Tons of nutritionist experts agree that building “cheat days” into your meal plans is a good thing since too much deprivation can actually lead to more cravings, causing you to break from your diet. The science behind this idea is that when leptin levels reach a certain threshold, it signals to the brain that you have sufficient energy stored, allowing you to push away from the table when you’ve had enough. However, when leptin levels drop, hunger signals go through the roof, often resulting in overeating. According to some research, upticks in eating, specifically with carbohydrates, could help to stave off decreasing leptin levels and prevent mindless noshing.

Registered dietitian Joy Bauer, the author of the 90/10 plan, says the “90” in her title stands for “90 percent sensible choice” and the “10” for “10 percent fun food choices,” which allows for some flexibility and indulgence. Bauer believes that no matter what the diet, you won’t stick with it for long if you’re not already used to eating that way.

Yet, many argue that Bauer’s 90/10 plan of eating fun foods as much as you want (just as long as you meet your calorie intake) isn’t very healthy. It falls short of the recommended intake for calcium and vitamin D. Also, according to Dr. Melanie Greenberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Mill Valley, CA,”… a cheat meal may turn into a cheat week — or worse, a cheat month — for dieters that push too hard. For this reason, it’s important to set sound guidelines for your cheat days to get the maximum psychological and physiological benefits without the adverse effects.”

eating chocolate

Guideline to cheating and beating the sugar & salt cravings.

So what should we do? Cheating must be done in a sensible way that will help steer you toward success in the long-term. The biggest challenge is figuring out the fine line between dietary self-control and dietary freedom. Here are some guidelines for helping you find the right balance.

The most important step is to refrain from eating in places that encourage you to binge or eat mindlessly.

Avoid eating:

  • in your car
  • while walking around the house
  • standing up in the kitchen or eating out of the fridge
  • while watching tv
  • from a bag or carton
Woman at home

Try using portion control: Even with a healthy eating plan, some people are more inclined than others to go overboard with their treats, says Dr. Janet Polivy, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Toronto. If you are the type of person who has trouble setting a limit, she recommends dividing the treats you choose into appropriate portions so you aren’t tempted to eat more. Wrap up the individually portioned foods and store them in a place where they are difficult to get to, then remove only one at a time.

Avoid trigger foods like they are the plague: Trigger foods are the ones you just can’t stop eating. Do not eat trigger foods as your cheat meal. If you know that as soon as you eat one or two chips, you’re going to feel the need to finish the whole bag, then you should avoid bringing chips into the house altogether.

If possible, cheat on a big training day. Make an attempt to prelude a cheat meal with a big workout. After training, try eating a meal that is high in protein, but no limit on carbs.

Don’t succumb to guilt. Once you slip up and overindulge, it’s easy to completely fall off the wagon. However, one little hiccup isn’t indicative of failure.

Remember to get back on track—quickly: After you’ve cheated, it’s essential to get back on your healthy eating plan right away. The more sugar and fat you have, the more you’ll want. If you do get off track—and it’s going to happen to everybody at some time or other—don’t spend time beating yourself up about it. Tomorrow is a brand new day; just get back on track.

Sugar cravings can also lead to overeating or bingeing on cheat meals. Research shows that the causes of these cravings can vary widely, but chief among them are hormonal imbalances of insulin and serotonin, unhealthy dieting, adrenal fatigue, eating disorders, and even premenstrual syndrome.

eating apple

Reach for fruit. Keep fruit handy for when sugar cravings hit. You’ll get fiber and nutrients along with some sweetness. And stock up on foods like nuts, seeds, and dried fruits, says certified addiction specialist Judy Chambers, LCSW, CAS. “Have them handy so you reach for them instead of reaching for the old [sugary]something.” Fruits contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and good phytonutrients, all of which help counteract the bad metabolic effects of fructose and glucose. The fiber in fruit also slows the absorption of the sugars so you don’t get as high of a sugar rush (and as low of a crash)


Salt cravings can make you lose self control with food too. Studies show that craving salty sweetness may be due to a few factors, one being calcium deficiency. Sodium temporarily increases calcium levels in the blood, tricking the body into thinking it’s been given calcium. A lack of potassium may also cause you to crave salt, though the connection between the two nutrients is still unclear. A lack of sodium may also trigger dopamine reward systems in the brain once we start replenishing.

Eat Hummus and peanut butter when salt cravings hit. They make delicious and healthy dips for fresh vegetables. Hummus pairs well with carrots, red radishes and cucumber slices. Low-sodium peanut butter can also feed your salt craving. Portion peanut butter into a small ramekin and fill a plastic bag with baby carrots and celery sticks to enjoy as an afternoon snack. Not only will vegetables with hummus or peanut butter curb your salt craving, they also provide lots of fiber to keep you feeling satisfied.

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