Cheat meals – often quantified as the holy grail when it comes to dieting; they are foods eaten which would normally be forbidden or at least limited on a food plan; the foods you indulge in and consume to reward yourself for sticking to a food plan. OR perhaps, you didn’t stick to the plan, you fell off the bandwagon and are now going hell for leather. This article divulges the top tips on eating off plan with cheat meals – 5 golden rules.

Some of the best cheat meals that people enjoy include pizza, fry ups and burgers.

Cheat meal, burger, chips, fat

The regimented approach of eating strictly clean foods throughout the week can be taxing on the body, particularly when you decide to restrict yourself or tell yourself that certain foods are off-limits. Research has identified that people who commit to a diet begin to experience elevated cravings for foods. Here is where an off-plan meal can do wonders for the motivation levels and the soul!

Below are some golden rules for when it comes to treating yourself.

Did you know:

1 pound of fat = consumption of 3500 extra calories

1. Indulge in a meal not a whole day

There can be an enormous spike when comparing calories and macros consumed from a cheat day vs cheat meal. Many food plans designed by nutritionalists/personal trainers often advocate their client to have a cheat meal once a week, which should be perfectly fine, provided it’s done properly. However, all too often, people make mistakes and end up binge eating as opposed to simply indulging in a treat.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has justified a binge by thinking, “I’ve already broke my stride, why stop there”. If one of your tyres went flat, would you go and puncture the other 3 tyres? No. But for many reasons, many people adopt this approach when it comes to dieting.

Additionally, some people reward themselves with too many cheat meals a week. If this is the case, it then becomes part of your diet, and doesn’t really constitute a treat.

2. Calories still count

Unfortunately for us, calories still count, even on weekends, event for treat meals and yes, regardless of whether it’s 17:59 or 18:00!

A common mistake people make is overestimating the amount of food they should eat during a treat meal. Another factor they don’t consider is that meals bought in restaurants often have 2-3 times more calories than a home-made meal. Your side of potatoes are often saturated with butter and all that tasty goodness which is concealed within the mash. What’s more is that people experience difficulty estimating portions. It’s all well and good to weigh your food at home, but this can be hard to judge just by visually looking at food.

All of these factors considered explains why people overeat (and let’s be honest, we’re loosening the ropes a little so maybe we’re eating a bit more, even though we know in our heart and soul that it’s a much larger portion than normal).

For those of you counting. The best approach to take is to overestimate the amount of calories in a meal and make adjustments throughout the day if you intend to minimise the damage.

3. Go easy on alcohol

For anyone who has researched the effects of alcohol on weight, they may have encountered conflicting results. Some studies have observed higher weight loss results in individuals who consumed wine when compared with a placebo group who drank grape juice. Other studies have concluded that alcohol consumption indeed does lead to weight gain.

The effects of alcohol consumption on weight loss can be observed from a direct and indirect perspective. The direct effect of alcohol is an increase in liquid calories consumed.

Alcohol is metabolised in the body and decelerates the rate of oxidation of fat. So when alcohol is consumed, the body prioritises the metabolism of alcohol first; the body utilises energy from alcohol first and any excess glucose or lipids are stored as fat in the body.

The indirect effect of alcohol is the surplus food consumed. Let’s be honest, not many (if any) nights out end with a salad! Perhaps it’s takeaway/chipper after a bar/night club. The damage often doesn’t end there; the next morning often proceeds to the beloved hangover cure, of which there are many variations, from a greasy fry up to pizza for breakfast or perhaps a chicken/breakfast roll.

Let’s not forget to mention the missed gym workouts that pursue.

If you are going to drink, aim to stick to the ones with fewer calories, such as spirits and dry wines and limit carb-heavy drinks, such as beers and cocktails.

If you want to discover the facts about one of the biggest trends hitting the social scene, then have a read of the effects of alcohol on muscle growth – could low alcohol be a solution?

Wine, liquid calories, alcohol

4. Plan your meals in advance

Adopting this strategy offers a number of benefits. For people tracking calories and macros, it allows them the opportunity to moderate food intake throughout the day to make increase calorie/macro allowances for their treat meal.

Psychologically, it gives you something to look forward to. It can be difficult to adhere to a food plan without any treats. So by planning in advance, it can aid your mental performance and increase your motivation to stick to your normal food plan for the rest of the week. Many people choose to plan their indulgence during the weekend or at a social event.

Personally, I love perusing the menu in the hours (ok maybe days) in advance if I know I’m going to a particular restaurant. Advanced planning also allows you to be more strategic with what you eat as opposed to consuming everything in sight.

