Chris Lopez

Chris Lopez

#AlphaDAD to 5 Amazing Kids, Husband, Coach, Entrepreneur, Minimalist. For more workout stuff, check out

Do Cheat Meals Really Work?

My stomach is turning. Not because I’m nervous or anxious or anything like that…although, I have every reason to be freaking out.

No, my stomach is literally turning, because I had a cheat meal last night – Penne a la Vodka from a small Ma & Pa Italian eatery around the corner. They use really fresh ingredients – flavorful olive oil, ripe red tomatoes and fresh cream…YES, CREAM.

Big deal right? Well for me, yes it is a big deal. I’m lactose intolerant (so if you see me on the street today, it’s best not to come within a 5ft radius…if you know what I’m sayin’).

Anyway, back to my point…As far as cheat meals are concerned when it comes to getting a strong and lean body, I think they’re very necessary.

There are physiological benefits to cheat/REWARD meals (which I’ll get to in a second), but for me, it’s all MENTAL. It’s a HUGE mental strain for anybody to be dieting and cutting your calories for long periods of time (even the most pleasant of folks can get a little cranky on 12-weeks of calorie restriction). So allowing a cheat meal of some food that I enjoy once per week really allows me to mentally reset my efforts in staying clean with my diet. (And by clean, I mean fresh fruits & veggies, healthy fats, lean protein and minimal, if any, grains, dairy & crap food products).

Mind you after years & years of eating healthy fresh food – I was telling AJ this yesterday – my body can really tell when I’m eating crap by giving me really bad stomach pains and indigestion.

So even on my cheat meals, I still eat relatively well opting for a grass-fed beef burger & some fresh cut sweet potato fries from my favorite burger shop (ironically called “The Burger Shoppe”), rather than something from a big chain fast food restaurant.

As far as the physiological benefits go, I received an article from my buddy, Joel Marion, a nutrition expert in New Jersey, explaining the physiological benefits of cheat meals. Please take a few minutes to read on and listen to what Joel has to say about the benefits of cheat meals and how they affect your hormones…

The Most Important Hormone You Never Heard Of By Joel Marion, CISSN, NSCA-CPT

It?s name is Leptin (derived from the Greek word leptos, meaning ?thin?), and it?s without a doubt the most important hormone you probably never heard of.

You see, leptin was only first discovered just over 10 years ago, and as far as weight loss is concerned, that?s extremely recent.

Leptin?s function? To communicate your nutritional status to your body and brain.
Leptin levels are mediated by two things. One is your level of body fat. All else being equal, people with higher levels of body fat will have higher leptin levels than those with lower levels of body fat and vice versa.

Because leptin is secreted by fat cells, it makes sense that under normal conditions there is a direct correlation between leptin levels and the amount of fat you are carrying.

Unfortunately, when you?re attempting to lose fat and begin to restrict calories, conditions are anything but ?normal? and the body responds accordingly by lowering leptin levels.

This is because the second mediator of blood leptin levels is your calorie intake. Lower your calorie intake and leptin will fall, independent of body fat.

So, yes, you can be overweight and still suffer from low leptin levels ? just go on a diet.

So what happens when leptin levels fall and why the heck does it matter?

Again, under normal conditions leptin levels are normal and the brain gets the signal loud and clear that nutrition intake is adequate. Metabolism is high and the internal environment of the body is one very conducive to fat burning.

Until you start dieting.

Go on a diet and leptin levels quickly plummet (by 50% or more after only one week), sending a signal to the body that you?re semi-starved and not consuming enough calories.

This puts the breaks on metabolism and creates a hormonal environment extremely conducive to fat storage. Thyroid hormones (hormones extremely important to metabolism) respond by taking a dive and the abdominal fat-storing stress hormone cortisol skyrockets measurably.

HELLO belly fat.

And if that wasn?t bad enough, the appetite stimulating hormones ghrelin, neuropeptide-Y, and anandamide all hop on board to make your life even more miserable.

You don?t have to remember any of those names, just remember that when leptin drops, you get seriously hungry.

Despite having a pretty good reason for its reaction, it?s pretty ironic that our bodies are primed for fat loss at every other time except when we are trying to burn fat.

Wouldn?t it be great if we could maintain high leptin levels and a body primed for fat burning while dieting? It would seemingly solve all of our problems.

But in order to do this, we?d have to somehow keep leptin levels high as we attempt to lose those extra pounds.


A couple of problems here: First, leptin is a protein based hormone, which means that it can not be taken orally (otherwise, it would simply be digested). So that rules out a leptin pill.

This leaves the method of ?supplemental? leptin administration to injection. And leptin injections DO indeed work, reversing the metabolic adaptations to dieting and ?starvation? even while continuing to restrict calories.

In 1996, Ahima et al. used leptin injections to reverse starvation-induced neuroendrocrine adaptations in mice.

?Well, that?s nice and all, but I?m human.? Point taken; research with rodents doesn?t always correlate to similar findings in humans, however?

In 1999, Heymsfield et al. performed a double-blind placebo controlled study analyzing weight loss over a 24-week period in 73 obese humans. Subjects either injected daily with leptin or a placebo (i.e. bogus alternative). At the end of the 24-week period, the leptin group lost significantly more weight than the placebo and a higher percentage of fat vs. muscle.

In 2002, Rosenbaum et al. administered low-dose leptin to subjects (male and female) who had dieted to a 10% decrease in body weight. During the diet period, thyroid hormone levels, 24-hr energy expenditure, and other metabolic markers substantially decreased. The result of the leptin replacement therapy?

?All of these endocrine changes were reversed??Thyroid output and daily calorie burn increased back to pre-diet levels.

