Fat Loss

Cheat Meal: Help or Hindrance for Fat Loss?

Cake, cake, cake, cake, cake… ooh baby I like it…

Before we dive in, lets ban “cheat meal” from our vocab, mmm’kay? We aren’t cheating because this isn’t a test, it’s real life. We are human and sometimes we need some damn cake! Can I get a witness??

The following is a great question that was just submitted to me by one of my nutrition clients who gave me her blessing to share this with you. 

Are there benefits in doing just a dessert vs a meal? Would I be better or worse off to have my weekly frozen yogurt treat as my cheat dessert but still have my on plan meals? I understand that it’s to shock my metabolism, but I wasn’t sure how much shock I need. Haha!” 

This topic is one that I’m asked about often. Interestingly enough, following a healthy and balanced nutrition plan is not typically a problem for my clients, but it’s the Off-Plan Meals that seems to trip them up the most, and with good reason! 
We bust our tail all week long and we want to make sure we don’t wipe out our progress in one swoop. 
Lets discuss the skinny on Off Plan Meals, also known as OPMs, or referred to by my nutrition coach as “indulgences”.

How often should I indulge?

If your goal is fat loss, once a week for a true indulgence is probably plenty. If you are prepping for a physique competition, that is a different story and it will be handled by Michael or I (or your own nutrition coach) on a case by case basis. 

What if I can’t last an entire week before I need to have something?

When this happens, try to have a little something that won’t completely derail you, but will satisfy the craving. If you are craving something sweet, have some fruit. Salty? A handful of salted nuts or a couple pieces of pastured and organic bacon. For something savory, have a sprinkle of organic cheese on your veggie omelet. These small things can help keep you from falling completely off the wagon, will satisfy cravings here and there, and will keep you progressing towards your goals. These little tricks should be used in moderation. If you are smothering everything in piles of cheese and bacon and gobbling mountains of nuts, I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you that behavior isn’t conducive with fat loss. 

How much should I eat for an OPM?

It’s a good idea to eat all of your meals as normal leading up to the meal, including protein, vegetables, and all. While some people like to fast up until the meal, I personally think this is a bad idea for most. “Saving up” for your meal, especially if you don’t normally fast, will have you racing into a restaurant so famished that you’ll dive headfirst into Colonel Clucker’s “Bottomless Alfredo” and likely won’t stop until they have to take you out on a gurney. I like to advise clients to limit their OPM to about 75 – 90 minutes. This prevents a single meal from turning into a half day food fest. 

When is the best time for an OPM?

Post-workout, fo sho. If you can manage to get it in immediately after you train – and there is no shame in my game as I’ve rocked my spandex in a nice steak joint – then great! If this isn’t possible, do your best to get the meal in on a training day, and preferably a tough one. Did somebody say “Lower body day”? 

Is there anything I shouldn’t have?

If you know for a fact that dairy, gluten, or whatever other food upsets your stomach, causes gas and/or bloating, or generally makes you feel like crap, then please avoid those. I always hear of people that say, for example, dairy is brutal on their stomach. The weekend rolls around and they indulge in ice cream and are totally miserable for the next few days. I refuse to believe that 30 minutes of ice cream munching is worth days of bloating, extreme water retention, joint pain, and/or acne, no matter what crazy flavor Ben or Jerry comes up with. 
If you don’t have any noticeable intolerances, then go ahead and enjoy whatever you’d like, but work on staying in tune with your body and stopping when you are about 80% full. Just because you get to enjoy, doesn’t mean it’s a free pass to go hog-wild (pun totally intended). 

Will a cheat meal shock my metabolism?

This whole “metabolism revving” thing tops the charts in my book as one of the most misunderstood concepts in the nutrition realm, and more often than not it is used as nothing more than an excuse by many to scarf down everything within reach once per week. “I’m doing it to rev my metabolism”, they say. 

Not so fast, my friend. Here is the deal. In order for a meal to jumpstart your metabolism, your metabolism must be downregulated in the first place which means you must be dieting! Most people think that they are dieting, when in all actuality, they most certainly are not. There is a huge difference between eating a clean and balanced meal plan and actually being in a deficit. You can easily eat clean (whatever your definition of that may be) and still be nowhere near a caloric deficit. In this case, while indulging in a meal once a week won’t hurt you, you don’t actually need it from a physiological standpoint. Make sense?
However, if you are dieting or following a ketogenic diet (only protein and fat) then yes, you can leverage these indulgences to keep you moving towards your goal.  You can, and probably should, have an Off Plan Meal or a refeed every 7 – 14 days to reset and restore Leptin and Ghrelin levels, aka, boost the metabolism. 

