Cheat Meals. Are They Worth It?

Cheat meals. Are they worth it?

You cannot out-train a jam doughnut!

That may sound like a silly saying that triggers a smile, but there is no greater truism when it comes to our nutrition.

This is the ‘secret’ that separates the best from the average, the successful from the almost successful, and the toned from the not-so-toned. Another, slightly more direct way of saying it is: “a toned midsection is built in the kitchen” or “you are what you eat”.

Hopefully we’ve now established that losing fat, being toned and sporting that dream body comes down to diet, assisted by intelligent, safe and effective training. However, it is discipline in the kitchen that remains the number one determining factor when it comes to the efficacy of a healthy, fit lifestyle.

But diets are boring, right?

After all, we’re not all Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson or a budding Masterchef who can turn the most boring of dishes into taste sensations. As such, eating bland chicken breasts, rolled oats and broccoli 24/7, 365 is seldom fun. Or is it? Many would argue that it is a case of cost versus benefit: how badly do you want a bikini-ready physique? Hopefully more than you want that cheesecake.

Our verdict: Basically, look at these numbers and then decide whether it is worth it.

Here are a few comparisons of common cheat foods:  what they contain, the “damage” they could do and what  you need to do, exercise-wise, to reverse that damage.

McDonald’s McFlurry with Oreo cookies, regular size 286g (10,1Oz)


Calories from fat: 153
Total Fat: 17g
Saturated Fat: 9g
Trans Fat: 0,5g
Cholesterol: 45mg
Sodium: 280mg
Total Carbs: 80g
Dietary Fibre: 1g
Sugars: 64g
Protein: 12g
Calcium: 400mg

[/one_third] [one_third]  Cheat meals[/one_third] [one_third_last]

To work it off: One regular sized McFlurry would need about 73 minutes of moderate cycling on a stationary bike


Regular Peperoni Pizza  – 1 Slice 65g (2,3Oz)


Calories from fat: 90

Total Fat: 10g
Saturated Fat: 4,5g
Trans Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 25mg
Sodium: 700mg
Total Carbs: 21g
Dietary Fibre: 1g
Sugars: 4g
Protein: 9g

[/one_third] [one_third]  Pizza calories[/one_third] [one_third_last]To work it off: For one slice of pizza you would need to do 25 minutes of mountain biking or 36 minutes of boxing. And that’s just for 1 slice – remember there’s 8 slices in a box [/one_third_last]


Strategic Eating

There is a popular technique proposed by experts in the fitness industry known as strategic cheating. The theory here (and practice among their clients is the proof in the pudding – to use an inappropriate idiom) is that when on a calorie-restricted diet your body goes into ‘famine mode’. In other words, your leptin levels taper off and eventually drop to very low levels. The strategic cheat meal spikes these leptin levels, which theoretically puts you back into fat-loss mode and the fat melts off. It is a way of beating plateaus, which we’ve all experienced.
Leptin is a hormone that controls satiety. It is secreted by fat cells and primarily performs a signalling role, ‘telling’ the brain when fat stores reach a certain level so that the hunger response can be turned off. As such, leptin works to prevent the body from storing excessive fat by controlling hunger. If your leptin level is low your body tends to store food as fat, and you don’t feel satisfied easily.


It is clear to see how this strategic cheat can be abused. Accordingly a point will be reached where cheating becomes a habit and all the hard gains are undone in a few uncontrolled meals. Furthermore, personal trainers who prescribe this type of eating plan have a plan themselves – and their single cheat meal may be strategically spaced a week or two apart.
The reality here is that the truth will likely be in the tape measurements as you and your trainer get to know your body and how it reacts. There has to be a lot of discipline with this approach, and even then it is not a free ticket to go out and get the worst junk food one can find. More often than not cheat meals will be a cheesy pasta, or a rack of ribs and mashed potato and not a Big Mac with fries. After all, you want to spike leptin levels without eating hollow calories and undo all your hard work.


Many people don’t have personal trainers though, in which case it is of paramount importance that they educate themselves about cheat meals, and just how much damage poor eating, when done willy nilly, can do to their diet and weight-loss efforts. On the other hand, being educated about what you’re ingesting, how to deal with it and work it off will go a long way to helping you decide whether that ice cream is worth it or not – and only you know the answer and whether you have the capacity and willpower to cheat or stay faithful to your eating plan.

What the experts say

Prof. Tim Noakes of the Sports Science Institute speaks about the brain being pivotal in weight loss. According to him, someone cannot lose weight if they are hungry. Why? Because they will eat. It is quite easy to see how this can relate to cheat meals. Sure, having meals pre-planned can help offset this, but is that enough?

Author: Tanja Schmitz

Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.

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