7 Reasons Not to Have Cheat Meals or Cheat Days

Teenage girl eating junk foodMany diet plans out there frame cheat meals or cheat days as having important benefits.

They’re supposed to prevent you from feeling deprived, boost metabolism, increase chances of success with a diet, etc.

Well, I don’t agree.

I have nothing against occasional “refeeds” – as in eating more carbs or calories than usual one day.

You might call these refeeds healthy cheat meals – they’re absolutely fine and may even be good for you.

But claiming that it is somehow beneficial to pig out on extremely harmful foods with sugar, refined wheat or trans fats just doesn’t make sense to me.

Now you can do whatever you want with your own body, but I thought I’d give you a few reasons why having a cheat meal or cheat day may not be the best idea.

1. Your Body Won’t Fully Adapt to the Healthy Diet

When you drastically change the way you eat, a certain adaptation process needs to take place.

For example, if you’re doing a low-carb ketogenic diet (keto) then your body needs to change certain hormones and ramp up production of enzymes to make use of fat as the primary source of fuel.

If you keep cheating, you will prevent this metabolic adaptation from ever fully completing.

Also, when you abandon the standard western diet and start eating more real foods, it can take some time for the sense of taste to adapt.

If you have ever done the paleo diet for an extended period of time without cheating then you may have experienced this. With time, real foods start to taste much better.

If you cheat and eat junk foods frequently, your taste sensations won’t adapt completely and you won’t be able to experience the same satisfaction from real foods.

2. If You Pig Out on Junk Food, it Can Feed The Addiction

I personally believe junk foods to be downright addictive.

This problem appears to be common and people who have issues with cravings and binge eating should probably abstain from these foods as much as possible.

If you keep having something that you’re addicted to, it just keeps the addiction going. In this case, having “everything in moderation” isn’t a good idea as it will be almost impossible to maintain.

If you crave junk foods all the time and keep giving in to these cravings, that will just make the cravings even stronger. Avoid these foods completely and the cravings will diminish over time.

Abstinence is the only thing that works for addiction, period.

3. You Might Binge and Eat Way Too Much

Some people (myself included) can binge like there’s no tomorrow and ruin a week’s worth of dieting in one sitting.

I may be an unusual case, but after one particular binge I calculated the calories in it and it turned out I had eaten 5,000 calories in one sitting.

That’s two days worth of calories for a grown man and an entire week (or two) of dieting pretty much ruined.

4. You May Feel Guilty Afterwards

Ever feel bloated, guilty and miserable after eating junk food?

That’s pretty common, actually. I used to feel this way all the time.

The cheat meal may give you some pleasure while you are eating it, but it sure as hell won’t make you feel good afterwards.

5. Cheating Does Not Raise Metabolism or Prevent “Starvation Mode”

The concept of “starvation mode” is largely a myth with no real science behind it and doesn’t really happen until you get to an extremely low body fat percentage.

If you’re a bodybuilder on a long cut for a show, then refeeds are likely to help prevent adverse effects of dieting for too long. But even in this case, choosing healthy foods is still a better idea.

However, most people aren’t preparing for a bodybuilding or fitness competition and do not need to take drastic action to boost metabolism or prevent starvation mode, whatever that means.

For healthy people trying to stay healthy or lose a bit of weight, cheat meals are unnecessary at best and may be detrimental.

If you’re worried about your metabolic rate going down during a weight loss period, lift weights. This is actually proven to maintain both your metabolic rate and your muscle mass.

6. Junk Food is Bad For You

Junk food is bad for you (duh) and that is probably the reason you gave it up in the first place.

Having McDonalds or a pizza with some ice cream once a week may not seem like a big deal compared to people who eat this sort of crap every single day.

But eating these junk foods once a week is still clearly worse than having none at all.

7. These Nasty Ingredients Will Never Completely Leave Your Body

Trans fats, seed oils and gluten… these nasty ingredients linger in the body for a while and it takes a long time to fully recover from their effects.

If you keep eating them, they will never completely leave your body.

27 Comments

  1. Good article Kris. I found out how true this was the hard way. I ate 1 slice of bread with some butter and jam, after being gluten/sugar free for one month. I had a swollen belly and stomach cramps for 2 days. I will definitely think twice before I do something like that again. Keep up the good work!

