Can Eating After Cheating Help You Lose Weight?

Cheating on your diet, but only occasionally, might help you lose weight

Whenever one of my children takes a fall (and I have four children, so there have been plenty of falls!), I always tell each one of them to get right back up and keep going.

There’s a good lesson in there: When you make a mistake, the best thing to do is pick yourself back up and carry on.

The same can be said about dieting.

Every once in awhile… okay, more often than you’d like, you feel the pull of the hot fudge sundae, and you just… can’t… resist.

But just like you get back up after a fall, you can get back on your healthy-eating plan.

And in fact, instead of driving yourself crazy with guilt anger and shame, here’s something to chew on: A recent study found that women who allowed themselves to cheat occasionally actually lost more weight than those who never strayed.1

Turns out, when you allow yourself that occasional treat, reward or celebration, you are more likely to enjoy your process of weight management, get to your goal and stick to it. Or think like this: if you ruminate about what’s on your plate, fat will be your fate.

So what do you do when you scarf that bag of chips, inhale that fudge brownie, or break down and dive head-first into a bowl of mac & cheese?

5 Post-Cheating “No-No’s”

First, let’s take a look at what not to do:

Detox: There is no evidence whatsoever that a detox diet is linked to the body’s ability to burn calories. And unless you really know what you’re doing, detoxes can be dangerous.

Sauna: Any weight lost while sweating it out will be right back in the minute you take a drink of water.

Things you should do after cheating on your weight management

Over-exercising: When you push yourself too hard, the only thing you’ll wind up losing is your energy for the rest of the day. Or a doctor’s co-pay, as you may end up with pulled muscles or a case of dehydration.

Fasting: When you cut your calories that drastically, your body goes into starvation mode, and your metabolism will come to a screeching halt. So not eating anything at all will actually have the opposite effect of what you want.

Laxatives: Using a laxative to kick out the remnants of that pie ala mode only serves to clean your colon, because the calories (and fats) have already been absorbed. You may be less constipated, but you won’t be any leaner.

Instead, Do This After You Cheat

It may seem paradoxical, but after you go off course, the best way to get back on track is to eat. Here are some strategies I recommend:

Use a meal replacement for your next meal: More than a dozen clinical trials show that diets containing one to three meal replacements per day result in more weight loss than healthy diets without them.

Try these pre-meal tricks:

Drink a protein shake: In a controlled-setting study, subjects who consumed a protein shake before an all-you-could-eat buffet ate fewer calories than those who didn’t. And the more protein consumed, the less the subjects ate. Those who had 34 grams of protein half an hour before the buffet consumed the equivalent of a whopping 300 calories less than those who did not.3

Eat an apple: Eating a whole apple before lunch significantly reduced overall calorie intake by 15 percent, or 190 calories on average according to one study.4

Things that you should never do after cheating on your weight loss management

Try a soup or salad: One study discovered that enjoying a low-calorie soup before a meal may reduce calorie intake by as much as 20 percent! And it’s not just bland broth that does the trick — chunky veggie or pureed veggie soups worked just as well.5

Similarly, another study that had folks munch on a low-calorie salad pre-meal reduced overall meal-calorie intake by seven percent for a small salad and 12 percent for a larger one.6

Note to self: Cheesy, cream soups with bacon or salads smothered in cream dressings and festooned with croutons and bacon bits does not count as low-calorie!

Increase the fiber: One of fiber’s many super powers is that it controls hunger, keeping your cravings at bay. Here’s why… One meta-analysis (a study of studies) determined that increasing your fiber intake helps you stay fuller for longer, meaning you won’t crave those night-time snacks.

Another study showed that adding 14 grams of fiber a day causes an increase in weight loss of a pound a month. Meaning, if you change nothing about your diet other than adding fiber daily, you can lose an average of 12 pounds in one year.7

Here is one final thought that can be powerfully effective after you’ve cheated. Learn positive self-talk. An interesting study showed that folks who successfully got to their goal weight and maintained did these three things: They focused on the progress they made, kept their goals in mind and indulged in the knowledge of how much better they were feeling as they got thinner.8 This attitude is critical for success.

If you have your own post-cheating success strategies, I’d love to hear all about them.

Dr. Steven Sisskind, M.D.
Dr. Steven Sisskind, M.D.

1. Westenhoefer J, Engel D, Holst C, et al. Cognitive and weight-related correlates of flexible and rigid restrained eating behaviour. Eat Behav. 2013;14(1):69-72. PMID: 23265405.

2. Smeets AJ, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. Acute effects on metabolism and appetite profile of one meal difference in the lower range of meal frequency. Br J Nutr. 2008;99(6):1316-1321. PMID: 18053311

3. Bertenshaw EJ, Lluch A, Yeomans MR. Dose-dependent effects of beverage protein content upon short-term intake. Appetite. 2009;52(3):580-587. PMID: 19501753

4. Flood-Obbagy JE, Rolls BJ. The effect of fruit in different forms on energy intake and satiety at a meal. Appetite. 2009;52(2):416-422. PMID: 19110020

5. Flood JE, Rolls BJ. Soup preloads in a variety of forms reduce meal energy intake. Appetite. 2007;49(3):626-634. PMID: 17574705

6. Rolls BJ, Roe LS, Meengs JS. Salad and satiety: energy density and portion size of a first-course salad affect energy intake at lunch. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004;104(10):1570-1576. PMID: 15389416

7. Howarth NC, Saltzman E, Roberts SB. Dietary fiber and weight regulation. Nutr Rev. 2001;59(5):129-139. PMID: 11396693

8. Sciamanna CN, Kiernan M, Rolls BJ, et al. Practices associated with weight loss versus weight-loss maintenance results of a national survey. Am J Prev Med. 2011;41(2):159-166. PMID: 21767723.

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  1. I really appreciate this article, Dr. Steve. This last mother’s day weekend, I allowed myself cheat food. I really did not over indulge and it was mostly “good for me food” but I ate more than I usually do. Up went the scale, three pounds! Why does this happen the minute I eat extra? I feel full and bloated and ugh. I wish I could eat a little more normal for my family’s sake but I just cannot keep the pounds off if I do not stick to my very strict regiment. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Michelle,

      Thank you for sharing your concerns with us! I completely understand your concerns and wanted to let you know that it is perfectly alright to splurge every now and then, especially on mother’s day. The important thing is not to give up and simply continue with your healthy diet the next day. A little weight gain over a few meals ( I, personally had more than 3 cheat meals last Mother’s day weekend!) is to be expected and should be easy to drop if you stick to your eating plan the coming days. Be sure to pair that with plenty of activity to keep you burning calories throughout the day. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  2. Great article, especially after the Mother’s Day brunch pig out. I have cancelled my cleanse! Thank you.

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