The Science Behind Why Cheat Meal Actually Helps You Burn Fat

 In Cheat day, Diet Tips

We don’t need another excuse to eat pizza in the middle of the night, or to do a boozy brunch in Brooklyn.

But there may be one or two more compelling reasons to indulge, in a strategic way.

Let’s take a little drool-worthy vacation, shall we?

  • Bacon burger, melted cheese and jalapeños on a brioche bun.
  • Huge slices of buffalo chicken pizza with a ranch drizzle.
  • Avocado toast with micro greens and a soft egg, on cracked wheat toast.

All of the aforementioned indulgences may seem like a total lapse in control, that we don’t want to permit. But the term, coined “cheat meal” has a purpose beyond pure tasty bliss.

How a Cheat Meal Can Actually Help You Lose Weight Instead of Gain Weight

There are two components that play into your cheat meal. The first is the physiological aspect, and the second, psychological. Both factors affect how your body retains or burns dietary and stored fat.

The Physiological Aspect

The physiological transaction that occurs during cheat meal relates to how your body adapts to diet and exercise levels.

Take, for example this healthy diet: brown rice, grilled chicken, broccoli, and sweet potatoes.

After repeating this diet week after week, you may find benefits dwindling, as your body becomes accustomed to the lower calories.

The body reduces unnecessary work to ensure resource (calorie) consumption is attuned to your physical needs for energy, strength and sleep.

Medical professionals claim many suffer from less energy and stamina when dieting, as well. And that’s to be expected.

Your fast-burning carbs are short, and your body is more dependent on the slow burners like protein and fat.


When you cheat meal (or cheat day - both sides have a worthwhile case), you’re consuming a large [and unexpected] excess of calories, which provides mental and physical release, and the energy to continue your diet in following days.

The most meaningful transaction though, is the release of Leptin. Alon Shabo, founder of digital fitness consulting company, explains,

“I plan strategic cheat days with my [clients]. It’s something to look forward to. The feeling that you’re not “trapped” in a [drab] diet. Physiologically, cheat days boost a fat burning hormone called Leptin [from the greek word: thin].”

When you stuff yourself with fast food, desserts, pizza and more, your body essentially kicks into overdrive. Your metabolism is stimulated to deal with the unexpected amount of unhealthy, calorie-dense food.

This helps avoid “dietary plateaus” as many fitness enthusiasts dread.

The wellness blog Medical Daily adds, “By occasionally boosting your caloric intake, you encourage your body to burn calories more rapidly instead of allowing it to adjust completely to the lower calorie lifestyle.”

That’s why it’s okay to eat “bad” carbs and saturated fats for your cheat meal. Not only do you provide your body much-needed calories, which translate to usable energy, you also kick your body into overdrive.

The outcome: a stimulated metabolism and more intrinsic motivation for the upcoming week of dieting.

More Importantly, the Psychological Benefits of a Cheat Meal

We’re wired to respond to rewards. We analyze almost every opportunity in the context of “what’s in it for me?”

Despite what some believe or don’t believe to be true, diet may not result in weight loss, or muscle gain in a week.

Or two weeks. Even after three, the results may be marginal versus your expectation.

So provide yourself a mental trophy of sorts, and a short, edible vacation at the end of the week. You’ll find satisfaction in your ability to commit to a diet, and to follow-through, which increases your confidence, and encourages consistency. Alas, self-esteem is achieved when you exceed your own performance expectations.

Turning negative forces into positive energy is a concept that can dramatically improve healthy habits.

Esteemed business leader and life coach Tony Robbins allows himself something like 6 minutes of negativity after a sad event, or just some anger he’s experienced, and then he snaps out of it and gets back to positivity.

It’s important we leverage the excitement from our “bad” cheat meal to propel us into a healthy week of eating ahead.

Spoil Yourself, For a Moment

Looking at these two concepts relating to cheat meal psychology and physiology, one more concept arises.

By stuffing ourselves silly on cheat meal, it’s a mini lesson in glutton. We realize how crappy, unhealthy food can make us feel. And often, we find an ability to snap out of the sluggishness that comes from overeating.

So, go enjoy your cheat meal guilt-free. The psychological and physiological forces are on your side, but only if you can manage to keep the diet leading up to, as well as after your well-deserved cheat meal.

Thanks for reading fam,


Jonathan Maxim
Jonathan Maxim is an app designer, digital marketer and thought leader in the fitness and technology realms. After leaving his job at a Fortune 50 company, he merged his management experience with his passion for technology and innovation to create Apps that encourage fitness and wellness. Educated at San Diego State University first in Graphic Design and User Interface, he went on to gain his Masters of Business from SDSU as well. Currently he serves as founder and CEO of Vea Fitness, an app that rewards you for working out with monetary incentives.
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