  2. I agree! Even though some things are sugar free doesn’t mean they are healthy. I bought some low carb sweets from a site and wasn’t happy till they were all gone! So, I won’t be buying those anymore! (even though I really love licorice!)

  3. I can’t have piggy days.. I consume too much and undo all the good work I’ve done. It’s easier to include acceptable and tasty treats as part of my regular routine.

  4. Hi Kris, just now coming off my Christmas binge. It is Jan 22nd. Yes, I ate it all! Sugar, wine/champagne, cookies, chips, and chocolate in all forms. I have been trying now for weeks… “today is the day” but the withdrawals have been too strong for me to overcome.

    Lesson: it’s not worth the cheat because even though my mind said “this one thing won’t hurt,” my body said “more, more, more,” until I became so uncomfortable with sleepless nights, acid reflux, snoring, tight jeans, and a fat face, that I can clearly see through this experiment in cheating that the setback can be truly overwhelming, and getting back to where I was a daunting challenge.

    I am now truly a believer of that saying, “Nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels.” So… Here I go again! Thanks for your support.

  5. I received a lovely little box of dark chocolate almond toffee for Christmas with all natural ingredients. They are about as big as a crouton. They have 30 cals and 3 carbs and I had one after dinner last night. I haven’t eaten any processed, gluten, trans fat, sugar or its products (except this toffee), white rice, or pasta since Dec. 1. It is one little bite of good quality bliss…. Because it is just 3 carbs, I can still be under 50 + carbs. Am I fooling myself.

  6. Great article Kris!
    No doubt carbs are a big addiction for me! A bread lover am I! How often can you incorporate gluten free bread/pretzels in your paleo plan?

    • I would do it as infrequently as possible. Those aren’t “real” food. But I suppose it depends on what they’re made with, many of the gluten-free foods are made with fast-acting starches that raise your blood sugar just as much as wheat.

  7. Hi. I have cut out almost all carbs, except for veg and the odd piece of fruit. I have managed very well following this diet and seen some fast results. However I still take coffee with sugar in it daily and I do feel as if I can’t go without it. I am not sweet toothed, so this is my only sugar intake. Is this acceptable? Can I still lose weight? So far I have not, but I do feel healthier which is much more important.

    • Some people have a bit of sugar every day and do fine, for others it is a problem. You should just experiment with it, if you haven’t lost any weight then perhaps try removing the sugar for a week or two.

  8. I’m with you R.j. and Kris.
    If I cheat, it takes me a long time to get back on track.
    One cheat meal is fine if I’m out with friends celebrating a special occasion. But a whole cheat day, just leads to trouble!
    I’m still struggling with the effects of Christmas cheats!

    Lisa

  9. Thanks for this Kris, you solved my plateau problem. My cheat afternoon every week was throwing me out of keto. I am now in fully for three weeks and losing 3kgs a week

    Last week had a flood and massive storm in Brisbane. I had to live out of the car a day without my wallet (with two big wet dogs). I only rarely got hungry because I am in full keto.

    I was back home after two days and still without power but haven’t fallen out of keto at all. I have been eating fruit with double cream!!! poor me..
    Not a thought of cheat foods crossed my mind even though it was very stressful.

    Cheerio

  10. Hi there,

    there is nothing wrong with a cheat meal. I have reached my goal weight with hard work and determination. Diet and exercise are extrememly important. But I did indulge in cheat meals, when eating out socially. I did not binge. But I did try those cakes and other goodies which I normally avoid. I have managed to keep my weight off. I am on maintenance now.

  11. I agree with all your points except for #1. Efficiency — that metabolic adaptation you’re talking about — is a great idea for athletes, but counterproductive for fat loss. That’s part of why carefully planned high-carb cheat meals interjected into a ketogenic diet (for example) seem to help a lot of people keep fat loss on track.

    I agree, though, that it’s a good idea to let your tongue “forget” about all those hyperpalatable processed foods. Then you can have a piece of 90% cacao dark chocolate and think it’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever tasted. :)

  12. Nice post Chris.

    I completely agree with points 3, 4 and 5. The vast majority of people simply go way overboard with a full cheat day. Personally I recommend calorie-controlled, slightly higher carb/higher calorie refeeds to all my clients.