“I’m revving my metabolism.” – says everybody, always, while indulging.

The Psychological Benefits

Now for the golden goose. Regardless of whether my clients are dieting or not, I encourage them to have an Off Plan Meal once a week, if for nothing more than the psychological benefits. As I was saying above, we can follow a clean eating meal plan without being in a deficit, but that can be mentally taxing for some. Knowing you shouldn’t just throw a Pop-Tart into the toaster can make a meal plan feel more restrictive than it actually is. Some people like to enjoy treats and foods that aren’t in line with a healthy lifestyle more than others, but they make themselves refrain. This can wear a person out a bit and can take willpower, or more appropriately termed “I won’t” power, to battle through. Having a weekly meal of whatever they choose is important to these individuals – which I believe to be the majority – because it gives them something to look forward to and often strengthens their resolve to stay on track for another week. Just because something isn’t physiologically necessary, doesn’t mean it won’t have powerful psychological benefits, which can be just as important in any process.

My Rules for Off Plan Meals

  • Make sure it’s something that is worth it. If you don’t lah-lah-loooove it then what is the point?
  • Slow down, savor it, and enjoy every delicious morsel.
  • Move on. 

I want you to enjoy life to the fullest, which means having a healthy, strong bod and enjoying occasional treats, too! 


  • Reply
    October 29, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    I'm sure you meant 3 mins of eating ice cream…you don't really even chew;)

  • Reply
    Jodie Tennant
    October 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    Great article, thanks for the advice!

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    October 30, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    True! 30 minutes would probably mean about a gallon of ice cream down the hatch!

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    October 30, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    My pleasure! Glad you liked it!

  • Reply
    November 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    I like to save 'off plan meals' as you call them for after I've had some sort of exercise accomplishment of the week! Maybe its Running 4 miles without stopping. Maybe its for going to the gym 5 days in a row-or using a heavier kettlebell for all rounds of strength training at fitness bootcamp! I'm always able to enjoy it, and slowly! I know I shouldn't be rewarding myself with food, but i kinda like starting each week thinking 'what can I tell myself that I have to do to enjoy a cheat meal this week?' http://www.ultimateathleticfitness.com

  • Reply
    November 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Hey Jen, what are your thoughts on females that are above 20% BF, should they still benefit from having a cheat meal a week? Or should they actually stick to a clean eating plan and then have a cheat meal once a week when they are lean enough?

  • Reply
    November 6, 2012 at 8:06 am

    i nominated you for the inspiring blogger award!!

  • Reply
    November 7, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Great post! Makes me feel better about my weekend off plan meals! There was that little voice telling me that I could save more calories by skipping it…but the more I try to be "good", the more likely I am to crack I think. It's nice to be given permission! I also liked the advice not to fast. I think that's good for me too. Putting my treat foods in front of me after a fast doesn't tend to end well!

  • Reply
    December 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm


    I know you are a very busy lady, but I have to tell you how much I enjoy your blog and website. I think you have achieved a great balance as it comes to lifting, diet and life. Each aspect compliments the other to make our existence very fulfilling. All the female clients I train as well as the patients I see in the hospital who become interested in wellness (rather than recovery); I point them to you.

    I have two questions though:

    1. What shoes do you usually lift in? Do you have shoes for different lifts?
    2. What in your opinion is a reputable company to purchase protein powder from?

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    December 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Thank you so much Chelsea! That means a lot to me!

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    December 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Hi there!

    Thank you so much for the kind words, and I appreciate you referring my site to others! Finding balance between life and training/nutrition, as well as integrating them all into a happier life is my #1 goal, for both myself and others!

    I am a die-hard fan of New Balance Minimus shoes, particularly the MT10s. I lift in them, run sprints in them, etc etc.

    I'm a fan of True Nutrition for protein powder, although I rarely use it. I far prefer to get my nutrients from whole food sources.

    Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!

  • Reply
    Jen Comas Keck
    December 9, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    Hi Brooke!
    Please forgive my tardy response to your question.

    Yes, I still think females >20% bodyfat can benefit from an Off Plan Meal once per week. Having a treat does powerful things for us psychologically, and many of us need that to help strengthen our resolve to stay out of the treats for another week.
    Also, if you are in a caloric deficit, or eat low carb, an Off Plan Meal (or a higher carb day) is important to restore glycogen and to prevent the metabolism from down-regulation.

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