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Calorie Count Blog

The New Cheat Meal: Planning a "Break" from Dieting

By +Carolyn Richardson on Mar 31, 2012 10:00 AM in Dieting & You

You have calorie counts, workouts, food diary’s, weight logs and every other manner of diet lingo in your head from the day you start trying to drop pounds. From time to time, your mind needs a break. Because extreme diet restrictions are hard to maintain for the rest of your life, planning to indulge goes along with keeping healthier habits. Here are three widely used ways to stick to your new healthy habits without missing out on food that may be less than healthy. While it is important to note that research has shown that dieters who stick to their regimen across the week and year maintain their weight loss better than those who don't, planning a break can help you get back into a groove instead of giving up on a healthy lifestyle. 

The 80/20 Rule

You may have heard this attributed to days, whereby you eat healthy 5 days a week and take the weekends off, but the 80-20 rule has a number of iterations. You can set your diet to include only 20% processed foods with all else fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, only eat 80% of the food on your plate to control portions, or aim for feeling only 80% full before you stop eating at meals. All of these strategies are meant to help you learn to stop to control overeating or overindulging. Once you put this rule into place, it may turn into a habit.

Weekends Only

You may have heard of taking the weekends off, but that doesn’t mean you eat without abandon. More sensible ways to take a break during weekends can ease the administration and time it takes to create healthy habits. That means reverting that time to releasing stress and enjoying relaxation. While maintaining healthy eating, you can lay off logging every meal on the weekends and log them on Mondays. You might also leave weekends for light workouts or relaxation after hard workouts during the week. Weekends can also be the only days you eat outside of your kitchen. Another strategy for weekends only is only having one drink on each weekend day. Others also try only having dessert for dinner on weekends.

Free Meals

Unlike the entire weekend, free meals are only to be enjoyed once in a day. We won't call it a cheat meal, but you planned it, are cognizant of what you're doing, and you're aware of the consequences of your actions. If you do not plan to log the calories in your free meals, I’d suggest only one free meal a week. Your favorite dish at a restaurant could do a terrible job on your caloric deficit, so practice portion control with only half a dessert or only one glass of a sugary beverage you might like. You can also split up your free meal by having dessert one day a week, one beverage of your choice on a separate day, and a hearty dish on another. 

Serving Size or 100-calories Only

No, I’m not talking about eating those small packages of candy. One study showed that consumers actually eat enough of those to make up for eating a whole candy bar. What I am talking about is limiting certain high-calorie foods to one serving a day to ensure you stay within your daily caloric limit. You may have heard of discretionary calories, 260 to be exact in a 2000-calorie-a-day diet. That’s a little over 10% of your daily energy intake if you’re eating less calories. Whether it’s chips, chocolate or cheese, stick to one serving or 100 calories of certain processed foods. If the rest of your plate is whole foods, not only will you meet your daily nutritional needs, you’ll also have some calories to spare for a free meal sometime this weekend, that is 80% of one.

If specific foods are your issue, here are more Strategies to Indulge.

Your thoughts…

How do you splurge, but stay in control while eating high-calorie foods?


I do not deprive myself of what I want to eat. I just have much smaller portions and count the calories. I have diabetes and growing up I was told no sugar. This made me sneak sweets. I would say NO to a piece of cake but later eat a whole cake. Now with CC I write down what I ate and take ownership of it!

On Fridays we enjoy going to our favorite Mexican Restaurant
and relaxing after the work week and getting ready for the weekend chores and
fun stuff. Growing up in the southwest we were practically raised on Mexican
food and really love it. So this has become my free meal. I have made some
modifications. I limit the number of before dinner chips to four. I substitute
the cheese taco with guacamole. I don’t drink the margaritas or the beer. I log
my calories. It is a planed thing and works for me.  

i tried extreme dieting. then i did lose weight. but i hurt my body. and i started to crave for sweets after a week. now i have decided i will not hurt myself. i will not be deprived. now i added some dark chocolates in my diet, while counting the calories. and also some sweet fruits and i feel much better still loosing weight :)

My approach is similar to Marilee's ... on Friday's my family and I typically go out for Mexican food as well.  I limit the number of before dinner chips and have 1 to 2 beers (I'm not the driver by the way).  My meal will consist of grilled chicken, black beans, rice, guacamole, and salad.