    True “cheat days” really do screw people up IMO

    http://www.healthylivingheavylifting.com/cheat-meals-the-rocky-road-to-a-crappy-physique/

  13. Kristin says:

    Awesome article and I have experienced all of the above. I started eating clean and for awhile I didn’t want anything bad. My husband eats a little more freely than I do so I had a cheat day because I started having cravings. I felt guilty and I also started having intense cravings for junk food.

    Plus it took days to flush my body of all the nasty food. Not to mention the amount of sodium in fast food/junk food. I just feel better fighting cravings and just getting my healthy food in. My progress is MUCH better when I just don’t cheat!

  14. I completely disagree with this post. Firstly having a cheat meal is good for the mental aspect as it helps to keep on track. Also helps to understand that you should eat food in moderation. Being on whatever diet does not mean you will live this way forever, there will be a time when you have a slice of cake.

    People on the Atkins diet and so on can go for a couple of months and end up where they were because eliminating carbs is not healthy. Healthy carbs and fats are essential for sustainig weight loss. You shouldnt deprive youself of anything you desire, especially when working so hard to reach that goal.

  15. Julian N says:

    In my honest opinion all these reasons don’t seen to help at all. You just say why it’s bad to eat junk food and etc. but I don’t see why a cheat meal occasionally is bad. I do it once a month. And I eat many raw organic and whole foods and my body is looking and feeling great.

    If you’re able to not have a cheat meal once in a while, more power to you. But as for me I need a juicy piece of steak with some mash potatoes and corn bread haha. Everyone out there I think that one cheat meal a month is perfectly fine. So don’t listen to this dude. Otherwise, you will set yourself up for failure especially in this fat America we live in!

  16. Sandra Stover says:

    If you are used to eating grass fed meat and wild fish, not farm raised, and organic veggies and fruit, will a few days on vacation have a terrible effect on you if you eat at friends’ homes and at restaurants that you have no control over?

  17. That’s just ludicrous. First of all, diets with absolutely no exceptions are the reason most people give up on their diets. Second of all, that just sounds like a terrible life. Being healthy is one thing, but not taking a moment to sit back and enjoy something is another. What ever happened to moderation?

  18. I have a cheat day once a week, but it’s small.

    I stopped bread, pasta and rice of any sort, 9 months ago. With that went peanut butter.

    I have now stopped ALL sugar for 20 days, will continue that for another 20, then it is no Stevia for another 60 days.

    Sooooo when I cheat it’s within the “no I stopped eating that.”

    Except bread, I will have some form of bread and sometimes a Pho soup and a couple of alcoholic drinks, tequila usually. No beer, no mixes. Because I don’t do sugar EVER!!

    In anything, which means I eat tons of fresh food and canned tuna, salmon, oysters, sardines, beans, lentils.

    A cheat day means to have something small you’re not allowed during the week, like a potato with sour cream.

    Don’t go overboard, the guilt can make you go off your new improved lifestyle. Do not ever go hungry, biggest point.

    Eat fruit, salad, always have fast food on hand. Meaning apples, pears, oranges, papaya, all the veggies you can think of. And don’t be afraid of buying too much at first, you’ll get the hang of it. All the crap and boxed foods add up to more money than throwing out a few rotten veggies.

    For protein, and you’ll need lots… Greek plain yogurt, I put in lemon juice, cumin, peppers, garlic and use it as a dip. Huge protein snack. Get creative and learn to make your food look good. If you’re feeling out of control, take a picture of everything you eat before you eat it. Chances are you may not eat that pizza. I did this for 3 weeks on starting. It worked very well. I don’t weigh myself, I take pics and look at my sizes. and pinches. Down to size 7 from 10 and want to hit size 4. That would be about 100 lbs. I’m only 5 feet tall.

    The biggest lesson, as is with everything, perseverance. It takes time to change a lifestyle, patience is your best friend.

    PS… the no sugar dropped off most of the weight in only 20 days. Sugar in fruit, no worries.

    Exercise and Protein are your friends. Exercise somehow everyday. 5 sit ups a day can turn into 50 sit ups. Abs of steel, easy if you do one think, KEEP GOING… NEVER GIVE UP. The longer it takes, the more you’ll really be in the habit of a new lifestyle. You don’t go on a diet to lose weight only to be happy to eat it all back on. You go on an experience in a lifestyle change that becomes you forever.

