"Cheat Meals" - Are they ever okay?

I know this gets asked a lot - I'M SORRY!!! - but I've just returned to the site and never could figure out how I felt on the matter. Plus, new users arrive everyday so maybe all the noobs will be interested in beating this dead horse with me.

About once a week I feel the overwhelming desire to go wacky on one meal and scarf like 1500 calories in one sitting. My daily net goal is 1200 so, logically, I know this kills my effort for the day. Emotionally, I feel like I need it for my sanity. And, right now, I would KILL for a big ol' bowl of homemade creamy potato soup. I made it last night and it's screaming at me from the fridge. I'll get a 500-calorie burn in at the gym and immediately after that have 5 hours of work to do (seated, at home) so I just wanna work out, scarf, work, sleep. It will ultimately, when all is said and done with today's calories, equal eating at maintenance so zero loss, zero gain.

Is there any way to rationalize a cheat meal without totally stalling my weight loss efforts? Or is it just thermodynamics whether we like it or not?



  • LeonCX
    LeonCX Posts: 862 Member
    edited November 2014
    I sometimes "bank" unused food calories and exercise calories from the past six days, and use them on the 7th day for a special treat. But I don't call it cheating. :#
  • jrline
    jrline Posts: 2,353 Member
    as long as you are not depriving yourself of foods you love you should not really need a cheat meal. The only thing I eliminated in my weightloss was second helpings.

  • AskTracyAnnK28
    AskTracyAnnK28 Posts: 2,834 Member
    You're going to get a lot of different responses to this. Most will say to just fit that creamy potato soup into your daily macros so it won't be a 'cheat'. Some will say they they have regular cheat days - but many of those people also come on these boards and complain about how they aren't losing weight....some folks never have a cheat day and manage to fit all their favorite goodies into their diet somehow.

    If you really want something, my advice would be to log it correctly and move on just like any other day.
  • Velum_cado
    Velum_cado Posts: 1,608 Member
    If you goal is 1200 net for the day, one 1500 calorie meal isn't going to derail anything, as long as you aren't doing it every day. Chances are, if you look at your calorie intake over the week, then spread that 1500 calories out, you'll still be averaging out at a caloric deficit (I can't math, so don't expect any more of an explanation than that).

    Back when I tracked my calories, I would track each day, then use a spreadsheet to track my calories over the week, purposely eating a bit less Monday - Friday to allow me to loosen the reins on Saturday and Sunday. If I hadn't done it that way, I don't think I would have had half the success I have.
  • 999tigger
    999tigger Posts: 5,235 Member
    Just do your calories weekly and then fit the soup in with the other sacrifices you make during the week or do 5-10 mins more exercise a day. People dont like the use of the word cheat, because it gives the impression you are doing something wrong. Its your diet. You know how much you need to maintain and how much deficit you need to generate for your weight loss, so just fit in in if you wnat the meal and to still make progress.

    One other aspect is if you need it to let off steam and keep your sanity then it becomes very importnat for you in the long run.
  • launch7z
    launch7z Posts: 1 Member
    I'd say if it keeps you sane, keeps you from falling off the wagon, then do it. I've had some of my most effective weight loss while still allowing cheat days every once in a while. Just track what you do eat so you don't lose the habit.
  • LifeInTheBikeLane
    LifeInTheBikeLane Posts: 345 Member
    Usually once a week I'll eat something I wouldn't normally eat. On Sunday, we went to my parents house for home made lasagna. I'm assuming there was at least 900 calories in the lasagna alone. I fit it into my 1400 calories and went to the gym before we headed to town. Ever so often you can do that! If you plan ahead it won't be as big of a deal.

    Say, HEY. Tomorrow I want potato soup. So plan your food out for the day today and put the soup in. You can fit it around!
  • Whilst the odd day of going over calories won't suddenly make you gain weight, I think the idea of 'cheating' promotes a mindset of extremes. I think you should just eat what you like in moderation, balance is key.
  • nomas616
    nomas616 Posts: 13 Member
    Hey, I am relatively new to this site and one of the reasons why I like it (not sure if it's working or not, lost two pounds gained one back :( so I may not be the best adviser) but the reason I like it is that I don't feel deprived. I am Latina and I like Latin food and that stuff is anything but healthy, however this app has helped with portion control and being able to plan ahead. So if you are craving a burger, HAVE THE DAMNED BURGER. Then eat light the rest of the day. I try to have small breakfasts when we have pizza parties at work, for example. Still trying to figure out what to eat when I;m going to drink :neutral_face: because alcohol has a lot of cals but If I don't eat I'll get trashed quick.

    I say PLAN IT. if you are craving junk, have small size whatever, try to skip the soda or have seltzer water and then eat salad the rest of the day. If you already ate too much for one day. Then save the junk for the next day or work out for longer. Make up for the junk. I think feeling deprived would just make you unhappy and push you to eat more.
  • Silverdracos
    Silverdracos Posts: 110 Member
    I love good food so being able to splurge is necessary for my sanity. Have you considered trying out healthier versions of your favorites?
  • itsMcKay
    itsMcKay Posts: 131 Member
    Thanks, everyone, for the replies.

