Ask the Expert: Are Cheat Meals OK? #546 02/17/2014

Tell a friend

Ask the Expert: Are Cheat Meals OK?

By Denis Faye

Man holding a half eaten Donut behind his back

The Short Answer:

It's absolutely OK to have a cheat meal! If the rest of your diet plan is tight, there's nothing wrong with cutting loose once or twice a week. In fact, the shift in calories may help you avoid plateaus. Also, it keeps you sane. After all, life is too short not to eat the occasional donut.

The Long Answer:

Now that you've stopped twerking for joy around the room and returned to your screen, I'll explain why the occasional cheat meal is OK. As I said, they are a good way to ward off potential plateaus. They also break up the stress commonly associated with diet and keep you on track.

Cheat meals fight plateaus.

While we live in a modern world, our bodies still operate under some very primitive rules. When you eat at a calorie deficit while working out regularly, your body doesn't get the memo that you could stop at any time. Instead, it assumes you're trudging across a desolate African plain with nary a Souplantation in sight, desperately tracking a wildebeest in hopes of feeding your starving family. (Some might argue that Plyo X offers a similar sensation.)

A group eating Japanese CuisineTo deal with this stress, your body will sometimes slow down its metabolism and hold on to emergency fuel stores (body fat) to survive. We call this "starvation mode" and because you're not burning fat, it creates a weight loss plateau. While the obvious solution is to increase your calories in general, cheat meals are also effective because they give your body a little "feast" break in the middle of the "famine" to convince it to keep burning those love handles away.

In fact, we often suggest people zigzag their calories from a large deficit to a slight surplus over the course of a week to break this type of plateau. A cheat meal or two, provided the rest of your eating is extremely clean, can create such a zigzag.

Cheat meals strengthen willpower.

In their excellent book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Dr. Roy Baumeister and science writer John Tierney discuss the concept of "decision fatigue," the idea that willpower, just like our muscles, can give out after a while. "When asked whether making decisions would deplete their willpower and make them vulnerable to temptation, most people say no. They don't realize that decision fatigue helps explain why ordinary, sensible people get angry at their colleagues and family, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket, and can't resist the car dealer's offer to rustproof their new sedan."

Think of cheat meals the same way you think of recovery days. They give your willpower a chance to rest and restore, reducing the chance that you'll fall off the wagon in a bigger way.

Cheat meals relieve stress.

Survival mode suggests cheat meals relieve physical stress. Decision fatigue suggests they relieve mental stress. There's also a third type of stress they relieve: emotional stress. Turning around your diet can be really hard. Sometimes, eating clean means you're walking away from foods you've looked to your whole life for comfort, nourishment, celebration, and security. The fact that they are absolute crap and they were slowly killing you is beside the point. They still have an enormous amount of emotional resonance. As long as you don't think it'll cause a relapse, there's no reason to completely walk away from cake on your birthday or a hot dog at the baseball game. Whenever I'm visiting my parents in Atlanta, you better believe I help myself to my mom's epic banana cream pie. In fact, only having it on special occasions makes it all the more delicious.

What if I don't want a cheat meal?

Although I've put forth some compelling arguments for a cheat meal, I don't want to strong-arm you into succumbing to temptation. If you're keeping it 100% clean and that works for you, go for it. For some people cold turkey is the only way to avoid stumbling into bad habits.

Woman Eating PizzaOn a semi-side note, a funny thing happens when you eat healthy for a while. Your idea of a cheat meal redefines itself. As a teenager, I could polish off a large meat lover's pizza and two liters of Coke. Today, two slices of veggie pizza, a huge salad, and a 12-ounce craft beer is my idea of indulgence. As for my mom's banana cream pie, anything more than a medium-sized slice and I get ill. (You don't want to know how much of it I used to eat.)

As you enjoy your cheat meals, pay attention to how your body reacts. When abused, refined sugar is toxic, but most Americans have built up a tolerance. They can't feel how it tears them apart, spiking blood sugar and torquing their hormones. When you don't normally consume it in excess, occasional consumption can make you feel sick. That's your body telling you to eat less next time.

Finally, a couple of cheat meal myths.

Some "experts" claim that binging on a cheat meal to the point of illness is a good thing because it keeps you on the straight and narrow for the rest of the week. This is stupid advice given by fools who don't understand the brief gorging refractory period involved with being a chronic overeater. If a meal makes you sick, you've poisoned yourself—not something you want to do on a regular basis.