    Don’t let your tongue dictate to your whole body. It’s just taste buds that are receiving the pleasure, why allow those tiny buds to destroy your natural health. Say NO to your tongue. Tell it to shut the heck up!

    Good luck to you all on your life journeys.

  19. What about leptin?

  20. Thank you for this article. After many years of failed dieting, I feel validated. Weight Watcher leaders and others have given me the advice to have a cheat meal. Many weight loss articles have recommended the same.

    I always wondered, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I stop at one meal?” – The cheat meal turns into days and quickly becomes weeks. Soon I gain all my weight back because I never gave myself the chance to adjust to nourishing food.

    Actually giving up cheat meals takes off the pressure of temptation, the work of healing my body after the reaction to the junk and refocusing on healthy eating. Thank for the permission to take off the cheat meal noose.

  21. Your article proves very interesting points Mr. Gunnars. However, I don’t doubt that having a “cheat day” dessert or meal that is healthy (gluten-free wise or high in nutrition – added veggies, good carbs & fats, lightly salted protein – meats, chicken, other fresh ingredients) wouldn’t be a bad idea to swap with when considering having a cheat day.

    I think a good idea would be that if you are eating a “fast-food” or “restaurant-type” dessert, for instance, then moderation should always follow. But if you go for a home baked dessert that you know has healthy ingredients that are perhaps gluten-free, with natural sweetening, I think that would be the best type of cheat day choice in comparison to an empty high-calorie intake dessert that’s high in sugar and carbs that at the end of the day would just make you crave more.

    The healthy cheat day choice might have perhaps the same amount of calories, but in the end it has better nutritional benefits, that might be more fulfilling, not making you feel guilty, and may be eaten passed the moderation of the “unhealthy” cheat day dessert.

    Other than that, I feel that completely missing out on that dessert or meal though would not allow you to be as content as you could be. Actually, I know there are people out there that live on NO sugar or salt what so ever and are living happily, and that’s great for them. But for the majority of Americans that enjoy indulging on things that are usually sugary and salty that would just be depriving for them while on a diet with no cheat day.

    It would be detrimental not being able to at least indulge at one point in their lives on something they really love. Nevertheless, if a person knows themselves well and knows that if they try something they are addicted to and know they’ll have a hard time keeping off of later, and perhaps even start binging as a result, then that’s where I think they should draw the line on that cheat dessert or meal.

    Anyhow people should always keep in mind that diet and exercise do impact their waistline and health at the end of the day, so whatever you eat you’ll still be able to work off by at least maintaining a healthy diet the majority of the time as well as keeping a good exercise plan every so often.

    Thank you for the article!
    Blessings!

  22. I so completely agree with this article, and I’m bookmarking it to come back and re-read it every time I think about having a “cheat meal.”

    I know my body. And I know, without a doubt, that I am addicted to refined carbohydrates. When I cut them out of my diet, I feel more energized and healthier. I sleep better. I lose weight.

    The moment I have a “cheat” and eat a piece of bread, all that goes away. Lethargy, pains, insomnia. Bloating. And the continuous desire to rationalize further cheating. One meal becomes one day becomes one week becomes a month. It is truly an addiction.

    To the “all things in moderation” crowd: do we treat alcoholics by telling them to “moderate” their alcohol intake? Do we tell them it’s OK to have “cheat days” where they go out and knock back a few beers? What about smokers? If only they “moderated” the number of cigarettes they smoked.

    Will I have days when I fail? When I eat something I shouldn’t? Almost certainly. But to conciously plan to cheat is doing you a disservice. And when you cheat, you may be able to fool yourself, but you can’t fool your body.

  23. I started a keto diet about 10 days ago and had already started losing weight, but yesterday I had a conference I worked toward for months, with no way of bringing my own food, so I had a lot more carbs – not huge portions, but over the entire day: a muffin, a dinner roll, a sandwich roll, fruit, and a small portion of potatoes.

    So not enormous amounts of junk food but a major difference from the 50 or fewer grams of carbs I’ve been consuming daily. Any sense on how far this will set me back, or how long it might take to get back into ketosis again?

If you made it all the way down here, you probably liked the article. Please share it:

Speak Your Mind

*