Is the Cheat Meal Worth it?

By Jen Jewell

It doesn’t matter how ripped or in shape you are, at one time or another you’ve likely been overwhelmed with the desire to cheat…on your clean eating habits. 

“Cheating” in the fitness world, refers to anyone who follows a specific nutrition plan and then decides to have a meal, not in that plan. Some people have a scheduled "cheat" meal while others go with the flow until a craving strikes. The timing matters, but not more than understanding that you are in full control of what you eat and why.  

I like to say that no food is "off-limits". In fact, I don't even like to label any food as a "cheat" because it can create an unhealthy mental association with food. Food is just food. Obviously, whole, nutrient-dense food will take priority over highly-processed food that is devoid of nutritional value. But regardless of what you choose to incorporate into your diet, your mindset should always put you in the driver's seat with your first priority placed on health. 

With that said, I do encourage people to eat healthy at least 80% of the time and use the other 20% for those moments when you really just want something you know isn't the healthiest option. 

However, I wouldn't be doing you justice if I didn't raise the point that sometimes the splurge just isn't worth it. In fact, sometimes a healthier version of a favorite food can be just as fulfilling without causing the after-effects of eating high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie foods.

For simplicity, let's label the healthier indulgences as "clean cheats."

Clean cheats often taste just as good as the real thing. They curb your cravings but are still considered a solid source of fuel and nourishment. Clean cheats won’t send your blood sugar levels soaring, or zap energy levels like other typical cheat foods (think: deep-fried, sweetened, processed, trans fats). 

Everyone has different goals, meal plans, and personal tastes, so the clean cheats you choose will vary from one person to the next. Here are a few clean cheats that get my stamp of approval, and that you can certainly include in your plan if you'd like.  

Clean Cheat: Sweets 

Brownies and cupcakes are my favorite desserts, but when the cravings strike, I whip up a batch of protein brownies or protein cupcakes. Unlike regular brownies and cupcakes that are filled with sugar and fat, their protein counterparts are lower in fat and calories. Swap out sugar for Splenda, add in your favorite protein powder for delicious flavor, and the result is way more diet friendly than what you'll find in a bakery. 

Savory and spicy 

When I have the urge for something savory or spicy, I turn to Mexican food. While this cuisine often gets a bad rap, it can be healthy if you order the right things. One of my favorite clean cheats is fajitas prepared with grilled protein, steamed veggies (no butter or oil), black beans and guacamole, all served with 1-2 corn tortillas. BAM! That's Mexican made healthy! Fajitas fill that savory and spicy craving, without going too far off course from my nutrition plan.  

Whether you are on a strict diet or are looking for healthy alternatives to the foods you love, try a clean cheat that supplies the nutrients you need to be your best self.

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