The Ultimate Fat-Loss Secret. Seriously, This is it!

eatingBy: Kevin Larrabee, CSCS

Hey everyone, I am back, blogging, and dropping some knowledge bombs. During my absense from blogging regularly, I think I have discovered the secret to succeeding when it comes to dieting and fat-loss. I didn’t do any research at the local university, or dig through dozens of studies, or discover a new root in the deepest part of the African rain forest. No, I figured it out all on my own.

Now what is that secret?

Well, it’s more like a “no shit Sherlock” kind of thing, but the secret is eliminating, “scheduled cheat meals,” all together. Now, before you close the browser and say to yourself, “Kevin just wrote the dumbest blog I have ever read, he should mail me $5 and a case of Spike for that waste of time” give me one more paragraph to explain myself. Deal?

You have probably heard of the 90% compliance rule from Dr. John Berardi. Personally, for my clients who are locked into their nutrition and training, I don’t think they should even consider it. From my experience, although limited, I have seen that one, “cheat meal” can lead to a, “cheat day”. For example, let’s say, “Paul” is planing a cheat meal for every Saturday that he eats whatever he wants. He decides to order a pizza at Noon. He polishes it off and figures, “I already ‘lost’ today in the never ending diet war, what will one more meal do?” And so it escalates.


Once you have programmed your body for that weekly cheat meal, you will have it every week until you break the cycle.

I agree the 90% rule will work for a portion of the population. Especially those who has been eating poorly and is more than 15-20 pounds overweight. But what about those who have 10 or fewer pounds to lose?

Now, my recommendation, for those that are serious about fat-loss, is to only use those cheat meals at special occasions like when you get tickets to the ball game, or when you are at a family event like a birthday or wedding. Why knock yourself off track and throw out the healthy eating habits you have learned for one, “cheat meal” that could sabotage the whole thing?

Yes, there are hormonal benefits to a scheduled cheat meal (see Leptin) that may actually keep the fat coming off, but again, I am mostly writing for the emotional eaters and those that can not control themselves once a cheat meal starts. Now ask yourself, what category do you fall into. Use the comments section to discuss, it will be interesting to see how many use scheduled cheat meals and how they handle them.

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20 Responses

  1. Rob Bezant says:

    i’d agree with this. . . .im an emotional eater . .when it comes to icecream 🙁

  2. Weldon says:

    I’d say you are right on with your assessment of cheat meals. They should be eliminated for a while until the emotional aspect of eating is taken out of the equation. Once that has occurred, one can add in a cheat meal (hopefully timed to be post-workout) in order to give one a break from being “perfect” in eating. It can be mentally stressful to eat on point at all times. One key for cheat meals I’ve found is to get your nutritional bases covered first. In other words, eat the fruits, vegetables, and protein required, then have the cheat meal or dessert. One may find that the urge to splurge has diminished.

  3. mary says:

    I have to agree too. If I open the door to my addiction foods at all, it actually usually leads to more like a cheat week. I wish advice about eating something healthy first to take away the urge to splurge worked. It just doesn’t with me. I still want the sugary whatever-it-is that has been calling me (this especially doesn’t work before parties, when the food is just sitting there in front of you), and then I just end up eating double. I guess that might work for other people, just not me. I wish it did!

    I think you are right about saving it for special occasions, too. We have to somehow find a balance to really live, but planning on a cheat meal seems silly, when there are always special events coming up from time to time that are really the times we should be able to relax and not worry about food.

  4. Barry says:

    I guess it depends on what you mean by “cheat meal”.

    Lyle McDonald’s Rapid Fat Loss Handbook requires a 5 hour carb-centric refeed once a week for somewhat lean individuals, and a full 3 day refeed for very lean individuals.

    If you’ve been doing a protein sparing modified fast for a week and you get to eat bagels, pasta, cereal, etc., then let me tell you it is basically a cheat meal. Yeah, it’s not scarfing down a whole pizza but still.. pretty satisfying.

    I should stop.. I don’t get my five hour refeed until tomorrow after my workout.

  5. Barry says:

    By the way Kevin.. Now you have to have Joel Marion on your show. I’d love to hear you tell him that cheating on a diet is a bad idea.

    I’m not saying you are wrong but it would be fun to hear an actual heated debate once in a while instead of the love-fest you guys usually broadcast.

