To Cheat Meal or Not to Cheat Meal?

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Cheat meals may be the way for you to get a lean body.

Maybe you didn’t even know there was a controversy about cheat meals. Maybe you thought they were an accepted part of bodybuilding diets and healthy, balanced living. Read on to find out if cheat meals can help you to achieve your physique goals.


Whether you call it a cheat meal, a free meal, re-feed, or a carb re-load, the important criteria is that the meal goes outside your normal dietary routine. In other words, you need to have something that you’re cheating on – an organized, regimented, very specific plan of clean eating that you follow daily.


Most people don’t qualify for a cheat meal because their regular diet is a mix of takeout foods, some decent home-cooked meat and veggies, and a few superfoods that they heard Dr Oz recommended.

If your diet is best described as everything in “moderation” (I personally hate the term moderation and plan to write an entire blog on why sometime soon…in the meantime, let’s just move on) then cheat meals aren’t for you because you’re already cheating on a clean, regimented diet a lot anyway. When I start nutrition counseling for a client who is an educated professional with a social life and family and without specific sport or competition goals, I don’t really introduce the concept of the cheat meal. I encourage them to change their lifestyle in small ways, and continue to do so as their commitment to health and fitness grows.


Cheat meals can play an important role in the diet plans of bodybuilders and fitness and physique competitors. Many competitors spend weeks or months in a calorie-reduced state to achieve optimal levels of leanness for show day.

When the body has been exposed to lower levels of calories for a prolonged period, it adjusts so that it can work efficiently on fewer calories. That’s the layman’s way of explaining that your metabolism slows (burning fewer calories) after a prolonged period of dieting. No big surprise there. When competitors have been in a calorie deficient or carb-depleted state for a period of time, they will probably benefit from a cheat meal of excess calories to stimulate the metabolism. This may even help the competitor to get leaner than if he/she maintained the reduced calorie process continuously.


Yes, the main benefit of a cheat meal is psychological. Many dieters try to go weeks or even months without their favorite foods and this can lead to feelings of deprivation and an obsession with food. Worrying about every morsel of food that passes your lips is stressful and isn’t going to lead to long term health and happiness.

Very few people have the discipline to maintain a perfectly clean diet all the time, and a strategy based on only discipline probably won’t work forever. For those who have committed to a lifestyle of healthy whole foods and regular intake of the right macronutrients for physique improvement, being no more than a week from any food you desire can enhance motivation and improve compliance. If you think cheat meals might work for you, there are several ways of planning your diet to incorporate regular cheats into your plan.

Ivana Chapman 

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Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman BSc BA CSCS is a Canadian fitness and nutrition coach, happy wife, and mom to an energetic 8-year-old boy. She is a YouTuber, writer, published fitness model, speaker, 3rd Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, former World Cup Karate Champion, one-time marathoner, and CBBF National level Natural Bikini competitor. She loves weight training and chocolate, not always in that order of preference.
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