The Do's and Donuts of Cheat Meals: Can A Cheat Meal Ruin Your Progress?

The fitness industry LOVES its cheat meals. What’s a cheat meal? It’s a term used to describe a meal you have, usually on the weekend, that’s outside of your regular diet consisting of food often considered discretionary; burgers, ice cream, donuts…. you get the gist! These meals are typically way higher in calories when compared to a normal meal and often serve as a psychological break from the rigidity of dieting. But can having this in your diet derail your progress?

Those of you looking to gain muscle might not place as much importance on a cheat meal; you probably need the extra calories. However, for those among us dieting with the goal of losing fat, a cheat meal, scheduled or unscheduled, can give you something to look forward to. 

If your goal is fat loss, you need to take the calories you’ve already eaten on the day into account before you have a cheat meal.

People with a caloric target to hit typically spend every day across the week consuming the exact number of calories they need. Have a look at the graph below to see what this looks like visually:

This is a really easy way to ensure that over time you consistently hit your caloric target and achieve your goals. However, for people who are absolutely militant when it comes to calories, this method has some downfalls. For example, someone in a strict caloric deficit might say no to social events if food and drinks are involved, out of fear of consuming calories outside of their prescribed deficit. Something like this can quickly spiral into a lack of social interactions as a result of unhealthy obsessiveness.

Now, if you plan to go out for a cheat meal on a Sunday and want to ensure it doesn’t stop you from reaching your goals, you can manipulate your calories during the days prior, as seen in this graph:

This allows you to essentially ‘make space’ in your daily calories for the cheat meal, without putting yourself into a caloric surplus.

One last thing to think about when talking about cheat meals is HOW we talk about them. The name itself runs the risk of imposing negative connotations on something that is supposed to be enjoyed. Oftentimes there is a lot of guilt surrounding the act of having a cheat meal, conveying an idea that we are eating something we shouldn’t be eating and ‘cheating’ on our diets. 

A giant stack of pancakes might not be the most nutritious meal choice, but the most nutritious choice doesn’t always need to be THE choice! We need to remember the importance of eating for enjoyment, not just purpose. If you are finding that the cheat meal mentality is having a negative affect on your mindset around food consumption, then don’t use the phrase anymore.

I hope this article has helped you to look objectively at your diet, understand more about your food intake and empower your ability to make food choices!


Ebony Thomas: Qualified Nutritionist (BHealthSc)

If you’d like to further your nutrition knowledge to help you reach your goals, please don’t hesitate to contact Ebony at or visit You can also check out Ebony's Instagram @maianutrition.


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