Is Cheat Meal Or Cheat Day Better For Quick Weight Loss?

Medically reviewed by Temple Stewart, RD, LDN Temple Stewart Temple StewartRD, LDN facebook_iconinsta_icon
Written by , MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist Charushila Biswas MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist Experience: 6 years
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Eating the same “healthy” food is so BORING! And I can tell you with great conviction that it is not easy giving up or resisting delicious (mostly unhealthy) food. What if you can find a way to enjoy the yummy foods without gaining weight? Well, the concept of cheat meals or cheat days is exactly that!

Fitness gurus believe that anyone on a weight loss journey should enjoy a cheat meal day. Why? Because the caloric shock helps break weight loss plateaus – the phase where you stop losing weight even when you eat just an apple a day.

On a weekly cheat meal/day, you may consume any food of your choice and NOT feel guilty (Whoa! I can hear your heart thumping with excitement). BUT hold that thought – there’s a flipside.

One wrong turn, and you can slip back to your old eating habits. This can make you gain more weight than ever. So, we recommend playing by a few doable rules to prevent that from happening.

First, know which one is good – a cheat meal or a cheat day. Second, how many extra calories should you consume? Finally, what should you consume? Keep reading to lose weight smartly and not feel deprived. Let’s begin!

What Is A Cheat Meal?

A cheat meal is a meal that contains at least 500 calories more than your designated daily calorie intake.

For example, if you are on a 1500 calorie diet, add 500 calories more, i.e., you may consume a total of 2000 calories.

A cheat meal is also high in macronutrients. You may consume pizza, burger, pastries, fries, or any other favorite food if you are really craving for it. But do practice portion control.

Now, “cheat meals” and “cheat meal days” – are NOT the same. Here’s how they differ.

Difference Between Cheat Meal And Cheat Meal Day

  • A cheat meal is a high-calorie meal while a cheat meal day is a 12-hour window in which you can literally binge on anything you want.
  • A cheat meal is ideal for people who exercise a minimum of 3 hours a week and consume healthy, calorie-dense foods. A cheat meal day is for athletes and bodybuilders who are highly active.

If you are not an athlete, a bodybuilder, or someone who is highly active, it is best to stay away from the concept of cheat days. This is because if you do not burn the crazy amount of calories you consume, you will start to gain weight. In fact, you will gain more weight than ever!

However, we recommend that you take a break from the daily healthy eating and enjoy a delicious cheat meal. But there are a few prerequisites.

When To Go For A Cheat Meal?

You can go for a cheat meal when:

  • You have followed the healthy eating plan diligently.
  • You have worked out for at least 3 hours a week.
  • You have burned at least 2500 calories a week.

Yes, the biggest prerequisite for enjoying a cheat meal is – you have to earn it. When you earn it, you will be able to enjoy a cheat meal without a guilty conscience. So, how does cheat meal help kick-start weight loss? Find out next.

How Does A Cheat Meal Work For Weight Loss?

How Does A Cheat Meal Work For Weight Loss
Image: Shutterstock

The cheat meal works on a few simple principles. Let me break them down for you:

  • The 90/10 Rule

According to John Berardi, Ph.D., a top exercise nutritionist, and Alan Aragon, an expert nutritionist, the 90/10 rule is – 90% of the time, eat according to your weight loss goals. And 10% of the time, indulge in food that’s not in the weight loss diet plan.

Alan Aragon recommends having a cheat meal post-workout because that’s when your body will burn the extra calories you consume.

  • Prevents Weight Loss Plateau

Cheat meals are best for breaking weight loss plateaus (when you consume fewer calories and workout regularly yet don’t lose the flab).

Your body gets used to the healthy, low-cal foods, and over a period, it stops responding. All your body needs is a little waking up. A cheat meal does precisely that.
When you consume a high-calorie meal, your body experiences a much-needed caloric shock.

