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Can I Have A Cheat Meal?

I’ve addressed the  topic of the cheat meal before but I’m going to hit it again as cheat meals are a subject in constant circulation and often misunderstood and/or abused to frustrating results. You’ll find opinions all over the place but this one is mine based off personal experience and coaching others through their Beachbody programs.

So let’s break it down.

Can I Have A Cheat Meal?

There’s a few different thought groups on the whole “cheat meal” subject. There’s the open-armed “Cheat Meals are OK”, the moderate “Cheat Meals are OK when you hit your goals and are maintaining” (HDIGF falls into this camp) and the militant “Why would you want to put any crap in your body…EVER” ideals.

To be fair, the latter does have a point. Cheat meals are, in most cases, “junk food” meals loaded with excess fat, salt, sugar. All of which serve no real purpose other than to kind of wreak havoc with your system when ingested haphazardly or for simple indulgent pleasure (aka- I just had a good day… I deserve a triple fat fried ice cream burger). Many people, after having eaten clean and then trying donuts, milkshakes and fast food again feel a noticeable difference (IE- “I feel GROSS”) and simply choose to eat in a way that makes them feel better. Still, eating 100% clean 24/7, 365 days a year is a very elite and highly disciplined way of eating and one I don’t personally subscribe to (but applaud) in my eating habits right now.

Wait, right now? That’s right. When my goal was fat loss and getting real, eye-popping results, I was 100% committed. No cheat meals. Ever. Most of the people you see with amazing transformations did it the same way. Real results require real dedication. Now that I’m where I want to be aesthetically, I do enjoy a cheat meal here and there and it has no visual impact on my hard-fought results.  I’ve heard it said “To the victor goes the spoils” and that’s about right. When you win with your goals, your body becomes MUCH better at processing nutrition that might be avoided along your journey. Cheat meals become a luxury you can afford once or twice a week or so if you want them. Something to keep in mind about that program/goal finish line.

So…Why Can’t I Have A Cheat Meal?

It’s not that you can’t have a cheat meal. You can. In many cases you can build them into your nutrition and they won’t slow you down… but it’s just a question of which you want more right now– results or shoving your pie hole with pie.

Fact is, many people look at cleaning up their diet as deprivation- at least in the beginning. The idea of a “cheat meal” can keep people sane and in the mindset they’re not missing out on much because they can have it in moderation (moderation meaning once every one or two weeks, not once a day). That said, “Cheat Meals” (meals that have shady nutritional value) used as a “sanity check” are simply used to keep you psychologically tethered to a perceived sense of “normalcy” which may or may not evolve as you realize food does make a difference in how you feel and what you look like. IE- The cheat meal becomes a warm psychological blanket that may help you feel you’re not missing out when the cake gets passed around at the next family birthday party or Papa John’s delivers during the Big Game.

While I know people who’ve had great results while enjoying a cheat meal or two a week (MEAL, not DAY), they’ve been highly disciplined and focused and also in a muscle building framework where there’s some wiggle room for calories. But in general, I’m not saying you can’t have a cheat meal, just to keep a couple things in mind:

For the beginner, cheat meals have a bad habit of becoming an excuse. I know, I know. I sound like a joy killing, party pooping food nazi… but only because I’ve been there. I know there’s some wiggle room to ease yourself into a new healthy way of eating for fuel and results. But overall, I’ve seen one cheat meal justified into a cheat day or eating counter-productively justified as a cheat meal every single day, multiple times a day. Eating a burger and fries and milkshake every day isn’t “cheating” on a clean diet. It IS your diet. If you’re disciplined to a couple slices of pizza at a sitting once a week, you should be OK. But most people are not that disciplined when starting off. Act accordingly.


Cheat meals are often employed by those who’ve dialed in and killed their results (errr… The Rock as seen above) and manage them without setback. When you read about cheat meals, you’re usually seeing them referred to by body builders, fitness models and people who look the way they do for a living. They’ve achieved results and are extraordinarily disciplined in eating protein, a scoop of oats and lettuce for weeks at a time. You better believe they’ll take a cheat meal when that photo shoot or competition is over. And at that level of nutritional discipline (and in some cases, deficiency), enjoying a cheat meal is going to be like going over a speed bump at 60 miles per hour instead of 15. They’ll hardly feel it. But again- most people starting a program ARE NOT AT THIS LEVEL. Eating cheat meals opens the door to old habits before new habits have even formed.

Apply Cheat Meals Responsibly (90/10)

Look, I’m not a cheat meal hater. I love my occasional Papa Murphy’s pizza or Double Double “Animal Style” at In ‘n’ Out. But I DO want you to be honest with yourself. I don’t want you to get to your goal and think “If only I’d…” as I’ve seen happen too many times. Aside from expecting a miracle of losing 100 lbs. in 90 days, “I didn’t get the results I wanted” is often the result of being nutritionally dishonest.

Cheat meals can have their place.

For example, a lot of research and experience shows a 90/10 rule as working- 90% clean diet, 10% cheat. That means in a 30 day month of eating six meals a day, 18 of those 180 total meals can be “cheat” if you’re 100% on point with the other 90% of your nutrition (IE- 162 other meals you’ll eat).

BUT… I’d argue the pizza binge doesn’t have a place when you’re trying to get traction on starting a program like P90X, Insanity or the upcoming T25. The risks of self-sabotage and frustration are too great. You can make delicious food that will keep you from missing the crap you used to eat and you’ll feel all that much better and motivated to continue your journey without the cyclical guilt that comes from beating yourself up after eating junk as you strive for results.

The old adage applies here in full effect: “Don’t give up what you most for something you think you want now”. Cheat meals as a principle won’t kill you, but there’s a place and time for them. Knowing when that is will get you to where you want to be.

As I always say, no man/woman is a fitness island and success grows exponentially with support. Stay on track and receive personal tips and advice by adding me as your free coach right here. Together, we’ve got this! For reals! 

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