5 Ways to Enjoy a Cheat Meal Without Feeling Guilty

Your diet doesn’t have to be perfect—the occasional splurge may even boost weight loss.

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We’ve always been told cheating—on tests, relationships and taxes—is wrong. Cheating on your diet, however, may be a step in the right direction if you’re looking to slim down.

Research suggests a short break from healthy eating may not be as bad for weight loss as you think. In fact, the occasional indulgence may even help you achieve your goals.

Don’t dive headfirst into a bowl of ice cream or a family-sized bag of chips just yet. Aja Stokes, RD with Fairview Park Hospital reveals the best ways to cheat without totally blowing your diet. 

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Plan Your Cheat Meal

Cheating too often can derail your dieting efforts, but one cheat day a week probably won’t hurt you. It’s important to plan ahead, so you won’t be tempted by unhealthy meals. You may even want to relegate your unhealthy eating to the weekend, when you’re more likely to go out with family and friends.

Pro tip: If you know you’re having an unhealthy meal for dinner, fill up on lean protein and veggies for breakfast and lunch. 

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Practice Moderation

No foods should be off limits according to Stokes: “My motto is ‘everything in moderation.’ I don't necessarily have entire cheat days, but my cheats are dispersed throughout every day,” she says.   

Her favorite occasional indulgences? Chocolate chip cookies, mocha-flavored iced coffee and sweet tea.

There may be some benefit to cheating on your diet. One study suggests participants who ate a low-calorie diet six days a week and enjoyed a cheat day on the seventh day were much happier than those who ate a moderate and consistent number of calories every day for the duration of the study. There was almost no difference in the amount of weight lost between the two diets.

Stokes agrees: “For somebody who's dieting, I think that at least one cheat day a week is important,” she says.

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Bulk Up Your Cheat

One of many problems with most junk food is that it’s not very filling. That means you often eat way more than you should just to feel sated. Avoid overdoing the unhealthy stuff by pairing your “cheat” with a low-calorie, fiber-rich and nutritious side, like veggies or a green salad.

Veggies are nutritionally dense, delivering a ton of nutrients with very few calories. A cup of raw spinach is packed with vitamins A and K, and contains just seven calories. Toss in some bell pepper, cucumber and cherry tomatoes, and enjoy a wholesome bowl of salad alongside your cheeseburger.

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Stay Hydrated

Hydration is key to your overall health and body’s function. On a cheat day, it’s even more important. The amount of water you need depends on a few things: age, gender, activity level, environment and certain health conditions.   

Water is essential for the proper function of your entire body. Plus, it can help fill you up and encourage you to eat less. Results from one study even suggest those who drink more water consumed fewer calories throughout the day. At times, our bodies can even mistake a sense of thirst for that of hunger, driving us to reach for a slice of pie instead of what we really need—water. To avoid overdoing your cheat, drink a big glass of water before chowing down.

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Bounce Back

Part of having a successful cheat is knowing your limits. “Cheating should be individualized,” says Stokes. “You have to figure out if you can cheat and go right back to the regimen the next day.”  

There are some proven ways to practice self-control and bounce back after a binge. The best:

  • Don’t wallow in yesterday’s indulgences
  • Stay hydrated
  • Get your body moving
  • Plan healthy meals
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Healthy Indulgences

For some, eating well after a cheat meal isn’t all that easy. Those who find it hard to get back on track may consider guilt-free foods that taste like a treat, like fruit. “Fruits are naturally sweet, so you’re not eating the man-made sugar you’d get in pastries and baked items,” says Stokes. But, don’t overdo it. Fruits, like anything else, contain calories and ought to be enjoyed in healthy portions.

If it’s self-control you lack, prepackaged, 100 calorie snacks may be a good option. Stokes recommends pre-portioned versions of classic cookies like Oreo thins and Chips Ahoy! thins.

Healthy foods that taste like cheating:  

  • Frozen grapes
  • Baked potato wedges
  • Banana “nice” cream
  • Cauliflower mashed potatoes


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