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
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.