It’s happened again -- you “cheated” on your diet.
You’re overworked, under-rested, and way too stressed, and (inevitably), you ate something, not on your nutrition plan and completely blew your diet for the day.
Relax, it happens to all of us. Even the most diligent dieters and the “cleanest” of the clean eaters have slip-ups on occasion.
And we’re here to help you figure out what to do when you cheat on your diet.
But first, let’s discuss...
Why Are You Cheating on Your Diet?
It’s said that with knowledge comes power, and in this case, the knowledge you seek is to understand why you cheat on your diet.
By understanding the stressors, situations, and triggers that cause you to cheat, you’ll be better equipped the next time a similar situation arises, and you’ll (hopefully) know what to do to stop yourself from cheating on your diet.
Food is comforting, and it certainly can help us to feel better. However, when we become stressed, food shouldn’t be the thing we turn to for the solution to our problems.
Avoiding future cheats and food binges we first must identify what causes us to feel stressed and seek out high-calorie, hyper-palatable foods.
Is it work that leads us to feeling stressed? Perhaps a taxing relationship? Or could it be that we’re just not getting enough rest at night?
Or, might it be that the current diet you’re on is just a bit too restrictive, leading you to feel malnourished and deprived?
Any and all of these things can cause us to go off of our diet plan and cheat.
Identifying your triggers is the first step to avoiding future cheats. Once you’ve identified the stressor, you can take steps to correct the underlying cause.
If work is stressing you out, maybe talk to some co-workers or a supervisor about restructuring or reorganizing your workload. If it’s family or a close relationship that’s bothering you, perhaps you reach out to the person(s) and work towards a common ground.
And, if it’s your diet that is serving as the source of your stress, the next thing you need to figure out is why your diet is causing you so much stress.
Do you not enjoy the foods you are “allowed” to eat? Have you been told that certain foods are “good” or “bad”?
Is the only way to experience a moderate amount of relief is to gorge yourself with “naughty” foods?
If you answered yes to these questions, then perhaps it’s time that you took a good hard look at your diet and tweaked things a bit.
Having such a black-and-white view of foods as “good” or “bad” can frequently lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and lead to binges followed by days of deprivation (starvation) as you must punish yourself for doing something “wrong.”
However, instead of taking such a jaded view of food, realize that no single food is unilaterally good or bad.
Furthermore, we need to remove the concept of “cheating” from dieting. When you say that you “cheat” on your diet, it implies that you’re doing something wrong or bad and that eventually you must account for it.
When you eat something off of your plan, perhaps you should consider it a “reward meal” for a week’s worth of hard work in the gym and in the kitchen. After all, you’re putting in the work day in and day out to exercise hard and eat right, so why not reward yourself with a delicious meal at the end of the week.
Now, let’s discuss what to do the next time you do go off the rails a bit from your nutrition plan...
How to Bounce Back After Cheating on Your Diet
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
You ate something not on your nutrition plan for one meal.
Yes, you read that right.
It’s ok that you deviated from your nutrition plan.
There’s no need to beat yourself up, go into downward spiral of doom and gloom, or starve yourself the rest of the day or the next day.
We all veer off course from time to time.
The important thing is to not let one high-calorie meal completely wreck your good habits for the rest of the day or week.
Accept that you ate something off of your nutrition plan, own it, and then move on. There’s much bigger things in life to focus on than one meal.
Remember nobody ever became overweight from a single meal, just like no one built a stunning physique in a single workout.
The fastest way to get back on track with your healthy eating plan is to leave the binge in the past and just move on.
Resume Normal Habits at the Next Meal
Following up on the previous point, part of accepting your cheat meal and moving on is to resume your normal healthy eating habits at your next meal.
There’s no need to deprive yourself entirely of food for the rest of the day, but you may want to reduce portion sizes just a bit to account for the extra calories you ate earlier.
One way to approach your daily diet is to treat it like a bank account. Every day you start with a set calorie allowance, and every meal, snack, or protein shake you consume during the day “withdraws” calories from your balance.
If, at the end of the day, you have 100-200 calories left over, and don’t feel all that hungry, then “bank” them for the next day in your “savings” account.
If you end up banking 100 calories or so a few days a week, you could have an extra 300-500 calories in savings, which will help limit any fat gain from those high-calorie reward meals you may have during the weekend.
Additionally, by taking this broader view of calorie intake (weekly versus daily), you help shift the focus of weight loss (and weight gain) from a micro (daily) to macro (weekly) view.
When you adopt this mindset, you realize that one cheat meal won’t automatically put 10 pounds of fat on your body just as one workout won’t put 10 pounds of muscle on your body.
Remember, changing your physique takes days, weeks, and months of diligent effort with proper nutrition and training.
