Why You Don’t Need a Cheat Meal

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Cheat Meal 1080X640 1 | Why You Don'T Need A Cheat Meal

So you made a commitment to “make good choices”—however when the chips and queso passes under your nose, or when the thought of pizza or ice cream enters  your mind, you feel torn.

To cheat or not to cheat?

That is the question for many people when it comes to “eating healthy.”

Does that one meal, or one bite really make a difference?

Do “cheat meals” or occasional treats throw you off your “healthy eating” plan or goals?

Is a “cheat meal” enough to upset your digestion or your metabolism?

What do YOU think?
  • For some, a cheat meal (or “cheat day”) is the thing that keeps them sane to “get through” the week
  • For others, a cheat meal keeps them motivated…it makes healthy eating worth it, and reminds them of either (a.) how sick or bloated they feel when they eat inflammatory foods, and/or (b.) that they don’t have to be perfect.
  • And still for others, a cheat meal oftens sets them up for a binge, or fires up their brain to crave even more sweets, fries, chips and queso—reminding them how much they miss their old “bad foods.”

Most diet plans out there try to offer guidance for incorporating cheat meals (or not), prescribing one of two things:

  • Set aside 1-2 meals, or 1 day, per week that you “eat whatever” you want
  • Don’t “cheat” AT ALL (if you do, you have to start over again)

They’ve got it all wrong.



When we view food as a “cheat” or “treat” we instantly start labeling food as “good” or “bad”—therefore spurring on a silent war (inside our heads) with food—like it or not.

Depending on what nutrition philosophy you currently follow, a “cheat” could look like:

  • A slice of Homeslice Pizza
  • A Wendy’s Frosty and fries
  • A burger on a gluten-free bun
  • Carbs (of any sort)
  • Or, in my eating disorder days, a scant teaspoon of almond butter, a chalky chocolate protein shake, or avocado sliver

In other words: “cheats” vary—depending on your version of “healthy and unhealthy” foods…

Consequently, your “cheats” become foods that you view as “forbidden”—except, of course, on allotted cheat days or times (like post-workout, or Sunday fundays or vacation).

The problem?

You stay stuck in the diet mentality.

A healthy lifestyle is a chore or “harder” to follow—and a “cheat” represents your inner “fat kid” or rebel coming out…

And the beat goes on.

You Don’t Need a Cheat Meal

Listen up.

You don’t neeeeeed a cheat meal—or cheat day.

Within an 80/20 lifestyle of healthy eating, “cheats” are no longer “cheats”—foods you typically don’t eat simply become part of your “life happens…and that’s ok” foods.

You don’t have to methodically plan, savor and create anticipation for a particular food or meal for “being good”, “earning your body” or “staying strict all week long.”

Your body becomes a WELL-OILED machine to process foods of all sorts when you stick to an 80/20 balance of real food : other foods.

What does 80/20 (“moderation”) look like?

  • 80% of the time, eat a balance of proteins, fats, and veggies at each meal, with some starch and fruit added in there (particularly if you are active). Home prepare as much as you can. Drink lots of water. Chew and rest and digest your food.
  • 20% of the time, let life happen: Birthday party margaritas (or cake), vacation (yes, the 1 week out of the other 51 in the year will not completely derail you), foods that you don’t know every single ingredient in at the restaurant, a meal that you typically don’t eat (out of your routine or control), a friend’s dinner party.

From a mathematical standpoint, you can break it down this way:

21 Meals in 1 Week (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner)

80%=17-18 meals of balanced real foods, home prepared or “clean”
20%=3-4 meals eaten out and about


3 Meals + 1-2 Snacks/Day

80%=3-4 meals and snacks of real food

20%=1-2 foods in your day of foods you may not typically eat



80%=Majority of energy comes from protein, healthy fats and veggies

20%=You are able to tolerate and incorporate “gray” foods like some rice, oats or quinoa, beans, or full-fat grass-fed dairy in your regular diet


Happy Hours

80%=5-6 days per week, you are keeping the alcohol at bay

20%=1-2 days per week you order a drink or two at the Happy Hour



80%=1 cup of quality coffee per day

20%=1-2 days per week…oops you “did it” and had another cup or two like your old habit (life happens)

No need to get too technical….but hopefully this helps you get a clearer picture of what “moderation” actually means when people talk about it.
With this philosophy (No cheat meals), living your life—with food freedom—is so much easier…

You can travel, go out to eat, go to a friend’s dinner party, or cook something yourself, without wondering IF you are “allowed” to have it or not, or if you “should” eat it or not.

Let life happen.


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