Are Cheat Meals Sabotaging Your Fat Loss Efforts?

You’ve stuck closely to your diet all week long, eating nothing but wholesome nutrient-dense, foods. You know, the typical bodybuilding foods – chicken breast, egg whites, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and the like. Any processed foods, sugars, or dairy have all been non-existent in your diet – because only “clean” foods are allowed.

Then the weekend rolls around, and it’s time for your weekly “cheat meal” to reward yourself for sticking to your diet all week.

You think, “I’ve been great all week – I better have my weekly cheat meal to give everything a good kick start.”

This usually means enjoying whatever foods you like – in whatever quantities you desire.

Maybe it’s an epic feast of a large pizza, or a tub of ice cream with enough of your mothers homemade cookies to last a month.

Whatever it is – you go all out. There are no limits.

You cram in every last bite until you are curled up on the couch about ready to give birth…

Sound familiar? 

I’ve been there as well.

Although gorging yourself in a cheat meal may sound like an awesome idea at the time, and seems to be common practice in the bodybuilding community nowadays, there are some big consequences that come with this approach to dieting.

The Problem With Cheat Meals

First off — to be clear here, when I talk about a cheat meal, I’m not talking about eating sugar or some other food deemed “unclean” by a guru. I’m talking about eating more calories than you planned on eating – oftentimes significantly more than a full days intake, in the span of a very short period.

Now, the problem with cheat meals is not simply eating “bad” foods.

The real problem lies in the complete lack of accounting for calories and nutritional content of the food.


Here’s what I mean;

Let’s say you’re eating in a caloric deficit of 500 calories each day during the week. You’re on track for a deficit of approximately 3500 calories for the week, which will equate to approximately 1 lb of weight lost for the week. All seems to be going fine and dandy.

Then Saturday comes and you crush your weekly cheat meal. It’s only 1 meal after all. If you’re eating 5 meals per day, it’s only 1 out of 35 meals for the week. That’s 3% of all your meals for the week. Can’t hurt right?


Throw in just one bad cheat meal or binge episode and you can neutralize the deficit you created the rest of the week – quickly erasing all of the hard work you did.

Don’t believe me?

Consider a typical cheat meal:

  • Large pizza
  • Bag of chips
  • Can of pop
  • ½ tub of ice cream
  • A few too many of mum’s homemade cookies

…. and you’re easily looking at 5000+ calories. In ONE meal. That doesn’t even consider your food intake for the rest of the day.

When you binge and overindulge in a cheat meal, you can quite easily accumulate an excess of literally thousands of calories in the matter of minutes.

Let’s not forget that your body also has to process these calories. They are not freebies.

So if you’re in a 500 calorie deficit for 6 days of the week, and then eat 3000 calories over maintenance on your cheat day, you’re back to square one. That deficit you worked so hard to create throughout the week is completely wiped – gone.

Not only does this mean you will not lose fat, but you could even GAIN fat, if you eat an abundance of calories over maintenance.

You can’t cheat the law of energy balance — If you consume more calories than you burn, then you’re not going to lose fat.

Where did we go wrong?

The urge to cheat like this usually happens as a result of being overly restrictive throughout the week with a limited selection of “clean” foods, which often leads to the urge to binge eat. And since this restrictive style of eating is unsustainable for most people, it often becomes a regular habit to binge each week.

It turns into a vicious cycle, and creates a very unhealthy relationship with food.

What To Do Instead

If you still want to be able to enjoy your favorite foods on a regular basis – without ruining your fat loss efforts, here’s what I recommend you do in lieu of binging once per week:

Work some cheat or naughty foods into your diet in moderation throughout the week.

Here’s what I mean:

If you’re someone who enjoys a certain food — be it burgers or ice cream, why not incorporate it into your daily calories a couple times per week?

No need to save it up for a big cheat meal and completely fall off your diet.

As long as you use nutrient-dense whole foods to make up the core foundation of your diet, you can allow for a controlled balance of your favorite foods on a regular basis as they fit your calorie and macronutrient targets.

This is commonly referred to as “flexible dieting”.

With flexible dieting, rather than categorizing foods as “good” or “bad” — “clean” or “dirty –  foods are defined by their macronutrient composition and how they fit into the diet as a whole.

Read: The Beginners Guide To Flexible Dieting (IIFYM)




Learn To Embrace Moderation

The thing is, both “clean eating” and flexible dieting involve eating 80%+ nutrient-dense food and the remainder of intake being “whatever” food.

The difference between the two is simple:

With flexible dieting, you allow a small percentage of your calories to come from  “whatever” food in moderation each day, versus saving it all up for a massive cheat meal or cheat day if you’re following a clean eating approach.

This makes for a much more effective long-term fat loss and eating strategy for the vast majority of people, since you can still meet your nutritional goals while maintaining a healthy relationship with food.



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