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10 Tips for Surviving a “Cheat” Meal

Before we get into how we like to plan for and manage a “cheat” meal, let me first say we HATE the word cheat. Cheating implies you did something you shouldn’t have. Something dishonest or unfair. It’s often layered with guilt or regret and our unofficial theory is that guilty calories go straight to your hips. Instead of calling it a “cheat”, start thinking of it as a “planned indulgence”- a meal where you have planned to enjoy one or two things that wouldn’t normally be part of your everyday eating. It’s one of life’s most important pleasures and all part of taking care of your body and psyche.

Indulgence meals can be holidays or special occasions (Mother’s Day brunch, a graduation party, etc), or perhaps a well deserved date night with your spouse, or baking a special cake with your child. The most important thing is that they’re meaningful to you and thoroughly enjoyed.

Our Top Ten Tips for Surviving a Cheat Meal-


  1. Notice we said Meal- not DAY. Cheat DAYS are a recipe for disaster. A whole day of off plan eating can be hundreds of grams of sugar, thousands of calories, not to mention a ton of other garbage that you’ve worked all week to eliminate. This should be a normal meal with a few treats layered in- not an off the rails, all-you-can-eat junk fest.
  2. Don’t eat it because “that’s what you eat on Easter/Christmas/whatever” . This Easter we had other health-minded friends over. No one wanted ham, deviled eggs or greasy casseroles— none of us particularly like them. So instead we made several huge salads, grilled shrimp and chicken. Our kids asked for LEGOs in their eggs. A small plate of good french Macarons from the local bakery, organic popsicles for the kids and some wine for the grownups was our indulgence of choice. Best Easter ever.
  3. Eating food you don’t want is still wasting it. Just because you ordered that huge dessert as your treat, doesn’t mean you have to finish it. Take a bite or two and pause- a few bites is usually enough to satisfy you. If not, so be it, but go slowly and listen to your body. Never finish for the sake of finishing- you are not the family dog.
  4. Crowd out your cravings. Chances are if you’ve been on a pretty clean diet, there are healthy options that appeal to you on the menu as well. Fill up on those first- a salad, some simple shrimp cocktail or broth based soup. Filling your stomach with nourishing foods first helps crowd out the desire to fill up on junk. And pay attention to how you feel the next day after a cheat! Your body may not be so happy if you’ve overindulged.
  5. Balance, balance, balance. Your meal should not be a decadent fried appetizer, pile of pasta, and loaded brownie sundae. First of all, you’ll feel awful the next day, second of all, you’ll derail all your hard work. Pick one or two indulgences that you feel will satisfy you. Maybe a crisp vodka soda and a few bites of an amazing flourless chocolate cake will hit the spot, especially with a seared salmon and veggie entree. Or some seaside fish tacos when you’re on vacation- hold the cheese but treat yourself to some fresh guac. Be mindful of what you eat for the other meals that day and go a bit lighter than normal- but not too light! You don’t want to be ravenous when you sit down for your treat meal.
  6. Watch the Booze. Alcohol can be a wonderful treat, but it also lowers inhibitions, which can lead to willpower and good intentions going out the window. Skip the sugary mixers and stick to cleaner drinks like tequila or vodka with soda and lime.
  7. Do your research! Read the menu ahead of time and decide what sounds perfect and how you can modify it to satisfy but not be too crazy. Leave off any unnecessary junk that isn’t important to your enjoyment. A pasta dish may still satisfy you if you ask for gluten free, and double the vegetables. Leave off extras like cheese, candied nuts, crema, etc. If it’s something you really want to have a taste of, ask for it on the side so you can eat exactly how much will satisfy.
  8. Order only what you want! Get an appetizer as your entree and a side salad if you’re not that hungry. Split something with a friend. Ask for a half portion, or if that’s not possible ask them to plate half and wrap up half to go.
  9. The food isn’t going anywhere. Occasionally there will be a once-in-a-lifetime food moment- like a fresh croissant on top of the Eiffel Tower on your honeymoon. Most times, however, you’ll have another opportunity to have that treat you’re craving. So don’t feel like you need to order everything you’ve been dreaming of. Pick one or two treats. Save the others for another time.
  10. ENJOY IT- GUILT FREE. Savor every moment and every bite! An indulgence is only worth it if you really experience it. Go slow!

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