Sticking to a diet isn't easy. Whether you’re going paleo, low-carb, or low-fat, every person craves what they can’t have. That’s exactly why many nutritionists and personal trainers recommend the occasional cheat meal. While “cheating” implies sinning, going off your virtuous routine once per week can actually help you stick to your goals.
Get inspired by these Instagrammers who posted on the #CheatMeal and #CleanCheat hashtags. They know how to make a fun and indulgent cheat meal that won’t destroy their diet.
PIZZA WITH MEAT AND VEGGIES
Pizza gets a bad rap as the ultimate junk food, but it doesn’t have to be. The basic ingredients all have great potential: Meat and cheese provide protein, and veggies add nutrients and fiber. Follow this lead and stick with thin crusts to cut down on calories, or look for whole wheat or gluten-free options. Instead of fattening pepperoni, go with turkey or chicken, drizzle on olive oil, and don't skimp on fat-burning veggies like spinach and brussels sprouts.
CAJUN SHRIMP AND QUINOA CASSEROLE
Shrimp is a great source of lean, low-cal protein, and paired with the beneficial whole grains of quinoa, you have a meal that tastes decadent but aids weight loss.
Nothing feels as indulgent as wine and a cheese plate. You can create a great cheat meal with some healthier options. Start with high-quality cheeses from your favorite market. Throw in a few nuts and fresh fruits for added flavor, and avoid traditional cheese plate additions such as sugary jellies and high-fat meats. You can even throw in a glass or two of the #1 Wine for Weight Loss.
CHICKEN PAD THAI WITH ZOODLES
This healthy version of the infamously greasy Thai dish swaps zucchini noodles, or zoodles, for their flour-based brethren, uses a sauce that eschews processed ingredients, and subs coconut palm sugar forbrown sugar. A swirl of sririacha adds chili peppers' fat-burning power.
HEALTHIER CHOCOLATE CAKE
This is a great alternative to a high-calorie chocolate cake. The three secrets used to make this cake can apply to many baked goods: Gluten-free flour instead of white, honey instead of refined sugar, and protein powder for satiety and muscle support.
CURRY LAMB CHOPS
Couscous, kidney beans and peas add complex carbs and fiber to protein-rich lamb, for a cheat meal that only tastes sinful.
Mexican cuisine has a ton of options for cheat meals. Avoiding fried foods such as chimichangas, taquitos, and gorditas doesn't have to feel like a sacrifice. Case in point: These tostadas, which add savory guacamole and Greek yogurt to shredded chicken.
Waking up early on Saturday to watch extra cartoons: That memory alone makes cereal an indulgence. Although they're often loaded with sugar, if you pick one of these 5 Best "Bad For You" Cereals, like Lucky Charms or Frosted Flakes, having it as a cheat meal shouldn’t damage your six pack. Follow this Instagrammer’s lead and make the cereal a post-workout cheat meal, so your body can take advantage of the sugars instead of converting them into fat, and add some protein to make it a more complete meal.
Pasta can be a relatively guilt-free cheat meal if you combine it with the right ingredients. One of the healthiest and easiest pasta dishes is spaghetti puttanesca, which combines spaghetti with tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic, and anchovies. Trivia: Spaghetti puttanesca translates to “spaghetti in the whore’s style.” Some say the dish was often made for men waiting their turn at Neopolitan brothels. Now that puts the “cheat” in cheat meal.
Acai has more antioxidants than blueberries; it's one of our Superfoods You Should Eat Every Day. Chia seeds and raspberries triple the fat-burning punch, making this a rich but superhealthy substitute to ice cream or a milkshake.
This is a great healthy alternative to the traditional American breakfast, which normally includes unwanted fat and calories. Use turkey bacon instead of pork, choose a whole grain version of an English muffin, and fry your egg in coconut oil. You could also stack all the ingredients and top it off with a low-fat hollandaise sauce for a healthier Eggs Benedict.
PITA WITH CHOCOLATE SPREAD AND FRUIT
If you’re craving a big slice of cake, give in with this healthier alternative. Add chocolate sauce to pita bread and top it off with slices of your favorite fresh fruit. It'll satisfy your sweet tooth without burdening your body with unwanted calories that'll take months to burn off.
STEAK BURGER WITH ORANGE ZEST SWEET POTATO FRIES
Enjoying a steak now and again is A-OK; just make sure you choose grass-fed beef, which contains more omega-3s and is devoid of sketchy toxins. Sweet potatoes are one of the best carbs you can eat for weight loss—they're packed with vitamins, plus satiating protein and fiber. For more ideas, check out these 10 Sweet Potato Recipes for Weight Loss.
Experimenting with new and different types of ingredient combos can add some fun to your diet holiday. Experiment with unusual meats such as rabbit or venison (both of which have fewer calories than beef) and spicier options that will make lower-fat foods taste great and help boost your metabolism.
BISCUITS AND SAUSAGE GRAVY
Sometimes, biscuits and sausage gravy seems like the tastiest breakfast option in the world. It may also be the highest-fat breakfast in the world. But with a few tweaks on the traditional recipe, you can turn an otherwise high-calorie breakfast into a reasonable indulgence. Make a lighter sausage gravy by using turkey or chicken sausage instead of pork sausage and replacing heavy cream with skim milk.
The smell of donuts will tempt any dieter to cheat. You can allow yourself to give in now, but why not assuage guilt by seeking out healthier alternatives? Most cities have donut shops offering baked-not-fried, vegan and gluten-free options. Fonuts in Los Angeles offers all three.
TURKEY AND VEGETABLE STUFFED TOMATOES WITH CASHEW CHEESE
Turkey and tomatoes will ensure any dish isn't short on flavor. These stuffed beauties sub cashew cheese for regular, which lowers the calorie and fat count while still providing richness. Bonus: Consuming turkey is one of the 8 Ways to Lose Weight While You Sleep.
Something about Japanese food just seems indulgence. Aim for sushi that includes fish with high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna or salmon, and avoid "creative" sushi rolls like the Spicy Tuna Roll and the Philadelphia Roll — they often incorporate fried ingredients and globs of mayo. Check out our report on the Best and Worst Sushi Rolls for Weight Loss.
AHI TUNA AND AVOCADO
Ahi tuna is packed with satiating, muscle-building protein (21 g for a 3-ounce serving), and avocado tips this dish from good- to great-for-you: There are 8 Reasons Avocado Is a Perfect Weight-Loss Food.
PUT AN EGG ON IT
If you like it, put an egg on it. Adding an egg to your cheat meal is a terrific way to add protein and make you feel fuller faster. They taste great on salads, pasta, pizzas, and sandwiches and only add 78 calories and 5 grams of fat. For more inspiration, check out our roundup of 13 Delicious Examples of #PutAnEggOnIt.
HEALTHY CHOCOLATE MILKSHAKE
This chocolate milkshake is no McDonald's-caliber monstrosity. It incorporates chocolate protein powder and powdered peanut butter for a fitness-friendly lift.