"How often should I have a cheat meal?"
This falls into the "questions I hate" category.
A cheat meal is defined as a meal that deviates from one’s regular diet. Putting aside any obvious concerns surrounding the word "diet" there is an inherent problem with the term "cheat meal."
Cheating, by definition, is acting dishonestly to gain an unfair advantage. The question then becomes, what are you cheating on? What unfair advantage do you gain by eschewing the health benefits of clean, nutrient-dense foods? It seems absolutely silly when framed in this way. Attachment to cheat meals may suggest an unhealthy relationship with food, and implies dissatisfaction with one’s customary eating habits.
Alternatively, if we see food as fuel, or even as medicine, something to be savoured rather than harshly monitored and limited, it can be enjoyed on a day-to-day basis, with very little need for anything resembling the ephemeral cheat meal.
It is not uncommon to see people, particularly performance based athletes, not ingesting enough fuel, and not eating enough of each of the macro-nutrients required to fuel their activity. It can be beneficial for these populations to indulge in satiating, calorie-dense foods.
Rather than the cheat meal, I propose the occasional indulgence. I’m not talking about totally bailing on any semblance of common sense real food, ingesting toxins, or ignoring food sensitivities.
I’m talking about an intelligent, yet carefully measured departure from what you know to be your ideal eating habits. If you are going to eat something you know is not the best choice for you, it should be worth it, and it should be thoroughly savoured. It should in no way engender feelings of guilt. Feeling guilty about what we eat serves no purpose, and can be counter-productive.
It is also important to have an understanding of the physical and psychological effects of the indulgence. Will this food merely slow down my progress toward my body composition goals, or will it actually be toxic for my body?
Don’t waste indulgences on any old fast food, save it for when it really matters, I give you permission to enjoy every bite!