    Velum_cado, your logic makes perfect sense to me about it averaging out to still be a deficit and that's how I've always thought about it. Plus, there are a few days where I work out a ton and can't eat back all my exercise calories so my net is like 900 cals.

    I did want to clarify, I certainly eat whatever I want while managing portions. I'm not depriving myself of anything. I'm just a bottomless pit and could eat 3 lbs. of food in one sitting. And, sometimes, I want that food to be creamy potato MFing soup! lol

    That's why I like things like broccoli mixed with egg whites with some seasonings on top. I can eat a ton of it! haha ;p
  • Holly_Roman_Empire
    Holly_Roman_Empire Posts: 4,440 Member
    Thermodynamics. It'll only derail you if you've eliminated your calorie deficit.
  • Depends on what you consider a cheat but I once tried a 6 days good, one day cheat method because it worked well for a friend but I found it sent me into a cheating spiral. One day turned into 3 or 5 days and totally derailed me! Since starting a ketogenic diet, I haven't felt the need for cheat days anymore and haven't cheated since starting 2 months ago really and subsequently dropped 25 lbs. I say if it works for you and doesn't throw you into longer term binge eating, go for it, but if it does, cut it out!
  • rseneca724
    rseneca724 Posts: 46 Member
    I have to be careful with the idea of "cheat" meals or days because I have a tendency to try and justify more and more of them and then give up on my goals completely....I have yet to do that while using MFP, but every other attempt to lose weight and get in shape has ended up this way.
    Logging everything, even my screw ups, has kept me honest and helps me see what I can and cannot get away with. It has helped keep me exercising more too because if I want to eat a delicious dinner of my regular, favorite foods, I had better burn some of what I have already eaten that day to allow room for it. Utilizing this site has made me think more logically about what I eat and when. Like I said, it has kept me honest.
    So have that potato soup....just make sure you eat a little less the day before and the day after while continuing to exercise, and you will be just fine!!
  • mmm_drop
    mmm_drop Posts: 1,126 Member
    What has helped me most and gotten me past my plateau and on to finally living a healthy life is no longer thinking of anything as a cheat meal or cheat day.

    Instead, I increased my daily caloric intake, while still eating at a deficit. This enables me to enjoy all the foods I love while still staying within my calorie goals. Now I no longer have to feel like I'm cheating on anything, because there is nothing to cheat on. This is just my new healthier life now.

    Good luck to you!
  • librarial
    librarial Posts: 61 Member
    I have relatively a lot of cheat days, but you and I may define cheat days differently. For me, it's not a full on binge, or a free for all... but once in a while I'll let myself go a little over, or I'll have a special treat on top of my usual calorie amount.

    Yesterday was my birthday, and I had a lot of plans, so I didn't track. I didn't go nuts, I didn't stuff my face... but I did have some bacon with my usual toast & eggs breakfast, and I had a big-ish (but healthy) meal out, and I had a piece of pie from my favorite bakery at the end of the day. This morning, though, I did my best at entering all the food I ate yesterday, and while I didn't maintain my planned deficit, I did end up eating about at maintenance for the day. Overall, I only ended up about 400 calories over what I usually eat, and most of what I ate was pretty healthy.

    A day like that, once in a while, will not derail progress much at all... theoretically, I'll reach my goal weight one day later than I otherwise would have because of how I ate yesterday. (If only we could track so precisely!) I really don't advocate for binge days, though. There's a difference, in my mind, between a treat or a cheat and a binge.
  • ajalcazar84
    ajalcazar84 Posts: 72 Member
    I don't like cheat meals because I have no will power so the meal will become a day, then a week, then "screw it, I'll make it my New Years Resolution...AGAIN!!!"
  • CorlissaEats
    CorlissaEats Posts: 493 Member
    It completely depends on you, how you define "cheat meal", how you set up your diary, your deficits and your goals. It also matters what your TDEE is and how your MFP goal lines up. You can go over your MFP daily goal without damaging your overall goal but it is dependent on how much cushion room you have, someone else called it bank.

    My burn is around 2120 cals per day. I eat between 1600 and 1900 calories most days because my goal is to lose 1/2 to 1 lb per week. Some days I splurge on calories, some days are lighter days. The range takes the pressure off for me. Its actually not called a bad day in my books until I hit 2500 cal intake. I can recover from a 2500 cal day as long as it doesn't happen too often. This lets me go for coffee with coworkers, or order a pizza on a Friday night without putting myself into a downward spiral of self-hatred or shame. If you can build a framework that allows for cheat meals and continued weight loss, then do it.
  • enterdanger
    enterdanger Posts: 2,447 Member
    I am also in the camp that there is no such thing as a cheat day. When life starts to kick my *kitten* I will set my calories to maintenance and hold off on the losing for a week or so until I'm not as hectic. Then I set back to my 1lb a week loss. I'm trying to get healthy not stress myself out over losing weight. Being fat is unhealthy but so is being stressed out. I'm in this for the long run.
  • uconnwinsnc1
    uconnwinsnc1 Posts: 902 Member
    As long as you are progressing over the long run, of course they are OK.