I get a variation of this question from clients about once a week:

Hey Coach,

I’m starting to dread the weekends, mainly because of cheat meals.

Sometimes I go overboard when I start eating and they become full blown cheat days. It’s like a slippery slope once I eat something like pizza or ice cream.

It can get so bad that I can’t be remotely sure how much I eat that day to even begin to log it, but a rough estimate puts it at three or four thousand calories!


Well, first, some housekeeping and bigger picture stuff:

I think everyone can have one meal a week where they eat anything they want and still hit their fat loss goals. And yes, even eat as much as they want, provided they keep it to one meal (and this doesn’t translate to four or five rather closely spaced meals over the course of a few hours).

You can and should consider these as part of the plan , so I wouldn’t necessarily even call it a cheat.. because you’re not cheating on the plan.

I also wouldn’t bother trying to accurately track meals like this.

With most fun meals whatever calorie number you painstakingly come up with won’t even be accurate, and even if you did, your body doesn’t operate in such a straightforward way. Many of those extra calories you eat won’t be stored and instead will be expended as heat or in other subtle ways (e.g., moving around a bit more).

So in practical terms, just OMIT that meal from your log (and your mental space) and at day’s end fudge the numbers so that on cheat meal day the calories you report matches the daily target.

Again: that ONE meal off is part of the plan.

Because one meal needs to mean ONE meal.

Yes, multiple, smaller cheats and treats throughout the day might add up to fewer calories versus one huge meal. Heck you might even enjoy it more. But that’s not the point.

A single meal, especially if it’s planned for — and especially if it involves sitting at a table at a restaurant with friends or family or something like that — usually won’t set off a cascade of bad choices.

Multiple meals, by contrast, often will set off exactly such a cascade.

When it’s one meal, you’ve got clear boundaries and your marching orders are clear: you get ONE meal.

That’s it.

This way, it’s much harder to fudge those instructions and bargain with yourself.

If willpower does remain an issue then make sure also to have the cheat meal last, a few hours before bed. So even if you do get hit with post cheat meal cravings you can just crash and sleep the cravings away.

But let’s say it still doesn’t work for you. If one cheat meal leads to overeating and then feeling gross, or non-stop thinking about food, or if you have ANY history of disordered eating, then you need to reframe things.

Enter the Mulligan Meal

If a planned cheat or treat or reward meal sets off a series of bad choices or horrible cravings, then drop the planned part — i.e., don’t purposely schedule them in — and simply “let cheats happen on their own.”

We ALL screw up on our diets eventually or we have things come up in our lives where we fall flat on the food side.

Or, looking at it with a more positive frame, we all HOPEFULLY have special occasions where we get together and break bread with family and friends.

Some people have more of these than others and need to account for them. Some other people don’t have “more” of these, but the mental games they play with themselves affects how they should think about such events.

Yes, celebrating with food has occurred since the dawn of humanity and can be found in every culture on this rock.

Any so-called “expert” who tells you “don’t celebrate with food, you’re not a dog,” is a condescending piss-nugget and needs to get a friend, a life, and a few stamps on their passport. (They also don’t deserve a dog, but I digress.)

As my friend Teiko says, those in the diet and fitness industry live in a bubble founded on neurosis.

So just do your best every day and when the inevitable (or the social) occurs, that’s your ONE Mulligan Meal for the week. Forget about it and move on.

Think of it as your get out of jail free card. (Though, also: eating is not a crime.)

If I don’t I mention that Lord knows I’ll hear from the piss-nuggets.