Lastly, if someone suggests post-cheat meal "tricks" to mitigate the damage, don't bother. It's too late. A glass of lemon water or a series of antiquated calisthenics will be about as effective as trying to pop the Goodyear Blimp with a toothpick.

So if you think it's right for you, go ahead and have a cheat meal. Anticipate it before you eat it, enjoy it while it's happening, and own it once it's done. Then get back on your horse in the morning.

Related Articles
"Ask the Expert: Should I Avoid Fat in My Diet?"
"6 Cooking Mistakes That Make You Fat"
"Healthy Baking Substitutions"

Submit a CommentTell A Friend Bookmark and Share

Back to top.

The Big Picture
Want to win a copy of Tony Horton's new book The Big Picture? Send us a question with the subject line "Ask the Expert" for our column and we'll pick 3 favorites, answer them, and send you a copy!
Get It Done in just 25 minutes a day.
Shaun T's revolutionary FOCUS T25® workouts give you everything you need, nothing you don't.

25 minutes. 5 days a week. 100% results.
the P90X® APP.—Available for Android™. Soon for iPhone®!
Are you using the P90X® App?

With the P90X App, you can:

  Auto-schedule your P90X, P90X2®, and P90X3* workouts
  Record your sets, reps, and weights
  Get customized progress reports
*P90X3 scheduling & tracking is available on Android and is coming soon for iPhone!
Consult your physician and follow all safety instructions before beginning any exercise program or using any supplement or meal replacement product.


Back to top.

8 Tips for Flawless Skin

By Lisa Palac

Our face is the first thing others notice about us, and a healthy, glowing complexion is a hallmark of both physical and emotional well-being, not to mention beauty. A lucky few are naturally gifted with beautiful skin. Since most of us have to work at it, here are 8 tips to help you increase your radiance:

Woman Getting a Facial

1. Wash Your Face:

Frequency: Every night

Choose a facial cleanser that's right for your skin type: Are you normal or oily? Dry? Sensitive? Acne-prone? Bar cleansers can be just as effective as liquids and often much less expensive, but make sure the product is made for your face. Soap that's made for hands and body can strip away necessary oils, change the pH level of your skin, and leave it extremely dry. You could also try Beachbody's Derm Exclusive® Facial Cleanser that easily removes makeup and other dirt easily. Gently wash—don't scrub—your face with your fingertips in a circular motion to loosen debris. Using a washcloth is a great idea. If you don't have the time or the energy for a full cleanse, use a facial cleansing wipe.

2. Exfoliate, Tone, and Moisturize

Frequency: Twice a week

Woman Washing Her FaceExfoliating is the process of removing dead skin cells to reveal the newer skin underneath. After cleansing, exfoliate either by gently scrubbing your face with something abrasive like a soft loofah or sponge, or a facial scrub that contains gritty particles such as salt or crushed seeds. Beachbody® offers Micro Peel Resurfacing Pads in the Derm Exclusive kit that feel soft but are still effective at removing dead skin. There are also chemical exfoliants with ingredients like glycolic acid or fruit enzymes that dissolve away dead cells with little scrubbing involved. Exfoliation helps prevent blackheads and increases the skin's natural glow. For men, this process helps to expose hair follicles and leads to a closer shave. Next, use a toner on a cotton pad to remove any last traces of makeup, sunscreen, or cleanser to prepare your pores for the final step—moisturizing. Moisturizers are very important because they hydrate your skin, and all skin types need hydration—even problem skin. Beachbody's Derm Exclusive product line includes a moisturizer as well, that's intended for night use: Night Renewal Cream.

3. Use Sunscreen

Frequency: Every morning

As part of your morning ritual, get in the habit of applying a facial sunscreen. Even if it's cloudy. Even if it's the middle of winter. Because your face is exposed to UV light every day. Daily use of sunscreen can reduce the effects of sun damage, such as wrinkles and brown spots, and help prevent skin cancer. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are two of the safest, most effective sunscreens. Micronized zinc oxide will not leave a white residue on your face. Look for a combination daytime moisturizer with a minimum SPF 30 (SPF = Sun Protection Factor). While the sun is our main source of vitamin D, the National Institute of Health says that we only need about 30 minutes twice a week without sunscreen to get our fill.