Your cells resume working as they have to burn those extra calories. In the process, your metabolism gets boosted, and you start to burn the fat again.

  • Balances The Hormones

Leptin, the appetite-suppressing hormone, and ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone, are balanced when you consume high-calorie cheat meals.

Weekly cheat meals help raise leptin and reduce ghrelin, thereby reducing your hunger pangs. Your thyroid function also improves, and your energy levels increase.

  • Breaks Boredom

Diets can be boring, especially if they are very strict ones. Anyone can get bored of eating the same food every single day. But cheat meals help break that boredom. You will feel refreshed and continue being on the diet, which will show great results over a period.

I can guarantee from first-hand experience that a cheat meal works. But you have to know how to make it work. Here are 10 best cheat meal strategies that will help you. Take a look.

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10 Best Cheat Meal Strategies For Weight Loss

1. Plan Ahead

Plan Ahead
Image: Shutterstock

Planning ahead will prevent you from getting derailed from your weight loss goals. When you know that you are going to enjoy a cheat meal later that week, you will not give in to your cravings in the middle of the week.

2. Earn Your Cheat Meal

 Earn Your Cheat Meal
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Stick to your weight loss meals and workout plan and then have a cheat meal. In other words, earn your cheat meal.

It also means that you must follow the 90/10 rule, where 90% of the time, you follow your weight loss diet, and 10% of the time (or the week), you may go all out and enjoy a cheat meal day.

When you earn your cheat meal, you can consume the extra calories guilt-free and feel good about yourself for adhering to your diet plan.

3. Know Your Max Calorie Intake

Know Your Max Calorie Intake
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Weight loss is not easy. But you can make it a little easier by knowing how many extra calories you are allowed to consume on the day of your cheat meal.

Typically, you may consume 500 extra calories. Do not exceed the limit. Within the 500-calorie limit, you may choose delicious foods and even give in to your weakness for sweets.

4. Choose Cheat Meals Mindfully

Choose Cheat Meals Mindfully
Image: Shutterstock

Choose high-calorie foods that are also nutrient-dense.

Foods like brown rice, sushi, falafel, homemade cake, and baked tortilla chips with guacamole are high in calories and carbs, but they are also delicious and nutritious.

Yes, you can grab a slice of pizza or fried food if you are craving for it. But make sure you do not exceed the 500-calorie limit.

5. Don’t Cheat When Famished

Don’t Cheat When Famished
Image: Shutterstock

Consuming a cheat meal when you are starving may cause you to consume more food.

The trick is to have a cup of green tea with a digestive biscuit at least an hour before having a cheat meal. You may also have a banana or a glass of freshly pressed juice as a snack.

6. Blast The Fat

Blast The Fat
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Working out is crucial when you are trying to lose weight. So, I highly recommend that you blast the fat at the gym by doing cardio and strength training every alternate day.

Or if that’s not your cup of tea, do swimming, dancing, Pilates, yoga, running, etc. The added benefit of working out regularly is that you will feel good, enjoy undisturbed sleep, and be stress-free.

7. Push It To The Weekend

Push It To The Weekend
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Weekends are best for a high-calorie cheat meal. We generally tend to eat more on the weekends, don’t we? So, better take advantage of the opportunity! It’s fine as long as you are careful about your caloric intake (500 calories extra).

8. Customize Your Restaurant Food

Customize Your Restaurant Food
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Going out for dinner or brunch and planning to have a cheat meal? Well, it’s best that you request the chef to make a dish that is in line with your plan.

You want 500 calories extra – use them mindfully. Choose your favorite food, but be careful with the portion size. Also, be aware that sauces and dressings contain hidden calories. So, if you want a salad dripping in mayo, do consider the number of calories in mayo as well.

9. Pay Attention To The Food

Pay Attention To The Food
Image: Shutterstock

Paying attention to your food while eating is important. When you don’t look at the food and eat, your brain doesn’t get a visual cue about what and how much you are eating.