5. Stop calling it a cheat meal!

If you are going to eat foods that are not in your normal food plan, please stop referring to them as “cheat meals”. The concept can instill mentally negative connotations which often induces an unhealthy relationship with food.

It’s an interesting concept really when you think about it; we are the only species that considers it cheating by eating a meal that doesn’t fit into our normal food plan. When did eating become considered cheating? It’s perfectly normal to crave less healthy foods every now and then.

People often indulge in a “cheat food” or even a “cheat day”, imagine!!! *queue looks/feelings of utter shame*. Such an indulgence would typically lead to an onslaught of guilt, followed by the binge eating recovery phase to address the damage by engaging in extensive burst of exercise (usually cardio of some format) in addition to periods of starvation/food restriction in an attempt to counterbalance the excess calories consumed.

The bottom line is, it shouldn’t be considered cheating if you only eat an off-plan meal every now and again. However, if you do find yourself constantly craving unhealthy foods, it may be time to evaluate your food plan and determine the root cause of the cravings.

What’s your comfort food of choice? Comment down below!

Guilt, shame, binge eating, cheat meal


Flechtner-Mors, M., Biesalski, H., Jenkinson, C., Adler, G. and Ditschuneit, H. (2004). Effects of moderate consumption of white wine on weight loss in overweight and obese subjects. International Journal of Obesity, 28(11), pp.1420-1426.

Hill, A. (2018). Should You Have Cheat Meals or Cheat Days?. [online] Healthline. Available at: [Accessed 1 Feb. 2020].

Luo, E. (2018). Alcohol and Weight: 8 Ways Drinking Slows Weight Loss. [online] Healthline. Available at: [Accessed 1 Feb. 2020].

Matthews, M. (2015). Do You Make These 5 Cheat Meal Mistakes? – Legion Athletics. [online] Legion Athletics. Available at: [Accessed 1 Feb. 2020].

Manejwala, O. (2013). Shame, Cheat Meals and That New Weight Loss Solution. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: [Accessed 1 Feb. 2020].

Categories: Blogs


Natalie · 27/02/2020 at 10:13 PM

Hey, mine is definitely ice cream or McDonald’s! I started calculating my macros this year and it’s made such a difference! The biggest thing I learnt is the value to different calories in different foods- now I see it context, so will just have a little of what I fancy rather than everything in sight. Typical example is the late night McDonald’s run me and my friends would do sometimes once or twice a week. However now I know exactly what is in it in terms of my daily allowance if I do go to McDonald’s I’ll just have one treat, so maybe some cheese bites with an orange juice. Or a McFlurry, just not everything all at once. Then I’ll grab something healthy more substantial when I get home.

I really like what you said about doing away with the concept of the cheat meal- I agree that it makes certain things forbidden and creates an unhealthy approach to food. Thanks for the great read, love the info here 🙂

    Sharon · 28/02/2020 at 10:48 AM

    Hi Natalie,

    I bet you’re definitely seeing a difference in terms of your perception towards food as a result. Believe it or not, eating in McDonald’s can be achieved without inflicting a significant calorie load. I can get you a handy cheat sheet if you want, just let me know.

    Yes if you want to achieve a healthy relationship with food, old notions of cheat meals and bad foods should really be obliterated!

    Thanks for checking out my blog,

Vince · 14/04/2020 at 5:49 PM

Awesome post! I appreciate these recommendations. I agree completely with the alcohol comment. Whenever I indulge in a beverage (or multiples haha) I feel bloated and it takes almost a full week to recover! What are your thoughts on fasting/intermittent fasting?

    Sharon · 14/04/2020 at 5:56 PM

    Hi Vince,

    Thanks for your kind words. Wow, you must be sensitive to it so, or else you don’t drink it that often? I personally wouldn’t use intermittent fasting, but I know many people are fans of it. I prefer to keep a constant top-up of food to keep energy and sugar levels from hitting highs and lows. It ultimately depends on the individual themselves and their preferences.

    Hope this answers your query.

Deji · 14/04/2020 at 7:13 PM

Thank you for this insightful writeup…especially with this lock down, most people need to read this

    Sharon · 14/04/2020 at 7:50 PM

    Hi there,

    Thank you so much, I really appreciate you taking the time to read and post on my page.

    Best wishes,

Robb · 14/04/2020 at 7:23 PM

Great post, I actually owned a weight loss company years ago and we factored in a cheat day not just a meal into the program. My business partner was a trainer for body builders and he was adamant we put it in the program and it really was a cheat day, clients could eat or drink whatever they liked. And as long as they were strict with the program the rest of the week it was amazing how well it worked. Cheers.

    Sharon · 14/04/2020 at 7:52 PM

    Hi Robb,

    That’s really interesting, it also sounds like a dream day! I’m sure you had no problem enticing people to indulge in a cheat day. Although, I’m guessing some people might have been nervous/skeptical too if it’s not something they’ve done before.