Cheat meals are often high in carbohydrates, which the body uses to fill up glycogen stores.
What better way to put that cheat meal to good use than by going extra hard in your workout?!
For high-intensity exercise like resistance-training or sprinting, the body primarily relies on glycogen.
Since your glycogen stores are topped off, you have ample energy stores to have a phenomenal workout.
Besides, who says you have to go to the gym to workout. Why not take your workout outside for some hill sprints, playground workouts, or bodyweight workouts in the park?
Exercise doesn’t always have to be in a gym, though it certainly can be.
The main thing is to just get moving and put those extra calories to use by doing any type of physical activity that gets your heart rate elevated and your muscles burning.
Maybe those extra calories will do some good and bring about some new gains in the process?
Experiment with Intermittent Fasting
We’ll caveat this by saying that this approach should only be used by those who have a healthy relationship with food. If you’re prone to bouts of binging and starvation, intermittent fasting is not something to try as it will just feed further into the binge and starve mentality.
However, if you do have a good relationship with food, intermittent fasting is something to consider trying.
When you fast, you are purposefully choosing to go without food for a brief, designated period of time. Once the fast is over, you resume your NORMAL eating habits.
It’s important that you understand that intermittent fasting is not the same as starvation fad diets.
When we fast, we ramp up fat burning and allow our bodies to utilize the extra calories eaten at previous meals (i.e. stored body fat) for fuel.
For example, let’s say you went out with the gang on Friday night had a few too many sushi rolls for dinner. If you want to experiment with fasting, simply skip breakfast on Saturday morning and eat your regular lunch and dinner after that.
You’ll be back on track with your regular nutrition plan and none the worse for wear from your epic night of sushi eating.
How to Prevent Overeating
When you plan and prepare your meals for the week, you know exactly what you are eating and when you are eating it. By maintaining a regular eating schedule, you help maintain steady blood sugar (energy) levels, which is key to avoiding cheat meals and binges.
When you do go out to eat, do some homework and check out the menu and nutrition information for the restaurant you’re going to.
Most restaurants these days provide a rough estimate of how many calories and macros are in their different meals. By knowing what you want to order at the restaurant, you can restructure the rest of your diet to allow for the calories. Therefore, come the end of the day, you’re still within your daily budget and don’t have to freak out about eating too many calories.
Consume Enough Protein
Protein is an essential macronutrient that supplies our body with the building blocks (amino acids) it needs to build and repair tissues.
Protein is also delicious and it’s the most satiating macronutrient of the lot, which means that it helps keep us feeling fuller for longer periods of time. Every meal you eat should contain a complete source of protein (such as whey protein, chicken, fish, eggs, etc.).
Consuming enough dietary protein helps build and protect muscle tissue when dieting, and helps keep us from getting overly hungry in between meals.
Consume Enough Fiber
Fiber is the indigestible portion of carbohydrates naturally occurring in plants that serve as “food” for our gut bacteria. Besides that, fiber also helps keep us full after a meal.
Research has shown that consuming fiber-rich foods like beans, whole grains, fruits, and veggies helps increase satiety and reduces the urge to overeat.
Take Your Time Eating
It takes between 20-30 minutes after eating for your brain to register that you’re full and have had enough to eat.
If you’re someone who likes to shovel down their food as quickly as possible and be on with the rest of your day, it’s very likely that you will end up overeating.
By taking your time, practicing a bit of mindfulness, and savoring every bite of food, you’ll help prevent overeating and most likely derive greater pleasure and satisfaction from your meal.
Know Your Limits
When you decide to have a cheat or reward meal, set some boundaries. Keep your “cheating” to a single meal, not a cheat day or a cheat weekend. One meal, that’s it.
Many dieters assume that because they dieting hard all week, they can eat whatever they want on the weekends and still lose weight. Unfortunately, it is entirely possible to derail a whole week’s worth of dieting by a single weekend of horrible eating.
If you want to be able to “have your cake and eat it too” (meaning enjoy some “cheat” foods and still lose weight), keep your indulgences within reason -- one meal.
Cheating on one’s diet is something we have all done before. It’s natural.
The fact that you cheated on your diet isn’t as important as understanding why you felt the need to cheat in the first place.
Use the tips and pointers in this article to help avoid cheating on your diet in the future and continue you on your path to weight loss success.
- Geliebter, A., Grillot, C. L., Aviram-Friedman, R., Haq, S., Yahav, E., & Hashim, S. A. (2015). Effects of oatmeal and corn flakes cereal breakfasts on satiety, gastric emptying, glucose, and appetite-related hormones. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 66(2–3), 93–103. https://doi.org/10.1159/000365933