Cheat meal – what it is and how works “cheating” in boarding of athletes

Cheat meal – what it is and how works “cheating” in boarding of athletes

Sticking to new habits and giving up your favorite foods is a huge challenge for many. But you don’t have to eliminate them out of your meal plan forever. Incorporating cheat meals or even cheat days into a diet plan is quite popular among fitness enthusiasts. Let’s take a closer look at what cheat meals and cheat days are, and how you can use them to achieve your health and fitness goal.           

Cheat meal - what it is and how works "cheating" in boarding of athletes

What is cheat day and cheat meal?

It is almost impossible to stick with healthy diet in 100% of your time. The urge to eat something outside our prescribed diet once catches everyone. But if you get back on the path of eating unhealthy meals full of calories, your fitness goals can quickly become a thing of the past. Therefore, many experts recommend not avoiding these temptations in your diet but including a cheat meal or cheat day in your diet plan. [1] [4]

There is no official definition of cheating while eating, but cheat day is of particular importance in the fitness world. It can be defined as the short term planned overeating period. It usually focuses on the intake of specific macronutrients that exceed current calorie intake. Cheat meal is one meal that you would not normally include in your diet plan.

Therefore, the day you indulge yourself in a cheating meal can be loosely defined as a day on which you do not count calories and consume food outside the normal routine – the cheat meals. Depending on your desires, these days could include high-calorie foods that are not otherwise allowed in a healthy eating plan, such as hamburgers, pizza, sweets – indeed everything you want. Cheat meal focuses on quantity rather than quality. [4] [6]

Cheat meal - what it is and how works "cheating" in boarding of athletes

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Who is the cheat meal for?

In general, cheat meal makes sense especially for those who adhere to a strict diet plan and exercise hard in the gym. They take a small break before returning to a healthy diet. [9] Therefore, they are very popular with athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Even The Rock himself follows this rule, and on social networks he likes to share his cheat dishes. It is mainly a slather of pancakes, sweet cakes or hamburgers. [5] [13] [14]                                        

Currently, cheat meals have a great impact in the treatment of diseases related to overeating. Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a life-threatening but treatable disease characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food. Subsequently, people suffering from this disorder develop mental problems such as feelings of shame, fear or guilt.

One type of treatment for eating disorders is the use of strict dietary diets. In such cases, cheat meals are used to make it easier for people to fight the disease. The inclusion of cheat meals leads to a reduction in eating disorders in people with a tendency to food dependency or inability to regulate their eating habits. [19] [4]

Cheat meal or cheat day?

The question often arises whether it is better to cheat in your eating plan just with one meal a day or to include the so-called “cheat day” in the plan. That means you can afford to eat whatever you want one full day of the week. But, is it right to leave your common meal plan for such a long time?

It’s all about motivation. The main role of cheat dishes is to positively influence the psyche of man. Sometimes it is very difficult to maintain a strict diet and the prospect that, for example, on Sunday, you can indulge in one cheat meal is a great motivator. By consuming high-calorie meals throughout the day, your effort you have made so far may be wasted. After the cheat day it will be harder for you to drive into the prescribed meal plan again. [4] [2]

Try adding to your diet only a cheat meal, for example, having pancakes for lunch on Wednesdays and pancakes for breakfast on Sunday to spread your motivation into fewer days and your tastes will be satisfied. Cheat meals should be about compromise. Most people tend to think ‘I want everything or nothing’. Therefore, finding the border between overeating and cheat meal can be difficult. [3]

Cheat meal - what it is and how works "cheating" in boarding of athletes

Rule 90/10

Have you already heard of this rule? It basically means that 90% of the time you should eat according to your diet plan and 10% of the time you can indulge in any temptation. Eating cheat meal in this way will not destroy your fitness goals. [13] [14]

The first thing you need to understand with this rule is that it’s cheat meal, not cheat day. For example, if you want to follow a diet plan that involves consuming five smaller meals during the day, then you will consume 35 meals a week. If you observe the 90/10 rule, you can include up to 3-4 cheat meals per week.  [5] [13] [14]

Cheat meal - what it is and how works "cheating" in boarding of athletes

Benefits of cheat meals

There is a big question mark over the benefits of cheat meals. Some argue that they should never be included in the diet because it is about taking “bad” calories. Others argue that occasional and especially well-planned cheating can bring several benefits. What are the facts about including cheat meals in your diet?

1. They regulate appetite hormones

The two hormones – ghrelin and leptin – play a huge role in how large and frequent our hunger feelings are. Leptin is known as appetite suppressant hormone, while ghrelin stimulates hunger. [10] [17]

Research has shown significant changes in leptin and ghrelin levels within 24 to 72 hours after adherence to a healthy diet. If you are on a calorie restricted diet, you may cause your leptin levels to fall and your ghrelin levels increase. After eating a healthy and smaller portion, your appetite will be increased, and you will not feel satisfied. [8]

By temporarily increasing calorie intake – through a cheat meal – the body can regulate the levels of these hormones, causing our appetite to be kept under control. One study has shown that leptin production can increase by almost 30 % for 24 hours after consuming a carbohydrate-rich meal, i.e. cheat butter. By including such meals in your diet, you can suppress the feeling of hunger and enhance the feeling of satisfaction from eating. [10] 