  6. DR says:

    When it comes to the millions of emotional/hormonal eaters out there, cheat meals are a big, big mistake.

    Especially if your choice of cheat meal results in a great big spike in insulin that will drive your hunger through the roof and make you want a second cheat meal and a third and a fourth and screw it, a cheat weekend, a cheat week, month, year, life….

  7. Bob Parr says:

    Kevin, here is a question for you and/or Tom about dealing with emotional eating and availability of junk food. Since starting my current job, I’ve found I’ve gained a few pounds of fat simply because there is a never-ending supply of peanut M&Ms by the coffee pot. When feeling stressed or bored, a small handful of those suckers is all too tempting. And, well, those handfuls add up over weeks and months.

    Berardi was right when he wrote that you must get rid of crappy foods in your house because, no matter your will power, you will eventually give in and eat them. OK, so what do you do when it’s NOT your house, so you can’t just get rid of the junk?

    Please don’t say, “just stay away from that area.” The coffee is also there. (I drink it black and with no sugar.) The way you feel about Spike, Kevin, is the way I feel about coffee. Thanks!

  8. Adam says:

    I agree and I disagree. I find that it is a very hard situation and everyone is different. I could go the rest of my life and never “cheat” I honestly don’t care, my wife says that I don’t have taste buds. But even if I only “cheated” on special occasions it would be all of the time: Date night with the wife, hopefully every week, I have two kids so there is always a birthday party or special movie night or something. That not even including friends, other family, work, neighbors and church! SO for me a scheduled cheat can work. I try to schedule the events and go for 90 percent complacency but this all changes depending the time of year. All of our birthdays are in the fall and with Thanksgiving and Christmas it is better to stick to 90 rule. But in late winter and spring waiting for special occasions is great as there are not that many. (by the way I don’t like that word “cheat” when it comes to eating, it makes it sound bad like your “cheating on your taxes” or something, I do not have a replacement word so for now CHEAT it is!)So as always IT DEPENDS. Thats what makes this whole fitness/nutrition thing fun it is ever changing and takes creativity work to make it work.

  9. Barry-

    We had Joel on in the past, I am just saying that especially emotional eaters will get themselves into trouble when they schedule cheat meals and start making excuses.

  10. Matthew Thomas says:

    There can certainly be arguments made on both sides that speak to the benefits and the problems. I incorporated an entire cheat day once a week the last time I leaned out and found myself consistently leaner than I had ever been before. But….

    One hangup I personally have run into, and have also seen others have is the obsessive nature that can evolve concerning the food choices for the actual scheduled cheat meal(s).

    When you have a pre-designated meal or day when you are able to indulge in anything, it can become very easy for the actual act of choosing the meal to become a stressor. During phases when I have used an entire cheat day, I have found myself planning the next meal before I’m even finished with the current one. Okay, I got pizza in this meal….What else do I like…I like nachos….I need nachos the next meal….Where should I get nachos from…. etc.

    The same thing can also apply to just a single planned cheat meal. Although this doesn’t consist of driving around town on a trans fat-tour as a cheat day might, most people still want to make sure that one meal counts, possibly leading to a similar situation as the example above.

  11. Kujo says:

    I currently only have cheat meals PWO, one day a week (Mondays). They are always clean. It’s just added carbs (either sweet potato/pumpkin, or quinoa + extra fruit). I’m extremely disciplined, so I never use this an excuse to let my diet get off track. It’s one meal, that’s it.

  12. Gregg says:

    Not planning cheat meals is a recipe for disaster. If you don’t plan a cheat meal you end up getting a craving and blowing your diet entirely and then that carries over until maybe one day you get back on track. Planning the cheat meal allows someone to indulge a bit and not feel guilty making it easy to get back to their plan because they never fell off the wagon to begin with. They just followed their plan. I agree there are times when someone may need to cut out the cheat meals, but frankly the vast majority of people can get away with eating 10% foods. I’d imagine the majority of the audience is weekend warrior types just trying to stay fit and healthy. Bodybuilders/performance athletes should know when 10% foods are acceptable. I like the fact that you are trying to stir up a little controversy here, it’s making me think…a little.

    As for emotional eating, I think that is a separate issue. Taking a hard stance on flat out eliminating those foods is probably more disastrous than having someone plan their “bad” foods. This will allow them to reward themselves for successfully following their plan. An emotional eater isn’t going to be fixed because you told them they can’t have any bad foods. That’s just silly, because when they get that craving they will fall off the wagon and have the all or nothing attitude.