In 2003, Fogteloo et al. showed that leptin injections ?tended to reduce the decline of energy expenditure associated with energy restriction, whereas the tendency of energy intake to increase back to baseline levels in placebo-treated subjects was largely prevented in subjects treated with leptin.?

Yeah, that?s a mouthful. Let me put in simple terms: not only did the leptin group experience less of a decline in metabolism, but they were also less hungry, allowing them to more easily stick to the prescribed diet.

In 2004,
Welt et al. reported that leptin given to a group of women with thyroid disorder immediately raised circulating concentrations of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4.

In 2005, Rosenbaum and company were at it again, again showing that energy expenditure and circulating concentrations of T3 and T4 all returned to pre-weight-loss levels with regular leptin injections.

So, as theorized, keeping leptin levels high during a diet does indeed solve our dilemma by avoiding the negative metabolic (and perhaps behavioral) adaptations that calorie restriction perpetuates.

The problem?

Daily leptin injections are far too expensive, costing thousands and thousands of dollars per week. So, we can pretty much forget about supplemental leptin as a solution (which is probably moot anyway considering that not too many people are going to voluntarily plunge a needle into their skin daily).

A REAL Solution

Now that we know that leptin injections aren?t going to save us, let?s talk about the possibility of manipulating your body?s natural leptin production.

And I?ve got good news ? this can indeed be done, and without involving needles or thousands of dollars. In fact, we?ll swap the injections and mounds of cash out for two things I can guarantee you?re absolutely going to love: more calories and more carbs.

We know that leptin levels decrease by about 50% after only one week of dieting, but fortunately, it doesn?t take nearly that long for leptin to bump back up with a substantial increase in caloric intake.

In fact, research has shown that it only takes about 12-24 hours.

So, the answer to the fat loss catch-22? Strategic high-calorie, high-carb CHEATING.

By strategically cheating with high calorie foods (and yes, even stuff like pizza, ice cream, wings, cookies, burgers, fries, etc), you can give leptin and metabolism a major boost mid-diet which sets you up for plenty of subsequent fat loss when you resume your reduced calorie eating regimen.

This means greater net fat loss week after week, and ultimately, a much more realistic, maintainable way to bring you to the body you truly want and deserve.

So what?s so special about carbs?

Well, leptin, carbohydrate and insulin have been shown to have very strong ties.

Calories alone don?t get the job done, as research shows that overfeeding on protein and fat has little effect on leptin.

In order to get a strong leptin response from overfeeding, there needs to be plenty of carbs in the mix. In fact, the relationship is SO strong that research conducted by Boden et al. at the Temple University School of Medicine shows that leptin levels will not fall even in response to all-out fasting so long as insulin and blood sugar are maintained via IV drip. That?s CRAZY.

Because of this carbohydrate/insulin-leptin relationship, it makes sense that foods combining both carbs and fat (like pizza, burgers, cookies, ice cream, etc) work best for reversing the negative adaptations caused by dieting because of the BIG-TIME insulin response they produce.

THIS is why strategic cheating with your favorite foods is so powerful. THIS is why you truly can use your favorite foods to lose fat faster than you ever could with restrictive dieting. THIS is freedom.

Essentially, it?s everything ?typical? dieting isn?t.

With regular dieting, come week two, you?re screwed.

With strategic cheating, you can literally use ANY food you want to *ensure* that you never go a single day without a body primed for fat loss.

The cheat or not to cheat? I think the choice is clear.

To learn more about how to strategically use cheat/reward meals to your advantage and lose weight, you should DEFINITELY check out Joel’s Cheat Your Way Thin program.

In fact, it’s available for 1/2 price until tonight at midnight!

=>Joel Marion’s Cheat Your Way Thin Program

If you haven’t used cheat/reward meals yet, you may want to consider it.

Who knows? This could be the game changer in your quest to lose those last 10-15lbs.

The FitAndBusyDad


No tricks or shady marketing crap… just my promise to send you articles like the one above a few times per month.

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3 thoughts on “Do Cheat Meals Really Work?”

  1. That’s one reason why I like Weight Watchers. Besides the points you get to use during the day, you get 35 “bonus points” to use anytime during the week. You can use them for a few indulgent snacks or for one really bad-for-you meal.

    Having lost over 60 pounds, I’ve found that one of the important things is not to deprive yourself. Wherever possible, find lower-fat/calorie alternatives (e.g. Fat Free Frozen Yogurt instead of Ice Cream, FiberOne Chocolate Chip bars instead of chocolate bars) or have smaller portions of those treats you really love. However, if you completely deprive yourself, you’ll only wind up binging later on (possibly spiraling yourself off your diet).

    I’ll admit I just browsed through the “Leptin” section of your post, but it reminds me of a theory that I’ve heard about why starvation diets don’t work. Back in the days when food could be scarce, losing weight was a bad thing. If there was a famine, you didn’t want to shed the pounds. Instead, you wanted your body to slow down its metabolism. Nowadays, if you starve yourself to lose weight, you’ll drop a few pounds, but then your body (thinking it’s a famine situation) will slow down its metabolism and you’ll stall out. Better to eat more (but not too much, of course) and keep your body from thinking that it is starving.

  2. @TechyDad

    You make some great points. I hope everyone who comes across this post reads your comment.
    Another reason why I like cheat meals is because I think it keeps things REAL. If you’re a parent who’s trying to lose weight, having your kids watch you struggle through eating low-cal “health foods” and hating every minute of it will probably damage the way your kids view eating healthy.
    By having one of those cheat meals every now and then, your kids are less likely to be obsessed later on in life about what they eat and how they feel about food.

  3. I like this post and not just because I’m having Chinese food tonight! Seriously, diets that are all about depriving ourselves are diets that are destined to fail. You have to find a way that you can live with long term, and cheat meals can really help.



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