Cheat Meals: Do They Really Work? How to Approach Them for Weight

“Cheat meal,” sometimes called “reward meal” or “indulgence meal,” is a popular term in the realm of weight loss. But does this concept hold any scientific merit? Can it truly aid weight loss efforts? How should one approach cheat meals to avoid unintentional weight gain?

If these are your doubts, let’s dive in!

What is a cheat meal?

A cheat meal is a strategic break from your usual dietary routine, allowing you to indulge in foods not typically part of your regimen. This practice serves a dual purpose – it “cheats” us psychologically and physiologically.

The Psychological Perk:
Cheat meals can effectively alleviate psychological stress caused by dietary management and cravings for food. It releases more happiness hormones like dopamine and serotonin, making us feel more content.

The Physiological Twist:
Physiologically, cheat meals disrupt the body’s adaptation mechanism. When you restrict your intake for a long time, your brain perceived it as a “famine mode”. To preserve fat for survival, it lowers body metabolism to adapt to the new dietary intake and you may meet the plateau of not losing weight anymore. The strategic introduction of a high-calorie meal occasionally prevents this adaptive response, maintaining a more efficient metabolism.

Cheat Meals

Is a reward meal really work?

Is the notion of a reward meal truly efficacious? Consider this: during the weight loss journey, managing cravings and emotional hurdles proves to be a substantial challenge. Unresolved emotional pressures can culminate in overindulgence.

The question arises: Could periodic indulgence help maintain psychological equilibrium and better prepare you for subsequent phases of weight loss?

Remember, the essence of weight management is achieving improved health and self-assurance – it should not dictate our lives entirely.

I understand that you still worry that having a cheat meal will destroy the effort you made previously, no worries, let’s do some math:

Weight loss diet break

Imagine adhering to a weight loss diet that maintains a daily calorie deficit of roughly 500 kcal, resulting in an approximate weekly deficit of 3,500 kcal. Now, contemplate introducing an indulgence once a week. In the first six days, you’ve already achieved a 3,000 kcal deficit. On the day of indulgence, you balance the deficit with a heartier meal. However, the cumulative deficit of approximately 2,500 to 3,000 kcal still holds, even with the reward meal.

Comparatively, envision one scenario involving a 3,500 kcal weekly deficit, accompanied by stress and discontent. In contrast, picture another scenario encompassing a reduced 2,500 to 3,000 kcal weekly deficit, characterized by a modicum of stress yet interlaced with happiness and anticipation. Which approach would you choose? Which approach sustains over the long term?

Striking a balance between relaxation and commitment is particularly crucial for beginners or those primarily relying on dietary modifications for weight loss.

Strategizing Your Cheat Meals:

Flexible dieting

Balancing the allure of cheat meals with your weight loss goals demands a well-calculated approach. Consider factors like frequency and timing to ensure optimal results.


Cheat meals are a periodic technique, so it’s important to incorporate it into your weight loss plan reasonably. Once a week, once every 10 days, or bi-weekly – select a rhythm that suits your psychological and progress-related needs.

If you find weight loss easy and don’t experience much psychological pressure, you can extend the interval. Otherwise, you might shorten it. However, having it less frequently than once a week is not advisable.


A consistent, predetermined cheat meal time – say, every Monday – fosters a sense of purpose and anticipation. While lunchtime is recommended, dinner remains a viable option, albeit one susceptible to overindulgence. Flexibility is key; adjusting timing to accommodate stress is acceptable. If you indulge earlier than planned, offset it by delaying the subsequent reward.

What can you eat in a cheat meal:

Choosing your cheat meal revolves around personal preference. Focus on what brings you joy – choose what you love the most, what you crave the most and what helps you to relieve stress Whether high-carb or high-fat, tailor your choice to your happiness.

Concerned about setbacks? Here’s a tip: If you love carbohydrates, focus on high-carb options and reduce fat intake. For fried food enthusiasts, minimize carbohydrates and enjoy the fried delicacies.

Also, pay attention to the meal duration; it’s best not to exceed one hour. Overeating for several hours would be excessive. The main purpose of the reward meal is to relax the body, release stress, and not indulge excessively. Don’t turn the pleasure of the cheat meal into guilt afterwards.

After the big meal, you might experience fluctuations in weight, possibly 1-2 kilograms or even more, especially if your regular diet management is strict. Don’t panic; this is entirely normal, mainly due to water retention. Drink more water, and it will soon go away. It’s not because of that one meal that you gained several kilograms. Don’t generate unnecessary anxiety; it’s not worth it.

Meal reward

Is a Cheat Meal Right for You?

The suitability of cheat meals hinges on your weight loss approach and commitment level. If dietary adjustments are your primary strategy, incorporating cheat meals can provide valuable relief. If consistent progress is your hallmark, scheduled indulgences might boost long-term adherence.

While cheat meals are awesome, they might not be the best fit if you have certain health conditions that need a strict diet.

Take home message:

Think of cheat meals as a smart way to treat yourself while you’re working on losing weight. Balance is the secret here. Enjoy your indulgence, and remember that having a little fun along the way is an important part of the journey to a healthier you!

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