In addition to allowing myself a cheat meal, I take a break from 6 day per week workout routine every 90 days.  I usually try to align this around a vacation or visit with family/friends.  This allows the body a recovery period and I come back ready to start a new/modified workout program.

It's all about perception of "cheating"... if you feel like you have earned it, then do it. If you don't feel like you've earned it, then don't do it. Sometimes the remorse of eating an undeserved snack can cause a person to feel like they have let themselves down again and once those feelings start back can quickly find yourself in a downward spiral that ends with a low self image... that leads to a 2% milk mustache and a missing row of double stuff Oreos...that leads to a lower self image....that leads to a...(you get the point :) I only cheat if I honestly feel like I have maintained a high enough activity level to prevent that snack from having any impact on my fat loss goals whatsoever. Then I know it can truly be guilt free. It's all about keeping a positive perception afterwards and convincing yourself that this "cheat" is not actually you going back to your old habits.

I don't consider myself on a diet and thus need no breaks.  I am thinking, "If it is not a lifestyle change that I can not sustain for a very very long time, it is not going to work.".  I work with portion control and emotional eating, rather than reducing or eliminating foods.  Obviously in general I try to have a healthy eating habit.  If I have an off day I still take account what I ate and activity level.  If I have multiple off days then that is a red flag and have to refocus.  The only part of this lifestyle change I would see changing over time is counting calories.  My hope is that over time this would become second nature without actually noting everything down.

About twice a month I have a splurge meal. Most of the time it is two pieces of stuffed crust pizza from pizza hut. But for toppings I have mushrooms, banana peppers and olives, not the meat. I have also had some other food that ordinarily I don't eat at all. Usually if I want a bite of a piece of cake or something else like that I just do it and count the calories. I keep dark chocolate Hersey kisses and when I want something with chocolate I eat two (40 calories). Once I decided to have an order of fried oysters for my splurge meal and discovered it wasn't that bad, didn't even mess up my calories for that day. But as a lifestyle I don't eat fried foods, or foods with sugar and enriched flour in them. I have been doing this for two years and really don't feel deprived. I also went off salt because of my BP, and I use to really crave salt, but now I really don't. It takes time to get use to eating healthy, but you do get use to it. I use to feel like I deserved to treat myself with food, but finally realized it was a trap. I now realize I deserve to take care of myself and just changing that mindset really helped.

For me it's about feeling like ive splurged more then really doing it. Because bread is a real weakness for me I stay away from it totally, but on a comfort food day I might have a slice of super healthy bread. Adding a half tbsp. of real butter and a little no sugar added jelly "seems" like a naughty treat when in truth is really not. I also keep a bag of bittersweet 60% cocoa chips tucked away. I can have 16 in a serving when a sweet craving hits hard. I like to sit down to watch a favorite show and just suck on one at a time. As for working out, I try to take only one day off a week. I look at the week ahead and pick the day that may just be too full to fit in a trip to the gym or the day I just want to take a break to rest. When I do plan to have a "let it all go and eat whatever I want day" I work out twice that day. Once during my regular morning trip to the gym and then back again with my hubby at night. It not only helps me burn off the extra calories, but it reminds me just how special and how pricey those kind of meals really are.

I really like what yaklilu said! I am finally losing weight and am not feeling deprived. That is because I am NOT on a diet. I have made a change in my life style. I have lost 20 pounds in the last 3 months and have a minimum of 90 to go. I yoyo-ed all my life until I finally weighed 267. I finally got my first grandchild 2 years ago. After spending 3-4 days a week with him, I realize just how much I want to see him grow up. I was once told by a healthcare provider that I would not have a problem losing weight when it was important enough to me.

After completing the Whole30 challenge and being strict for 39 days, I had a cheat meal. Although it was yummy, my belly could not handle it. Now I am afraid to put anything non-paleo into my body...if I do want another cheat meal should I just do little portions?