    Thanks for sharing that!

umar · 14/04/2020 at 8:07 PM

Great post. This is definitely something to read if you plan on dieting. So many people don’t have all the information dieting and they end up failing. You have some good tips. You’re right, even the name “cheat meal” has negative connotations towards your diet.

    Sharon · 15/04/2020 at 5:44 PM

    Hi there,

    It certainly is, and a lack of education or having a poor coach can really be detrimental to your weight-loss progress. True, think of it as an off-plan meal, and even the word ‘diet’ can project negative suggestions in your mind.

    Best wishes,

Lisa · 15/04/2020 at 8:17 PM

Hi Sharon your article is very well written and contains great examples of what to eat and what not to.
I had never been on a diet ever until last year. The hardest part was cutting out my favorite foods. This made me want them all of the time. The cheat meal once a week helped a lot. Since I stopped the diet I don’t get cravings I just eat what I want in moderation and I have not gained the weight back.


    Sharon · 16/04/2020 at 7:39 PM

    Hi Lisa,

    I appreciate your kind words, thank you! Thanks for sharing your experience with dieting. Often people go on a “diet” when they don’t really need to, and it can actually lead to developing a poor relationship with food. It sounds as if you’re entertaining the idea of mindful eating, which is what many people strive to achieve. Either way, once it works for you and keeps you healthy and happy, you must be doing something right!

    Best wishes,

Paul Thomas · 15/04/2020 at 8:55 PM

Hi fantastic article so much good advice and information my comfort food is Pizza

    Sharon · 16/04/2020 at 7:45 PM

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks so much, hopefully you will take on some of the tips from it, if you don’t already!

    Pizza is one of the ultimate comfort foods, good choice!


C.N. · 15/04/2020 at 9:26 PM

Great article! I fully agree that proper weight management depends on self-control, knowing the facts, and doing our own research. I’m typing this as I’m eating nachos, a big bag of Doritos, and drinking Mountain Dew. I need to stop. Haha. I no longer call my indulgence meals “cheat meals;” they’re simply a part of life. Life without balance is foolishness. LOL I look forward to reading more of your content!


    Sharon · 16/04/2020 at 7:51 PM

    Hi C.N.

    I admire your honesty there, let me reassure you there’ll be no judgement on my side for enjoying a bag of Doritos! You’re absolutely right, no other species on the planet is as preoccupied with food as we are.

    Thanks for sharing your wise words!


Ali · 16/04/2020 at 9:30 AM

What a nice post you wrote Sharon! I really enjoyed reading it and could not be silent about your post so I decided to leave my comment here and say Thank You for sharing this quality post. Actually I was looking for information about the cheat meals and when I landed on your website and read this post, it answered all my questions in details and it was exactly what I wanted to know.
I’m happy that you’ve decided to write about this topic and share it with others. It’s very useful post in my opinion and can definitely be used as a great source for everyone who is interested to know about this topic.

I will definitely come back to your site again to read more posts. Keep up quality articles! 🙂


    Sharon · 16/04/2020 at 7:57 PM

    Hi Ali,

    That’s great to hear, I love when people engage with the content and post their thoughts/opinions! I certainly hope you learned some tips that you will implement. It’s so easily to follow trends in the media around dieting and labelling of foods as good and bad has become almost omnipresent! Stick to the researched data and you’ll go further than any marketed diet campaign will bring you.

    Thanks again and best wishes,

Jade · 16/04/2020 at 5:25 PM

Hi Sharon,

Thank you for this article! It’s full of super helpful information. I know I am definitely guilty on giving up healthy eating for an entire day – or sometimes longer – if I’ve eaten something unhealthy, because I figured I’ve already ruined the day by eating something unhealthy.

I also struggle very much with meal planning. I usually don’t think about eating until I’m already hungry. At that point, I don’t have a plan for what I’ll eat, so I eat whatever’s fastest and most convenient. I’ve tried to get into meal planning and prepping, but I never know where to start or how to figure out a week’s worth of meals. Do you have any articles or additional advice on meal planning coming out?

    Sharon · 16/04/2020 at 8:23 PM

    Hi Jade,

    I really appreciate your kind words and I’m glad it has been of interest/value to you. If you are experiencing trouble with healthy eating and emotional/mindful eating, then this article may be of value:

    There is an article due on meal planning, so stay tuned for this. For now, some rules I live by include preparing food in advance (in bulk as opposed to just cooking one meal at a time), also having set days/times when I cook food and also portion control – i.e. weighing out food.

    I hope this helps for now.

    Best wishes,

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