4. It's Time to Call a Professional

Frequency: As needed

If you've got a problem with blackheads, consider having a professional facial. Extraction is the fancy spa word for removing blackheads and in this process the esthetician (using a magnifying glass) carefully squeezes each one out. In fact, it's the only way to get rid of them. Microdermabrasion is a high-powered kind of exfoliation designed to alleviate dullness, brown spots, and minor blemishes by generating new skin cells. It's often done with a special tool that blasts the skin with tiny exfoliating grains and then vacuums them up. With either treatment, expect redness and swelling for the first 24 hours, followed by a whole new you.

5. Feed Your Skin

Frequency: Daily

Drinking plenty of water is vital to all aspects of our health. But in his book Eat Your Water: The Cellular Breakthrough to Look and Feel 10 Years Younger, Dr. Howard Murad writes that eating a serving of raw fruits or vegetables is more beneficial for your skin that simply drinking a glass a water. Key nutrients support the skin cells' ability to retain water, which in turn allows for the healthiest cell regeneration. Look for foods high in antioxidants, most notably dark purple berries and dark leafy greens.

6. Work Up a Sweat

Frequency: Daily

Exercise increases our blood flow, which means oxygen and nutrients are delivered to our cells and toxins get carted away. Dermatologist Dr. Ellen Marmur, author of Simple Skin Beauty, says "You can think of [sweating] as cleansing your skin from the inside." As our sweat travels up to the top layer of skin and out through open pores, it sweeps excess oil and cellular debris up and out, too. Be sure to wash your face after a workout.

7. Manage Your Stress

Frequency: Daily

Woman Touching Her faceStress is one of the skin's greatest foes. Stress can foil your best skincare plans. If you are stressed, if you are not getting enough sleep at night—or enough good sleep—you will see the effects in the mirror. One of the best ways to combat anxiety is with deep-breathing exercises. When your mind starts to spin: Stop. Take three deep breaths. On the inhale, silently say to yourself, "I am breathing in." Hold for two seconds. On the exhale, silently say to yourself, "I am breathing out." Hold for two. Repeat as needed.

8. How to Deal with a Pimple

Frequency: As needed

Suppose you find yourself with giant white pimple erupting on your face. It's big, it's tender, it looks awful. Some would say, "Never pick at your face!" But I disagree. The trick is to pick correctly, so you don't make it bigger and you don't leave a scar. First, DO NOT try to squeeze a pimple until it's come to white head. While you wait, apply an astringent with alcohol or salicylic acid to help dry it up. When it's ready, apply a warm washcloth to the area to open the pores. NEVER squeeze with your fingernails—it leads to scarring. Instead wrap your fingertips in tissue paper and gently press around the base of the blemish until the pus is released. Apply astringent to close the pore and promote healing.


Related Articles
"8 Easy Ways to Have Great Skin All Winter Long"
"10 Great Foods for Your Skin"
"4 Tips on Treating Skin Ailments"

Submit a CommentTell A Friend Bookmark and Share

Back to top.

How to Bust Your 6 Biggest Excuses

By Kara Wahlgren

When you're feeling overworked or overwhelmed, it's easy to find an excuse to skip a workout…or two…or a whole week's worth. But don't let bad excuses get in the way of good intentions. Here's how to keep them from derailing your fitness routine.

Woman Falling Asleep on Desk

THE EXCUSE: "I'm too busy!"

Instead of letting your endless to-do list take priority over your health goals, treat exercise like any other important task. "It's about prioritizing and planning ahead. Set a time and schedule it, as if it were a dental appointment," says Jimi Varner, a trainer on MTV's I Used to be Fat series. Of course, there will be days when you really are too swamped to squeeze in a full workout—but that doesn't mean you should skip it altogether. Instead, try to carve out a few minutes to break a sweat. "If you have just 10 minutes, it's still progress," Varner says. "It doesn't have to be an hour and a half, so knock it off." Go outdoors and do a few sprints, or try a time-crunch-friendly program like FOCUS T25® or P90X3™.

THE EXCUSE: "I'm beat."

Whether you're sore from yesterday's workout or drained from a long week at work, don't bail out just because you're low on energy. Start slowly, and gauge how you're feeling after the first few minutes. "It's okay to exercise at a lower intensity for a shorter time. Start doing it, and really listen to your body to see if this is nurturing or punishing," says Michelle Segar, PhD, Associate Director for University of Michigan's Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center and a motivation and behavioral sustainability researcher. "This helps get people more in tune with their body and actually can improve their desire to move." Promise yourself you'll do the first five minutes of your workout—once you get going, chances are you'll go ahead and push through.