I agree with yaklilu too, Maree! I've chosen not to look at occasional indulgences as specified 'cheat' days. Cheating connotes doing something wrong or bad. I have noticed that opportunities to eat indulgently comes along frequently enough without having to plan for it. If I were to have a milkshake, whopper w/cheese, fries and then top it off with a fruit pie--THAT would be wrong, bad, CHEATING (for me)!   Because it is not following my new healthy lifestyle commitment. But, I may choose to have a few fries now and then or even a small shake, but it is manageable and able to incorporate into my weekly calorie allotment.   When I do eat something I shouldn't or too much of it, I cut back somewhere else and/or tack on a little more exercise to compensate for the extra calories.  If going out to eat is part of your experience, I see no problem with 'arranging' your calories to accommodate that. 

In the past (20+ yr) I went on a 'diet' and lost 112 lbs. But, when I reached my goal I realized I craved certain foods (like chocolate) and would go into a frenzy trying to feed the crave---don't do that---feed your crave now but do it in moderation and figure it into your calories. Back then, I regained all my weight in less time than it took me to lose it. Talk about feeling like a failure . . .  It has to be a LIFESTYLE change or it is going to be impossible to maintain. 

We all have different methods to accommodate our cravings, as the article points out offering 'suggested' ways to do that. 

I think the big picture here is learning how to stay in control while enjoying our food whims, while not letting the food control us.

Wow I'm glad this was posted. :)

For me, I definitely don't deprive myself at all. If I want like say, a cookie, I'll eat it, but I'll have to work it in to my daily calorie limit.

Also I don't diet on the weekends. Never have, and I've still lost a lot of weight. I don't go on crazy binges, I still try to eat healthy, I just don't count the calories.

I don't have cheat days either.  That's just cheating myself, no sense in that.

I do plan for large meals out.  I eat a light breakfast, light lunch, and fruit snacks in between.  I drink a glass of water before we leave.  I carry my own to go container.  I put half my meal in there right away, except any veggies or salad.  If we're at our favorite pie restaurant, I'll have a slice, but bring half home for a treat another day.  Luckily, their lowest calorie pie is coconut cream, which I love, my half a slice is plenty and just 180 calories.   My hubby gets more decadent pies, and I'm happy just taking a bite of his.

After several months of lowering salt and sugar, my palate (and stomach) can't take more than a bite or two of decadence.

If you truly change your eating lifestyle, you become accustomed to it.

I thought I was missing pizza ... we ordered one a few weeks ago.  I had two medium slices.  My body bloated from the sodium for 2 days, my stomach cramped for hours.  I guess only my taste buds were missing it, my body certainly wasn't!

I heard this advice and really like it.  If you make a decision to treat yourself, just don't bring it home.  For example: I am not a big sweet eater but if it is around, especially cookies, I will eat them until they are gone.  Later today I may go to a favorite candy shop and buy ONE of piec of dark-chocolate.

I do the same with chocolate chips, only I keep them in the freezer and I also suck on them one at a time as a snack.  I budget not so weight friendly foods into my calorie budget when I want them so I can have anything I really want , I just have to ask myself, is it worth it and do I REALLY want it.

I really have to laugh when people say they are on a diet! We are all on diets some have "bad diets" and some have "good diets". I've been on the good diet for 110 pounds now. Take the word diet out of your vocabulary and just concentrate on eating healthy and you're half way there! Read up on the ingredients in your foods, getting rid of them and eating foods from a more natural state has really helped. I gave up the "0" calorie sodas ages ago along with all the fake calorie less sugars, one of the side effects of the calorie free sugars is it makes you crave sweets. I have started using the agave nector if I need to sweeten anything. It does have calories but it's natural. So pretty much what I'm saying is be a little more picky what you put in "YOUR" body! 


