Q+A: Is there any scientific basis for advocating “cheat meals”?

Is there any scientific basis for advocating “cheat meals”?

by Matt Brzycki

QA Cheat Meals image iStock-475895644

Is there any scientific basis for advocating "cheat meals"?

As the name implies, a cheat meal lets people cheat on their eating plan. Cheat meals are consumed 1 day a week-on a "cheat day"-and are characterized by an undisciplined and unrestricted food intake that "rewards" disciplined and restricted intake of food on the other 6 days. These meals almost always include calorie-dense foods that are the antithesis of what we typically consider healthy. (Burgers, fries, pizza and ice cream are cheat day favorites.)

Eating these foods isn't necessarily bad if done in moderation. But with cheat meals, the foods are consumed once a week in massive quantities. Though using cheat meals to boost metabolism is a popular notion reflected in an enormous quantity of online content and advice, there's no scientific support for this practice.

If anything, cheat meals have raised concern in the clinical community because they meet certain criteria for eating disorders. For example, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association, cheat meals are similar to binge-eating disorder and bulimia nervosa.


Pila, E., et al. 2017. A thematic content analysis of #cheatmeal images on social media: Characterizing an emerging dietary trend.

International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50

(6), 698-706.

Meet our experts

AFM-Author-Brzycki Matt Brzycki , is the Assistant Director of Campus Recreation, Fitness at Princeton University. He has more than 30 years of experience at the collegiate level and has authored, co-authored and edited 17 books.

The information provided is without warranty or guarantee and NASM disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information. Learn more