As a nutritionist, I have many clients who are extremely concerned over the temptation or the actual occurrence of having a cheat meal. Most ask if they have “ruined everything” and if they are forced to start over, or even worse, if they should just throw in the towel and try again another time. This extreme thinking over a nutrition plan slip-up may stem from the fact that many popular diets require one to start from square one if a piece (or even a bite) of cake at a birthday party occurs. This train of thought can lead to reluctance, and even anxiety when it comes to taking the first step to making a lifestyle change. There is misconception that proper nutrition has to be followed 100 percent of the time, and there is no wiggle room if you want to see results, but that can’t be further from the truth. You will see progress (and lots of it) if you adhere to your healthy eating plan and strategies most of the time, but not necessarily all of the time. There may be situations when a slip-up occurs or you even plan on a cheat meal due to a special occasion--acknowledge it, don’t feel guilty about it, and jump right back on the wagon.
Reality is we all have our cheat meals when there is a craving we can’t possibly combat or when we’re going to a restaurant for a special occasion--who wants to miss out on a unique food experience? As a nutritionist, I live by the 90/10 rule where 90 percent of my food consumption aligns with healthy eating habits, only allowing cheat items to be included in 10 percent of my food intake. For example, if one eats 2,000 calories per day, ten percent of those calories can be allocated to cheat foods which would be 200 calories. Cheat calories are optional and can provide some ease with regard to sticking to a long term plan—if you choose not to take them then more power to you!
The foods that I, personally, allocate to my own 90/10 rule to keep my weight, cholesterol, blood sugar, and triglycerides at healthy levels consist of the following macro-nutrient groups with corresponding foods:
Carbohydrate sources: Green vegetables, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, plain yogurt, nuts, squash, and sweet potatoes in moderation.
Protein sources: Poultry, meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, plain yogurt, nuts, seeds, and cottage cheese.
Fat sources: Avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, olives, salmon, and cheese in moderation.
I try not to have my 10 percent cheat every single day, but when I do, I aim to keep my cheat at a maximum of 150 calories since I typically consume 1500 calories per day. 150 calories of some of my preferred cheats equate to one medium-sized cookie, a half cup of ice cream, or half of a candy bar. This way I can get a few bites of something tasty after dinner when my sugar cravings tend to hit, without going overboard and ruining my nutrition plan.
Now I know that 150 calories doesn’t seem like a lot and it isn’t--that’s why a theoretical everyday cheat works, because the amount is so small. If you’re interested in a complete cheat meal, I recommend one per week since a true junk food dish averages around 1500-2000 calories and that would equate to around 150-200 calories per day, combined into one for the week. I also get asked about “cheat days” where one eats whatever his/her heart desires for one day per week while sticking to a nutrition plan for the other six. I advise against this method as a full day of calorie-ridden meals can really create a set back and lead to an unhealthy and excessive relationship with food.
If controlling your cheat portions to 10 percent of your total calorie intake does not sound realistic to you, you’re not alone! That’s why we have formulated medical grade weight loss progress which surely taste like you’re cheating but you’re not. All of our Doctor’s Weight Loss snacks and supposed “cheats” are still low in carbohydrates and sugar, which is key to weight loss. My favorite one is here and if you like Reese’s peanut butter cups, you won’t be disappointed. Check out all of our other weight loss-friendly “cheats” here for sweet treats that don't pack on the pounds!