croutons, cheeses, sauces,and full fat dressings.They are things I really could care less if I eat or not. So, I’ll try to use good judgment. If I’m going to have a roll (fully knowing they aren’t gluten-friendly and I am gluten-free and are 250 calories each), I’d still much rather do that than have everything else that comes with my meal. I’ll still order a salad, one of my favorite sides, but I’ll ask to have the reduced-fat dressing to the side for dipping, and I’ll ask them to hold the cheese and croutons. My cheat comes with the potato. That’s really the reason I’m there. That’s where I won’t skimp and probably won’t ever now that I have finally tried it. In all honesty I haven’t had one of their rolls in a really long time, but a fully-loaded marshmallow melted sweet potato? Count me in. With butter and everything. I will slowly savor each and every bite and won’t even give it a second thought. Most people with me are surprised I’ll even eat it that way, but not me. Why? Because this is what I’ve looked forward to. Whatever it is I am really craving is what I’ll order, and I’ll order it exactly the way I want it. No short cuts. This is MY cheat. This is what 95% clean eating allows me to do. This is what I can do to shake up my system and still lose and/or maintain weight. It’s something that satisfies my mind, my cravings, and my body. But then once my meal is over, so is my cheat.

So once or twice a week – that’s what I personally try to adhere to. And like I said, it’s not necessarily an all or nothing treat either. It just depends, and that’s where your personal judgement has to come in. You need to weigh what’s most important in your mind to determine what will or will not satisfy that craving. In the previous example the sweet potato was the real reason I was there, but I didn’t feel the need to have the gravy for the steak, the sauteed mushrooms, the cheese, full fat dressing, or croutons for my salad. I kept my side and main entree clean because I really like them that way. I didn’t have to overdo it on them too.

On the other extreme – Coldstone. Just about everyone knows how much I love that place. If I am going to have ice cream, it has to be there. For me nothing else compares. But this is where I personally do not hold back. While some can go there and have the kiddy cup of the sugar-free non-fat plain Jane vanilla ice cream, I can not. It actually urks me to even think about having to do that. If I did that why even go? You can get that at home. Heck you could make a healthy protein-shake alternative that would taste better than that. So, no way. Not going to happen.


For me, Coldstone is where I pull out all the stops, and this is one while I’d love to do it once a week I’ll reserve it to maybe once every couple of months if not longer. Again, this keeps me sane, but I don’t want to do it to the point where I start seeing adverse side effects – like unwanted fat pounds. **wink** And, this is a treat that I allow myself too because I’m not shooting for a competition or any other hard-fast deadline that demands me to be even more cautious with my diet. Again, this is where your judgment comes in to play. When I go to Coldstone, I’ll have whatever special blend amazing signature creation my heart desires, and I’ll even go for the “Love It” size – which for those who don’t know what size that is, it’s a big one. It’s between small and large – put it that way. I love love love their combination creations and though they are not remotely healthy, it helps to keep me feeling normal. It gives me something on the rare occasion to look forward to. And I know once the ice cream is in my system, the craving is out of my system. I am good to go for a couple of more months or longer.

I have some friends who tell me they haven’t been to Coldstone in years but they remember how much they love it. It hurts my heart a little to hear that because my question is “why not?” Why not allow yourself a moderate treat once in awhile?

If you don’t have cravings, or if you don’t miss old foods you used to enjoy then this post is likely not for you. I know there are some of you out there. I remember hearing Jillian Michaels say she doesn’t miss any of those old foods. Part of me wonders to what extent that is truth, but even if it is, I know there are the vast majority of you who are trying to figure out how to work in cheat meals to satisfy those cravings.

My thinking is enjoy cheat meals when they are planned in to your week. Don’t be hard on yourself. And, be sure to get right back on track once done. That means your plan. If you have your cheat meal at 5 pm on a Saturday and have an 8 pm nighttime snack planned on your schedule, then plan on eating it. Cheat meals are not reasons to skip meals or leave meals out. Just the opposite you want to be back on track exactly as you were prior to having your cheat meal. It also doesn’t mean you starve yourself leading up to your cheat meal. Eat like normal, enjoy your cheat, and then eat like normal again. Keep your body humming. Skipping meals only confuses the metabolism. 

So, that’s how I personally do cheat meals. They are an important part of my diet. They keep me from binging, and they keep me happy. I am more “normal” when I’m not quite so restrictive. I’ve tried that route. I don’t like it. My family doesn’t like it. They don’t like deprived Jenny just as much as they don’t like deprived to the point Jenny binges Jenny. For me cheat meals are a healthy way to keep me on track and keep me as normal as possible.

XO – Momma

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9 Responses to The How and Why I Include Cheat Meals

  1. Kaila August 26, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    I guess maybe it’s because I’m not training for an aesthetic competition anymore (and because I’m recovering from the eating disorder that such training helped provoke), but my question is this: why can’t we all just enjoy EVERY meal? Why do we have to have cheats?

    The reason I ask is not to provoke argument or criticize–far from it, actually. It’s also not to promote the eating of unhealthy and over-the-top processed/sugary/manmade foods.

    I ask because, now that I’ve found a balance, why can’t every meal just be filled with foods you enjoy–and enjoy enough to eat to satiety without feeling deprived?

    When I was training, I followed a strict regimen that included lots of egg whites, dry chicken, steamed veggies, and protein-powder-pudding-type concoctions. Anything outside of that made me feel guilty–because I was “cheating.” And even after an injury curtailed my dreams of competing, I kept eating that way, and in the “cheat” or “no cheat” mindset.

