When Should You Have A Cheat Day And Should You Really?

When Should You Have A Cheat Day And Should You Really?

You just finished a race that you spent months training for. Maybe you just completed a rigorous workout – the hardest and most strenuous ones of the week. After all of your dedicated efforts, you may be looking forward to sitting down and eating that huge, fattening and unhealthy “cheat meal” as a reward for pushing yourself so hard.

Whether it’s pizza, hamburgers, fried chicken, pasta or even fast food splurges, everyone deserves a satisfying helping of naughtiness in the midst of staying fit! Cheating for an entire day can be a tricky decision, but if you do it the right way, you can still stay on track while ravaging meals that really satisfy your appetite.

For runners – or even those on a diet – “cheat meal day” is often what motivates us to get through the restrictive periods, especially after cutting out fat-laden and high-calorie foods we’ve formed a love/hate relationship with. Of course, one person’s method of cheating is different than another person’s. An obese individual trying to lose weight should account for how dangerous that “cheat day” can be, even if they’ve been eating “clean” for quite some time. A thin or fit individual who may have a high metabolism – or someone who is very physically active – may indulge in a day of eating whatever unhealthy goodies their heart’s desire and not suffer the consequences.

Whatever your physical circumstances are and how content you feel with yourself on a dietary level, there’s always a balance of what you consume and how much of it you consume. Before you grab a fork and shovel those loaded cheesy tots into your mouth, think about some key aspects of your dietary and running habits – then eat up!

How Much Are You Really Cheating?

Some cheat meals can be monstrous, filling, satiate your hunger and not be as fat-laden as others. If it’s a juicy hamburger, French fries or pizza you crave, dedicating a whole day to devouring these treats can leave you feeling lethargic and bloated afterward. Sure, you’ve earned that pepperoni pizza and the dozen garlic knots you ordered on the side! But if you’re fishing off the whole pie, it’ll take that last bit of energy you had from that morning’s 10K run to simply digest the meal. As the adage goes, bad things are okay in moderation.

So if you’re feasting on a couple of beefy burgers and a huge order of French fries – on the same day you have a big bowl of grandma’s special homemade macaroni and cheese – the feeling of being overstuffed from overindulging could still be a downfall on cheat day. When every meal you eat within a span of 12 hours is loaded with fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar, also take into account how that will affect your overall health.

Don’t Let Cheat Days Set You Back!

An entire day of spoiling yourself with delicious foods can be comforting – especially when you’re enjoying meals with your family that will probably result in putting on a couple of pounds. As a runner, you may convince yourself that you’ll just trek off the excess calories you consumed on cheat day, thinking you can “catch up” to where you were before the food-fest. Be careful! Some may find it hard to stay focused after indulging, subsequently allowing themselves to have cheat meal days more frequently than planned. Some might find it hard to stay focused and returning back to eating healthy. *If you “slip” into a few more days of unhealthy eating, it could hurt your efforts and your “clean” routine.

You Can Cheat And Be Faithful! Who knew!

When you’re an avid runner, feeling hungry for something substantial is half the battle. Who wants to keep eating bland chicken salads all the time? On cheat day, you’re roaring to savor more filling foods and who can resist those tasty goodies that were deep fried to perfection?

Pasta lovers can get their carb fill and add a little healthiness to the mix, balancing out their cravings by throwing in vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, celery, and onions. Veggies “fill up” the dish – and your stomach – so you may not feel like running back to the pot for more than one or two servings.

Are delectable sweets like ice cream/cake your kryptonite on cheat days? You can balance those cravings out with some creative “cleanliness.” Adding fresh fruits such as strawberries, bananas, and blueberries to your bowl of double chocolate ice cream or pound cake, for example, can serve as a reminder to your body that you’re still being “faithful” to what it needs on a nutritional level.

Hold Yourself Accountable!

If you’ve only dedicated one day a week to eat whatever you want – guilt free – keeping a log or journal of your dietary decisions, as well as your running/workout routines, can be a helpful blueprint for other cheat days.

Did you really need to eat that big bag of potato chips as a snack shortly after you had pancakes and bacon for breakfast? Sometimes writing down your eating habits, and later on, seeing the list of what you’ve consumed, helps hold yourself accountable for future choices. Being a bit creative with your eating log can include notes of how you feel after pigging out for the day. Sentiments of feeling “weighed down” after eating a large order of chicken nuggets could deter you from making that choice again.

Another way to keep yourself in check on cheat meal day is to purge your home of those “dirty” foods afterward. If you can’t discipline yourself enough to stay away from whatever’s left of that box of Oreo cookies – if you didn’t finish them all by yourself – bring the remainder of sweets to work or class and share with others so it’s out of sight the rest of the week. Loads of leftovers from cheat dishes can be the bane of your athletic focus! With this in mind, be responsible for your decisions and opt to cook or order just the right amount of food that won’t remain in your home as a dangling temptation to cheat again the next day.

Whether it’s a cheat meal here or there or a whole day dedicated to throwing caution to the wind, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself. Whatever you do, don’t cheat yourself out of feeling healthy, satisfied and successful in your fitness goals.


  1. NBC News: The Do’s and Dont’s of Cheat Meals
  2. How to be Fit: Runner’s Diet Mistakes
  3. Runner’s World: Cheat Day Diet