That’s precisely why we tend to finish a large tub of cheese popcorn halfway through a movie and still want to chow down more. As a result, we consume more calories without even realizing it. So, it is best that you switch off all distractions (TV, laptop, mobile, etc.) and look at your food and eat.

10. Give In To Your Cravings

Don’t Consume Junk
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Yup! This is the time you can give in to your food cravings. Go for it. Yes, consuming too many trans fats and refined carbs can affect your health, but balance it out by eating healthy the other days.

Also, you can make chicken nuggets, pizza, burger, potato wedges, cakes, cookies, and whatever food tempts you at home. That way, you will be able to control the sugar and use healthy oils, multigrain/gluten-free flour, and bake or air fry instead of deep-fry.

These 10 strategies will help you enjoy a delicious meal without the fear of gaining weight. Does that mean you can have a cheat meal every single day? Let’s find out in the next section.

Which Days Are Best For Cheat Meals?

The best days to enjoy a cheat meal are either Friday night or Saturday brunch. These are the days when most of us tend to let go of our food inhibitions and enjoy.

You should also be mindful if you are going out with friends or family or on a date.

Sticking to “extra 500 calories and not more” will help you lose weight. Consuming about 1000 calories extra and then overexercising may cause injury and muscle fatigue.

The next and most common question is, “Won’t I feel guilty after consuming so much?” Well, here’s how you are actually going to feel.

How Will You Feel Post A Cheat Meal?

You will feel satisfied, happy, and more determined than ever to stick to your weight loss diet plan and exercise routine. That’s because your hard work (eating well, avoiding junk, and exercising regularly) has paid off. And the reward of an extra 500 calories is well-deserved.

But will enjoying more than one cheat meal in a week throw you off track? Find out in the following section.

How Often Should You Have A Cheat Meal?

It is best to enjoy one cheat meal per week in the initial stages. Have one cheat meal per week for at least 3-4 weeks. When your weight loss plateaus again, have one cheat meal in the middle of the week (say, Wednesday), and one on the weekend (say, Saturday brunch).


Cheat meals are a great way to break weight loss plateaus and push your body to burn more fat. Allowing yourself to consume a few extra calories will also uplift your mood and keep you focused all week long. So, go ahead, use these strategies and get slimmer in no time. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments box below. Take care!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I have a cheat meal on the keto diet?

No, it is best to avoid having a cheat meal if you are on the Keto diet. Having a cheat meal on a keto diet will take your body out of ketosis.

How long does it take to get back to ketosis after a cheat meal?

It will take about 3-4 weeks for your body to return to ketosis after you have a cheat meal when you are on the Keto diet.

Is fasting good after a cheat day?

Fasting might be ok for a few people after a cheat day. I suggest you do intermittent fasting. Consume breakfast and go on a fast for about 4-6 hours. Then, have a pre-workout meal and go for your workout session. Come home and have a good carb- and protein-rich dinner.

Is it okay to have a cheat day or a cheat meal?

It is best to have a cheat meal. Cheat days are strictly for athletes and bodybuilders.

Is cheat meal good for weight loss?

Yes, cheat meal is good for weight loss. It restarts the body’s metabolism and helps burn the fat.

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Temple Stewart
Temple Stewart is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Personal Trainer in St. Petersburg, FL. She sees clients all over the world through virtual nutrition services. Her passion is to teach her clients how to experience a healthier life by using effective nutrition education and counseling.

Read full bio of Temple Stewart
Charushila Biswas
Charushila BiswasHealth & Wellness Writer
Charushila is an ISSA certified Fitness Nutritionist and a Physical Exercise Therapist. Over a span of 6 years, she has authored more than 400 articles on diet, lifestyle, exercises, healthy food, and fitness equipment. She strives to inform, educate, and motivate her readers via authentic, straightforward, and fact-checked information.

Read full bio of Charushila Biswas
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