THE EXCUSE: "I'm broke."

When you're on a tight budget, it can be hard to justify the cost of a monthly gym membership. But you don't need Globo-Gym to get in shape. "Walking is among the best ways to move, and you can do it anywhere," Segar says. And Varner suggests picking up furniture movers (usually under $10) and using them for lunges or mountain climbers. And, ahem, we can recommend a few DVD training programs that won't break the bank.

THE EXCUSE: "The gym is intimidating."

Man Lifting a WeightYou might feel like everyone's staring at you, but the truth is, they're probably way too busy worrying about what they look like. So get out of hermit mode and go build a support system. "Everybody you see in these classes was once in your shoes," Varner says. "They understand how you feel and the courage it takes to be there. And they will be more than happy to help and be supportive and friendly."

THE EXCUSE: "I'm bored."

If you do the same workout every…single…day, it's easy to fall into a rut. But there's no rule that you have to stick to a rigid, repetitive fitness regimen. "You can change up any part of your routine," Segar says. Renew your enthusiasm by starting a new program, joining a new class, ditching the treadmill for a hiking trail, or making a friendly weight-loss wager with a friend.

THE EXCUSE: "I'm dieting instead."

Just because you're counting calories, it doesn't mean you have carte blanche to chill on the couch. "Diet alone works well when weight loss is the goal, but adding exercise to the mix can enhance the results," Varner says. "Exercise has countless other health benefits than just weight loss—you'll look better, feel better, sleep better, have more energy, and be more productive at work and home." And with all those benefits, why would you want to make excuses?

Related Articles
"How to Stop Making Excuses, a Q&A with the 21 Day Fix's Autumn Calabrese"
"Beat the Second-Week Slump"
"Tips for Getting Through Your Toughest Workout"

Submit a CommentTell A Friend Bookmark and Share

Back to top.

Recipe: Chicken Breast with Feta and Artichoke

(Makes 8 servings)

Chicken Breast with Feta and Artichoke
This Greek-inspired recipe is just 207 calories per serving and features artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, and crumbled feta cheese!

Total Time:          1 hr. 28 min.
Prep Time:          10 min.
Cooking Time:    18 min.


  • 1 cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano, divided use
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, divided use
  • 1-1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 8 (4-oz. each) raw chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 5 oz.)
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 cup canned artichoke hearts, packed in water, drained
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped, reconstituted in hot water for 10 minutes, drained
  • Nonstick cooking spray


  1. Combine yogurt, garlic, 2 Tbsp. oregano, 1 Tbsp. parsley, lemon juice, and pepper in a medium bowl; whisk to blend.
  2. Place chicken in a glass dish. Top with yogurt mixture. Marinate in the refrigerator, covered, turning once, for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
  3. Preheat grill or broiler on high.
  4. Combine cheese, tomato, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, remaining 1 Tbsp. oregano, and 1 remaining Tbsp. parsley in a large bowl; mix well. Set aside.
  5. Grill or broil chicken for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until no longer pink in the middle. Set aside.
  6. Heat oven 350° F.
  7. Place chicken on a baking pan lightly coated with spray. Top each piece with 1 rounded Tbsp. of cheese mixture. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly browned.

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories Fat Saturated Fat Cholesterol Sodium Carbs Fiber Sugars Protein
207 7 g 4 g 84 mg 662 mg 8 g 2 g 5 g 28 g

P90X®/P90X2® Portions:

Protein Condiment
1 1/2 1

P90X3™ Portions:

Protein Carbohydrate Fat
1 1/2 1

Body Beast® Portions:

Liquid Carbs Proteins Fat
1/2 2 1

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at

Back to top.

Print this page
ChaLEAN Extreme®
Debbie Siebers' Slim in 6®
Brazil Butt Lift®—AVAILABLE NOW!
Now Available—TurboFire®—Intense Cardio Conditioning—Learn More

Follow Beachbody Online

Connect with Beachbody, fans, coaches, and your favorite trainers!

Share This Page

Bookmark or share this page by emailing it to your friends, or adding it to your favorite networking sites! Simply mouse over the Share icon below for options.

Bookmark and Share