It’s no secret that I have the sweet tooth like no other and luckily I have accountabila-buddies keeping me on track (or should I say, ahem, calling me out). After the plethora of comments on the photos ranging from “is that paleo” to “is that considered health food,” I thought I’d take to LegallyFit to validate my splurge and share the benefits of cheat meals.

For those of you on a programmed meal plan (I’m talking to you flexible dieting fans), a scheduled cheat meal is not only good for you mentally, but some nutritionists believe it may actually help you reach your goals. I know what you’re thinking – what? Doughnuts can help me reach my fitness goals? Okay, not quite what I mean, but let me explain.

A scheduled weekly cheat meal provides more than just a break from protein and veggies. According to nutritionists, the main benefit of incorporating a well-planned cheat meal is that it can help boost your metabolism. The cheat meal helps combat the challenge that arises when your body starts to adapt after spending a lengthy time on a strict nutrition plan. After a certain amount of time, progress can plateau when your body becomes used to a certain diet. By consuming one high calorie meal a week, your metabolism is pushed into hyperdrive, forcing your body to break down a meal that is much larger than normal.

Another more obvious benefit of a weekly cheat meal is that it can help you stay in shape consistently. Regardless of how long you have been following a strict diet, six weeks, six months, or six years, you eventually will find yourself wanting to give into your cravings. Trust me, eating well seven days a week (apart from a weekly cheat meal) is hard work – just ask my coworkers about how fun I am when I bring my grilled chicken to our team pizza lunches. A break each week where you are not concerned with what you are eating helps you sustain your nutrition plan for a longer duration. Knowing that I have a cheat meal every Saturday definitely keeps me on track when I get the urge for chocolate on a Wednesday night. Even better, because the cheat is scheduled, you can actually enjoy the food you have been craving guilt-free, as opposed to feeling like you’ve derailed from your diet.

Finally, my favorite benefit of a good cheat meal is the extra energy it provides for workouts. Generally when I enjoy my cheat meal, I take in more carbohydrates than usual, which replenishes the body’s glycogen stores, giving me energy for the next week of workouts. Crossfit friends out there – ever hear the phrase “Doughnuts and Deadlifts?” There’s a reason those two things go hand-in-hand.

Now listen, I am not saying to go all out this weekend and binge eat doughnuts while catching up on Suits (although that does sound magical doesn’t it?). There are some tricks to finding the right cheat meal balance. Here are a few tips:

  1. Saturday Night Splurge I choose to have my cheat meal on Saturday night. I used to splurge on Friday night, but the problem was I oh so often rolled my cheat meal into a cheat weekend. Rationalizing with yourself is no fun: “I would have eaten this during my cheat meal, so it’s okay now.” I’ve tried Sunday Funday splurge, but honestly, it is nice to enjoy one of the two weekend nights with a glass of wine and eating what my heart desires.
  2. Planned Out Portion Control You can have as much of whatever you are craving as you want, but limit your meal to one sitting. One of the pitfalls to avoid is having your cheat meal turn into a cheat day or even worse, a cheat weekend (guilty as charged).
  3. Start Early If possible, try having your cheat meal in the morning – hello pancakes! By doing this, you can use the nutrients from your cheat meal as fuel throughout the day instead of going to bed on a full (and very uncomfortable) stomach.

My final tip – if you are ever in Portland on a scheduled cheat meal try Voodoo Doughnut. Seriously, worth every delicious bite. What’s your favorite cheat?