Cheat meal - what it is and how works "cheating" in boarding of athletes

2. They increase thyroid hormone production

When you are in a calorie deficit, your body produces fewer T3 and T4 hormones. These are iodinated amino acids that regulate gene expression in the body by similar mechanisms as steroid hormones. They are also essential for the thyroid gland to function properly. It is just cheat meals that are used to partially increase these hormones. [20]

3. They won’t disrupt your weight loss

Regular high-calorie diet and weight loss simply don’t go hand in hand. But, does the occasional consumption of a cheat meal sabotage an attempt to lose weight? In one study, the researchers divided 36 participants into two groups. One group was allowed to consume cheat meals and the other was not. Those who were allowed to cheat meals said they were better able to maintain their motivation and self-control by eating plan than those who ate a diet meal every day. Surprisingly, both groups lost almost the same amount of weight. [21] 

4. They are suitable for athletes

During exercise, the polysaccharide glycogen, which is found in the liver and muscles, is excreted from the body. It is important for controlling blood sugar levels and provides the muscles with the necessary energy. The easiest way to deplete glycogen is through exercise. To maximize glycogen levels in your muscles, you need to consume carbohydrates. [7] Sufficient amount of carbohydrates are many times found in cheat meals such as hamburgers or pizza. Eating them can help restore glycogen to the body.

In addition, exercise is also a great motivator in the diet, as it increases endorphins that promote a sense of well-being. Achieving a specific fitness goal can reward yourself with cheat food. Incentives like these can relieve you of hunger and allow you to have a more positive relationship to weight loss. [21]

Cheat meal - what it is and how works "cheating" in boarding of athletes

Read some more tips on how to supplement your eating plan with a cheat meal

  • Eat until you are satisfied, not until you are sated.
  • If you feel hungry after a meal, wait 20 minutes.
  • Ensure sufficient hydration.
  • Do not allow yourself to starve.
  • Share your favourite cheat meal with a friend.
  • Eat in peace and at your table. Do not eat while walking or working.
  • Do not allow the cheat meal to change to cheat days.
  • Don’t worry and enjoy a cheat meal. Physical activity can burn excess calories quickly. [11]

Your goal is to get rid of unhealthy foods, but you still need to get enough fats, proteins and carbohydrates. These are largely found in the cheat meal. Therefore, think about your cheating as a time when you are receiving “bad” protein, carbohydrates and fats. However, they are still nutrients without which your body cannot function properly. [16]  

Cheat meal - what it is and how works "cheating" in boarding of athletes

Choose quality food

However, even a cheat meal should not be a fatty super calorie bomb. If you have decided to cheat, try to find better alternatives to industrially processed foods. Do you want a cheeseburger? Choose one that is made from 100% natural hormone-free beef. Are you going to have a pizza? Try to prepare your dough at home to see what ingredients it contains. Do you love sweets and can’t give them up? Try to replace white flour with spelled or coconut flour when baking. Use xylitol or agave syrup instead of refined white sugar. [15]

Cheat meal - what it is and how works "cheating" in boarding of athletes

We hope you have learned all the necessary information about cheat meal in our article. Do you include cheat meal in your diet as well? Leave us your feedback in the comments. If you liked the article, make sure to support it by sharing.


[1] Evan M. Forman - A New Look at the Science of Weight Control: How Acceptance and Commitment Strategies Can Address the Challenge of Self-Regulation –

[2] Ferreira C - Physical appearance as a measure of social ranking: the role of a new scale to understand the relationship between weight and dieting. –

[3] Boggiano MM - Motives for eating tasty foods associated with binge-eating. Results from a student and a weight-loss seeking population. –

[4] Ansley Hill - Should You Have Cheat Meals or Cheat Days? –

[5] Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: How to eat a cheat meal like the star, and how much it’ll cost –

[6] Hillary B. Loper - Taste perception, associated hormonal modulation, and nutrient intake –

[7] Shin YK - Roles of hormones in taste signaling. –

[8] Alessandro Laviano -Changes in eating behavior, taste and food preferences and the effects of gastrointestinal hormones –

[9] Warren JM - A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. –

[10] Klok MD - The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. –

[11] Richard N. Fogoros, MD - What You Should Know About 'Cheat' Meals –

[12] Samantha Cassetty, RD - The do's and don'ts of cheat meals, according to nutrition experts –

[13] Obi Obadike - Ask The Ripped Dude: Cheat Meals Won't Stop You From Getting Diced –

[14] Justin Caba - The 90/10 Rule: Cheat Meals Actually Boost Your Metabolism And Help You Lose Weight –

[15] Chris Mohr, PHD, R.D. - How Cheat Days Affect Your Body, According to Experts –

[16] How many calories are in one gram of fat, carbohydrate, or protein? –

[17] Strohacker K - Adaptations of leptin, ghrelin or insulin during weight loss as predictors of weight regain: a review of current literature. –

[18] Fat: What You Need to Know –

[19] Kimberly A. Brownley, PhD - Binge-Eating Disorder in Adults –

[20] Amy Schroeder - The Ability of Thyroid Hormone Receptors to Sense T4 as an Agonist Depends on Receptor Isoform and on Cellular Cofactors –

[21] Rita Coelho do Vale - The benefits of behaving badly on occasion: Successful regulation by planned hedonic deviations –

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