How to Cheat your Cheat Days

If you’re working on that summer bod, chances are you’ve heard about these illustrious “cheat days” that you’re supposed to have. Chances are whatever you heard was wrong, too, especially if it came from someone who looks like they cheat on their diet too often. While cheats and re-feeds have their place, the majority of people don't need a cheat meal.

Yes, I said meal, not day. Let’s start there. I always do cheat meals instead of full cheat days now. Why? Well, the first part is purely a numbers thing: I’m not going to eat as much in one cheat meal as I could in a full cheat day. That part is pretty straight forward. The rest of it more psychological, but again, it’s not too complicated.

When you cheat on a diet, you feel compelled to cram in as much as you can. If that’s the case, it makes more sense to restrict your calories during the day and then have a cheat meal for dinner instead of having a full day of pancakes, burgers, tacos, and margaritas (as fun as that may sound). Plus, the point of all this is to act as a “re-feed” and restore your muscle glycogen, not to derail your diet. And no, binge-eating isn’t going to boost your metabolism so much that it’ll cancel out a whole day of eating like Shaggy and Scooby Doo.  

So, how do you know if you should treat yourself to a cheat meal? 
  • Your strength has significantly decreased recently
  • Your muscles are looking flat
  • You’re having a hard time getting a pump or getting good muscle contractions
  • You are experiencing major mental fatigue

If you aren’t experiencing any of these and you just really want one bite of chocolate, you can probably skip the cheat meal for now—odds are you will benefit more from staying on track with your diet. But, if you are noticing these issues, it may be due to a prolonged calorie deficit along with not getting enough carbohydrates. Your body and brain can start to let you down if you become depleted and your body doesn’t have enough energy reserves (aka fat stored) to make up for this. This is where a high-carb re-feed can come in handy, as it will give you enough carbohydrates for your glycogen stores and brain function. What you won’t be doing is spending a whole day shoveling food down your mouth and storing far more fat than the supposed “metabolic boost” would burn.

The Rock devours multiple plates of sushi for his cheat meals

What do I recommend for a good cheat/re-feed meal? If you’ve been meal prepping and saving money on food, a splurge on sushi or some hearty steak and potatoes always hits the spot for me. I also love pancakes, so they’re always high on the list for me, and they don’t break the bank. If you can, try to pick something high in protein—this will help you feel fuller (so you don’t get a second entrée) and of course give your body the protein it needs to maintain muscle. So, if you do opt for pancakes, try to get some protein in as well. Keep in mind, this is usually my post-workout meal, so I’ll still adhere to my cutting regimen and keep my calories low up until that meal.

That being said, this cheat meal is also a nice mental break from eating the same things over and over. Don’t let it derail you, though, as you don’t want to get out of your healthy habits. Having just a cheat meal instead of a full cheat day will also help you not fall off the wagon.

If this helped you learn more about cheat days and cheat meals, please comment and share this article with someone who you think would enjoy it. Thanks for reading and happy cheating!

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