Cheat meals are a controversial topic when you are talking about weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. Some dietitians may recommend them, and some may discourage them. Brittany Diehl, MS, RDN, LD, registered dietitian at the St. Elizabeth Physicians Weight Management Center says, “There is no true definition to a cheat meal. It can mean something different to everyone but some strategies can keep your healthy lifestyle on track if you choose a cheat meal.”
- There is no one size fits all formula – for some people a small piece of chocolate can address cravings, someone else may need a cheeseburger. How much and what is in a cheat meal depends on you. If you choose to cheat for an entire meal, don’t indulge more than once a week. If you have a history of binge eating a cheat meal is not recommended as it may trigger overeating behaviors.
- Don’t call it a cheat meal – cheating would imply you are doing something wrong. But if you are consciously choosing to add extra calories for one snack or one meal, it is an indulgence. The word cheat also can add feelings of guilt and can contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food.
- Satisfy a craving – use the indulgence to satisfy a craving, whether it is a piece of candy or a high-calorie meal. Make sure the additional calories will satisfy a desire you have.
- Don’t cheat for a whole day – There are 24 hours in a day and that is a lot of time to derail your diet. Keep your indulgence to a snack or a meal to keep your lifestyle on track.
- Plan ahead – when you choose your indulgence—plan ahead. Indulging higher fat and carb foods could affect your hunger hormones for more than 24 hours. You don’t want one indulgence to carry over for a few days. Plan healthy meals and snacks for the next few days.
- Avoid trigger foods – a food you struggle to stop eating is harder to moderate. Never choose a trigger food for your cheat meal and if you do use portion control.
- Be mindful – since you already have a plan on what you will indulge on, the next step is to be aware of what else you are eating that day. If you order a cheeseburger, get the side salad instead of fries. Always keep your overall goals in mind, do not throw away your entire diet for one indulgence.
- Don’t skip a meal – skipping a meal affects your ability to control your portions. If you have starved your body all day, you will not be able to eat in a mindful way and control your hunger. Again, if you have a plan you will offset your calories over the week.
Brittany also recommends to stop calling it a diet. She says, “Eating healthy should not be a short-term fix. Having indulgencies in your long-term program will help you prevent boredom and the feeling of deprivation. The key is to implement strategies to make this a lifestyle, not a diet.”
If you need help keeping your weight goals on track, talk to your primary care physician or schedule an appointment at the St. Elizabeth Physicians Weight Management Center by calling (859) 212-4625.