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Why You Should Cheat on Your Diet and How to Do It Right

Disclaimer: This article contains exquisite food pictures that will make you want to cheat instantly. I warned you.

Free day. Dieters’ promised land. You magically survive the week because of that light at the end of the tunnel: The Free Day. It gives you some sort of assurance – that you won’t be eating broccoli til pigs fly or fish ride bicycles.

(Read more from our Health & Fitness section here)

Unfortunately, some people tend to abuse this gift. Others may under-eat in a cheat meal, which cancels out its benefits. In other words, some people believe cheating is a 12-hour feeding frenzy granted from God – all the calories will be forgiven – while our cautious friends may eat a bar of chocolate = a bite every week.

Everyone does his/her own thing. But, there are rules for a cheat meal that you should abide by if you wish to gain its maximum benefits: psychological benefits and continuous fat loss.

Is it OK to cheat?

To get this out of the way, yes! It is OK. Can you run 42 km without a sip of water every few kilos? Same with dieting. You need to satisfy your taste buds instead of developing an eating disorder while drooling every day over fast food billboards on your way driving back home from work. Cheat meals will keep you sane during the week and will make your cravings enjoyable.

Apart from the psychological side, you need to cheat every one to two weeks to maintain your fat loss rate and avoid a metabolism crash. How? When you go in a calorie deficit for a long time, your body will turn to survival mode and hold on to fats. A hormone called leptin, which is responsible for fat loss, decreases gradually while dieting; having those cheat meals will replenish leptin to keep your metabolism burning like a furnace.

Common Types Of Cheating

1. Unplanned Cheat Meals

You have a devil of a friend that calls you every other day to go crazy in some restaurant. You say, “Why not? I’ve been dieting for two days, I deserve it.”

Verdict: No, you don’t deserve it and about that friend – cut him loose. Plan your cheat meals.

2. Cheat Days

You’ve been visiting a diet doctor and you’ve been told you can eat whatever you want once a week in a four-hour time frame. You ask him, “Anything?”. He says, “Yes!” – even if it’s a cake topped with a pizza.

Verdict: This method differs from one to another. Person A may eat 1,000 extra calories and that would be a success. Person B may stuff his face with 6,000 extra calories and there goes the progress of the week. Risky. Avoid cheat days.

3. Cheat Meal

You’re going strong for a week or two and you went out for a lunch/dinner and that was it. A reasonable meal for sure that won’t force you to remove your belt.

Verdict: Now we’re talking. That’s the second best way to cheat. I recommend it.

4. Re-feed Day

Remember leptin? Leptin levels are restored best by increasing your caloric intake with mainly foods rich in carbohydrates. In a cheat meal, you neglect that. You just eat the extra calories, whether they’re protein, carbs or fats. In a re-feed, you eat 1,000 carbohydrates calories over your deficit.

Verdict: Re-feeds are the best way to cheat. I highly recommend it, as it’s more efficient than a cheat meal.


The food contest is over. You can feel the new fats residing in your belly and obliques (sides) and the guilt filling your heart. That’s a defining moment. Let’s imagine two scenarios starting this moment.

Person A: Next day. Feeling guilty. Here he/she goes to drink water from the kitchen, sees pizza leftovers. Then an internal voice emerges: “You just cheated yesterday. Eat the hell out of it. Don’t even heat it”. Before you know it, they’re having another cheat day that will be stretched to a week and there he/she goes. See you in a year, champ!

Person B: Next day. Feeling guilty and swears he/she will never cheat again. But, B wants to do anything to relieve him/her of yesterday’s massacre.

Now that’s a mentality we can work with. Here are some actions that can be done:

1. Avoid Over-eating

Had to start with this. You definitely know when you go overboard with your cheating. So, learn to stop at the right quantity to avoid any kind of guilt and restore your discipline the next day.

Remember: Always think of future you, he/she’s the one who will be living with the guilt on the next day, not the present you.

2. Plan a Dinner Cheat

If you’re having a cheat meal once a week, make it at dinner time. If you have it early in the day, the internal devil voice might emerge and you might have another cheat meal during the day. And no, eating it at night won’t make you extra fat, it will be just as you ate it in the morning (Read more in my last article about Flexible Dieting).

3. Don’t Fast

Never fast or under-eat after a day of binging or unplanned cheating. Truth is, you’ll be very hungry and will cheat again. Just go back to your normal dieting routine and all will be fixed with long-term discipline.

4. Drink Water

To eliminate the hangover of a cheat, drink heaps of water as soon as you wake up. It will help you feel better and flush some water weight caused by the extra calories.

5. Train

Alan Aragon, a well-known fitness icon, claims that if you have your cheat right after a workout, that meal may promote muscle growth rather than be stored as extra weight. If you didn’t train before and want to lose the guilt, have a sweaty training session – also, to help lose some water weight.

Bonus tip: Only cheat during social gatherings. That doesn’t mean that you cheat every time you go out. But, I mean instead of ordering McDonald’s at home for your well-deserved cheat meal, save it for events with your friends/family to avoid self-pity and deprivation during such events.

Final Thoughts

Life doesn’t only revolve around your diet’s success – you have several battles to fight, whether at work or at home. Your willpower is a finite source, and you can’t rely on your willpower for eternity, so be strategic and learn how to expend it. Reload your willpower with the infrequent extra calories, if they help.

However, never build your week around that meal because when your main goal is to be ripped/toned, your first thought can’t be the cheat meal.

Never let a cheat meal turn into a cheat month, because no matter how long you spend climbing out of a hole, you can still fall down in an instant and the higher you climb, the harder you fall. If you give up to the voice in your head of: “I’ve been too good, a cheat week won’t ruin anything”, you’ll regret it in no time. This may sound harsh, but based on personal experience, it’s true. Indulging ourselves with food is one of the fastest regrets in life.

Avoid extreme and hard diets to steer clear from developing food disorders. A balanced diet is the way to go.

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