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3 Reasons Cheat Meals Are Bad for You (& What To Do Instead)

What is a Cheat Meal?

Cheat meals are a planned overindulgence to help undo some of the side effects of being in a calorie deficit.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

In reality however they’re more akin to getting drunk after a stressful day.

You feel great when you’re doing it, but you wake up the next day feeling like crap and with more problems than before.

All the supposed benefits are becoming problems and you’re stuck in this cycle of good during the week and cheating at the weekend.

You see, the cheat meal promises that for one meal or day you can eat whatever you want.

Anything goes; pizza, burgers, chocolate, sweets, pancakes, and more.

Is it any wonder it’s not actually a good idea?

In return for eating this you’ll;

  • Reset your metabolism
  • Stay out of starvation mode
  • Get a mental break from the rigours of dieting

Although this sounds great, it reads less like a break from dieting and more like a break from reality.


Cheat Meals Reinforce the ‘Good’ Food vs. ‘Bad’ Food Mindset

The idea of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food is a train of thought that permeates every part of the fitness and diet industry.

You might know it as ‘clean’ & ‘dirty’ foods, but what you call it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is this the fact that creating this divide between different foods is not healthy.

Sure, popular opinion dictates that knowing which foods are ‘good’ and which are ‘bad’ can help you make better food choices, live a healthier life and reach your goals faster.

However, the reality is that labelling foods this way is actually distorting your relationship with them, whilst giving you unhealthy, unproductive and downright unnecessary eating habits.

Think about it.

How many times have you uttered the words, “it’s fine to eat a lot of it because it’s healthy or good” and “I can’t each too much of that because it’s bad or unhealthy”?

The real problem is that categorising foods as either good or bad generally leads you to eat more of both.

If you see it as ‘good’ your tendency is to think you can eat a lot of it without gaining weight.

If you see it as ‘bad’ your tendency is to adopt an ‘in for a penny in for a pound’ mentality and overeat.

Both lead to an increase in calories.

Both lead to weight gain.

Both create a bad relationship with food.

Both stem from a misguided understanding of food.

The main issue is that cheat meals only serve to reinforce this idea as the whole concept is built around treating yourself or giving yourself a break from your diet by eating foods you like.

Naturally, if you’re taught you need to take a break from your diet to do this then your diet foods must be good and the foods you like must be bad…

If this weren’t the case, you could eat the foods you like whilst you diet.



Yet the view that view that foods are bad still persist.


Good question.

We believe it’s because the so-called ‘bad’ foods are generally;

  • High in fat
  • High in sugar
  • Low in vitamins and minerals

This means the they’re generally higher in calories but lower in micronutrients (chicken pizza compared to chicken, rice & veg).

Over time the diet industry has slowly demonised these types of foods in response to a growing obesity epidemic and a strained effort to educate people about food, weight and dieting.

This trend deepened the divide between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods giving rise to restrictive eating and cheat days or as you know it, guilty feelings and self-loathing.

Have you ever noticed how when you cheat or stray from your diet you are racked with guilt and often end up going all out?

Particularly considering that if you were to see food more neutrally and allow room in your diet for the stuff you like, then you wouldn’t need to categorise foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

You wouldn’t need to use cheat meals to justify the good and the bad.

No longer would you lose control and eat enough doughnuts to qualify for shares in Krispy Kremes, be entered into their hall of fame and generally feel like shit.


Cheat Meals Encourage Over-consumption & Binge Eating

We would buy everything.

Seriously if you can think of it, we bought it.

We’d then go home and gorge ourselves on all the good stuff we’d bought.

This went on for months, years even.


Maybe you’re feeling so superior that you’re even thinking of sticking with cheat meals.

If you are, then quickly consider this.

It’s true, cheat meals could work if you’re not eating a restrictive diet.

It’s also true that if this were the case you might be able to control your food intake when cheating.


Cheat Meals are Ineffective at Raising Leptin Levels

You might ask yourself why this even matters.

It’s just a lie to tell yourself so you can eat the foods you want unchecked.

It’s a problem.

A false economy.

And it all comes back to Leptin.

As we talked about before the point of cheat meals is to raise your Leptin levels and counteract the side effects of eating in a calorie deficit, namely hunger.

Except cheat meals are simply not very good at doing this.


Mostly because you’re eating all the food you love, you know the high fat, high sugar, big mix of carbs and fat type foods.

Why does this matter?

Well, because it’s an increase in carbohydrate, not fat that raises your Leptin levels.

In fact, fat overfeeding has no notable effect on Leptin levels at all.

This means although the tasty foods you crave might make you feel better in the moment; they aren’t doing much to move the needle when it comes to Leptin.

More than this, there is research showing not only does carbohydrate raise Leptin levels but carbohydrate overfeeding also increases energy expenditure over a 24 hour period, whereas fat overfeeding did not.

In other words, eating more carbohydrates than normal raises your Leptin levels and help you burn more calories, fat doesn’t.

Still not convinced?

Ok, let’s look at the results of a study.

This study measured the changes in Leptin levels in 22 young, healthy subjects after eating either carbohydrate meal, fat meal or fasting. *

*the carb and fat meals were isoenergetic which means of the same caloric value

The group was split down the middle; 11 women and 11 men.

In both genders, they found that the leptin response was higher after eating the carbohydrate meal, when compared to both the fat meal and those who fasted.

Add to this the fact that your body is predisposed to use carbohydrate over fat (when both are present) as its primary energy source and you can see why it’s time to do away with cheat meals.

Time to do away with the sloppy, uncontrolled binges that lead to overindulgence and weight gain.

Hopefully you’re now thinking “how do I do this?”