    Really recently I found the Paleo community, and, although there are some just-as-dogmatic people in that community as in the bodybuilding and fitness community, I’ve found that the n=1 approach to food and health has been infinitely more satisfying–and satiating. (N=1 simplified: Find out what foods work for you…and then eat them! :D)

    Following the work of Chris Kresser, Diane Sanfilippo, and others has taught me not to focus on the foods that I am restricting but the foods that I am eating–and there’s a ton of them. I started eating fat again for the first time in years. And the sad fact is, I was honestly scared to death the first time I added a tablespoon of coconut oil to my black coffee. (My relationship with food had become so disordered that I was literally *afraid* to fat. It’s a fear I’m still struggling with, but I’m working through it…and now I actually enjoy the taste of my meals.)

    Anyway, this is just to say that I think you’re beautiful as you are, and I hope that you–and the others out there who are the beacons and the bastions of all things fitness on the internet–know that you’re allowed to enjoy eating. You *deserve* to enjoy it. And when you do, you’re not cheating anyone, least of all yourself.

    • Jen August 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

      I think the Paleo way of eating is absolutely a great philosophy for many. 🙂

  2. Jing August 26, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Hi Jen, thank you thank you for this blog..I know Im not the only one out there feeling this sometimes its hard cuz you think your alone doing it. My friends & family are glad & supportive that Im eating clean & wknout. I just learned along the way that I cant tell them too much info about my eat clean, wkout hard lifestyle or otherwise Im “obsessed, over achiever or I need to eat some fat”. Its almost as if its taboo. I totally can relate everything you said here & I feel so so much better. Yes I did went to a steakhouse w/my guy & hes a big supporter of my lifestyle & how he’s so proud of what Ive accomplished. I did the same exact thing: got a steak, sweet potato smothered w/butter & a hint of brown sugar, broc, side salad w/dressing on the side & of course water. I was satisfied. Oh by the way he saw my tansformation from almost 200lbs down to 126lbs fit & trim & he’s trying to do the same for himself. He said he’s inspired & wants to feel good & look good. This is a guy who loves me for who I was & am & supported me this whole time. 🙂

  3. Tanza August 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    Love it! I remember the first time I heard about a cheat/treat meal was from a friend and I couldn’t grasp it, I had never done it. I had just always gone hardcore sticking to my clean eating 100% for a week or two, maybe a month, then I would fall off the wagon and BINGE like crazy, then be mad at myself and not get back on track until I realized I had put 5lbs back on and that cycle went on for so long! I feel like I am finally starting to get it and this definatly helped, thank you!

  4. mina August 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    I so agree about the ice cream! I went to an ice cream shop yesterday and looked at the Greek frozn yogurt and decided on the full fat, fully loaded ice cream! I can get Greek yogurt at home, I’m at an ice cream shop…go for it!!! I was with my family, we had just walked 3 miles around the lake talking and laughing and the ice cream was the logical next stop. I haven’t had ice cream in months so….I loved every bite. We have to still enjoy our lives after all.

  5. Jen September 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    This article is so fittign for me right now. I am halfway through my first contest prep and I have struggled a bit with not overdoing it on my cheat meals. I find I have been eating things I would have deprived myself of before this all started. For me, it’s like being Cinderella for a fwe hours, I can eat whatever I want, and I better make it good because it’s all back to normal after that. Every single time i end up asking myself if it was worth it because I end up with a stomach ache, racing heart and feeling sick all night. Its funny how your body reacts to sugar when you cut it almost completely out. In the final weeks, I will definately keep in mind how ot keep my cheats smarter, and not just go all out and eat things that I would have said no to befoer.

  6. Marina September 7, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    First, I LOVE your blog and your fb page! you are a true inspiration!
    I just would like to share my expirience with food. Before deciding to compete i was eating ok and training 1-2 times a week. I ddidnt think about food i was just eating when i was hungry. than i decided that i want to have a super lean body and step up on the stage…6 weeks of hard core dieting, hard core training -10 kg of fat, my bd was 18% i was on the way to sucess and than i colapsed…I started to think about food every second, when i can have my next meal? when i gonna have my cheat meal? …etc. all in all i ended up binging and calling it a cheat day. first it was once a week, than 2 times, and than almost every day. all dreams about competition came to the end and now i am reading a lot of self help books, seeing a psyho and etc…its all very sad all in all. i just came tyo conclusion that 1) when food starts to be the main thing in your life – smth is wrong and you need to stop this diet otherwise its possible to end up as i am 2) cheat meals work for some people – for those who could have 1/2 of chocolate and leave another half in the fridge – again if you are “all or nothing” person its better to eat sensibly every day…:) sorry maybe this is a bit not to the point, but i just thought i wneed to share my expirience with dieting and cheating:) I am so happy it works for you! hope i could find “my way” one day…:)

  7. gold price September 10, 2012 at 5:28 am #

    I’ve read about how cheat meals can help your metabolism and how they don’t always ruin your diet, as long as it’s only once a week or so. But how far can you go with it? Let’s say I normally take in about 1100 calories or so per day, with moderate exercise (since I work about 4 to 6 days a week for about 6 to 8 hours each day, always on my feet moving around). I also do some nights where i brisk walk for an hour. Now, i normally don’t eat back the exercise calories I’ve burned. The calories I’ve said before were basically what i’ve kept track of that i was eating. Now, is it safe to have one day where instead of a 300 calorie dinner, I have two slices of pizza instead? And instead of a dessert of lets say 100 calories, I instead have some sort of ice cream dessert from BK or Wendy’s or Dairy Queen or something? I don’t know, something like that. And then after that day, go right back to my normal routine? Or would that ruin me?

  8. Kierston December 22, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    Great post! I agree, enjoy your cheats. Don’t go overboard and be mindful (as opposed to insane) with the goods 🙂

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