Listen, I'm no expert but I am willful, focused and determined sometimes to my own detriment...but, to that end, I want you to read a brief note that I posted to my facebook profile page wherein I talk about hitting bottom and consequences of choice.  I'll give you my opinion on this cheating stuff later...BTW, I just found a great trainer and have incorporated Kettleball Exercise into my life's activities.  Don't flame me, please, because I am a newbie...I have found a few tricks that work in managing cravings and have discussed them with with my 'Coach' Tiffany Harward Anderson. 

Today, having been reborn I am now 26.4 lbs. lighter, almost two standard bowling balls lighter than I was on Feb. 10th approximate.  I still look like a blivit (10 lbs. of crap in a 5 lb. bag) and it's hard to notice that I've lost the weight because I am a large person, but I feel the difference and in the final analysis...that's what really matters.  So, without much fanfare and further is my facebook post.  Hugs to all.

That night at Factor's Deli was the turning point in my life. I'll never forget what I had to go though in my head to just walk in and present myself to the Group...and then there were the pictures, so telling and betraying. I couldn't keep lying to myself because I had the forensic evidence (pictures of the event) staring me in the face right here on facebook. I'd been chatting casually with Tiffany Harward Anderson about her fitness 'Thing' before but was, I guess in denial just kidding myself...saying to myself that I could keep up the eating habits and lifestyle actions without any consequences. 'Just one more day (like and addict) or 'I'll change when I have a heart attack...' really, I used to say this to myself. AND...I noticed that for the last 3-4 months all I would do is complain to others about my well being (or lack thereof) issues, completely resigned because I felt that I was powerless and unable to make a difference in my own life. I was nothing but a sea of complaints to the point where I was boring even myself. Well, I'm not going to say that this lifestyle change has been easy but it has been less difficult than I thought because I realize that I would die (or at least I felt like I would) if I kept up these behavior for me, it was either adapt or die, I guess it's the old Marine Spirit in me. In the final analysis, it really comes down to a choice. To live the rest of my extended life feeling well or become or continue to become literally morbidly obese and end up as a passing post on facebook, Warren, you will be missed. Sorry for your early passing...condolences to your family...
7 hours ago · Lik

I tend to be a flavor craver... so I just incorporate those flavors I tend to overindulge on into my usual meals, for instance, eating 2 oz. buffalo chicken breast with a laughing cow blue cheese wedge and chopped celery in a 60 calorie pita for lunch regularly keeps me from craving the delicious but high-calorie original. I do the same kind of thing with the asian flavors I love instead of succumbing to the take-out menu.I find this takes the edge off, and I can stay within reasonable calories and don't have to feel bad about it later.Sweets don't really do it for me, but oh, those salty, pungent flavors!

"You may have heard of taking the weekends off, but that doesn’t mean you eat without abandon."

"Without" abandon?  Really?  >sigh<  ANYway, the best method I've found to splurge occasionally yet still stay in control is to bump up my activity and water intake, and to be sure to also include many nutrient-dense, low-glycemic and low calorie foods as well throughout my week.  I also make sure I log everything that goes into my mouth; so that if I do go over what I set as my daily limit, I know what I need to make up.

I tried the strictly paleo diet/lifestyle last week, my sister loves it. My Friday I was drooling over pizza and by Saturday, I was done and ate worse then I would have on a regular weekend. I know it was because I was too restrictive during the week and payed for it over the weekend. I am really glad it works for my sister but I know for me, it would not be doable and I learned that if I am too restrictive with my diet then I go overboard when I do give in to my cravings instead of just having a little treat like I was doing. So today, I am back to my old eating lifestyle, just have to break it to my sister, haha!

Original Post by: ckoudsi617

"You may have heard of taking the weekends off, but that doesn’t mean you eat without abandon."

"Without" abandon?  Really?  >sigh<  ANYway, the best method I've found to splurge occasionally yet still stay in control is to bump up my activity and water intake, and to be sure to also include many nutrient-dense, low-glycemic and low calorie foods as well throughout my week.  I also make sure I log everything that goes into my mouth; so that if I do go over what I set as my daily limit, I know what I need to make up.

Yeah, "without" abandon...but I was more bothered by the "food diary's".  So, "food diary is"?  Belonging to the food diary?  I stopped reading.  Oh dear, I am such a grammar snob.

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