    I’m planning to have some NY pizza when I go home for the holidays and I’m not going to feel bad about it. I also plan to follow that meal up with a compliant one and continue on out following my plan.

  13. I am a medical doctor, with an undergrad in nutrition and former swimsuit model, and I must say you offer the best info to date.
    Keep it up! Love FITCAST!
    Dr. Young

  14. Fred says:

    I agree with the latter circumstance in which you are looking at the “last 10 pounds”. Going tee-total in my freshman year and then allowing myself to have a drink on say birthdays and end of exams instead of getting smashed twice a week really helped my athletic performance.

    In regards to people with more to lose I think that there needs to be at least a 21 day within there must be 100% compliance. This is because people who have been loose with their previous nutrition are more susceptible to going back to their old selves. Rationalisation is very easy.

    The alternative which probably actually works better is a “de-cheatising”. As an extreme a pizza can be easily be made into something quite clean. Likewise chocolate can easily be replaced by 100% cocoa which is in fact good for you. Bad curries can be home made into amazing meals. The list goes on.

  15. Nick says:

    I agree with you. Cheat days are an excuse to fail and procrastinate. We don’t drive to a destination by moving two miles forward, one mile back, two miles forward, two miles back. Why set your progress backwards by giving in to the very same habits that placed you in an unhealthy, out of shape existence? Next thing you know, you are lying to yourself about working harder tomorrow to make up for it. Telling yourself you will eat just one more then stop. Then telling yourself tomorrow you are going to work harder in the gym so its ok. No you’re not. No wonder diets fail. Listening to others tell you its,ok, look at you, you look great. What they are really saying, ‘Don’t make me feel guilty by eating bad while you are the picture of health. Eat bad with me, so I will feel good about my bad habits.’

    I love standing firm and saying no. Mirrors won’t lie. Scales won’t lie. The way your clothes fit won’t lie. Everyone wants that magic pill that turns us into a sleek Adonis, and they want it in a hurry. Want to reach your goals in the quickest time possible? Stop cheating yourself.

  16. Greg says:

    Doesn’t this go against some of the stuff that guys like Joel Marion espouse? From reading some of his writings, if one go from 10% bodyfat down to 7-8%, on his Cheat To Lose plan, you’d go from having an all out cheat day every 7 days up to 6 days. I’m just curious, because if people aren’t going to cheat, Do you think they should just have a day of eating clean with excess calories to give their metabolism a boost?

  17. Lee says:

    I ~have~ to have a menu, a plan, a stockpile of only healthy items or I can’t stay focused. Rather than try to be at odds with the rest of those in my house; I just keep containers and a section of the fridge and freezer that are mine. My ‘cheat’ is only when we go out and I still tend to eat fish or lean protein and vegetables, or a sweet potato, no rice and I don’t eat the bread unless it is a cheese biscuit from that seafood chain restaurant…

  18. nick says:

    I totaly agree! I used to tell myself, as long as i eat healthy, i can eat on special occasions. but then, i could pretty much make everything a special occasion, for example: spending the night at a friends house, the movies, going out to dinner, hangin with friends, holidays, and ALOT more. so for those who (Right now) eat very bad, i wouldnt go with that aproach, because you might end up telling yourself everything is a special occasion haha

  19. Paul Berube says:

    I think planning “bad foods” can be an effective strategy. I do something similar, but with a twist. At big meals like 2st breakfast or 1st lunch, I load up first on two or three plates of healthy foods- the super salads, the ‘sticks & twigs’ cereals, the dark green veggies – and once I’ve eaten all of them, I’ll have a small serving of the cheating foods. I feel like it helps you clean off that last plate of less flavorful but nutritious food, and kills the guilt and loss of control you feel if you do “cheat”. (huge factors in dieting)

    Twain had it all figured out:
    “Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”

  20. Snillson says:

    Cheat meals for me are an absolute no-no. I have many pounds to loose but total avoidance of high carb foods is the only way I get results. I do consider myself a carb addict and a low carb diet can be difficult at the beginning but has a detox effect on me. After a week or two with an extremely low carb intake the food cravings go away. A cheat meal to me would be like telling an alcoholic they could have one night of drinking a week.