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Can Eating After Cheating Help You Lose Weight?

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

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

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.

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. Tyron says:

    I think I understand what you are trying to say on the point of fasting, however it needs to be explained in the context that fasting without a sound exercise and nutrition plan would be synonymous with starvation, and also muscle loss. Proper use of fasting techniques could actually result in fat loss and a better functioning digestive system.

  2. PM says:

    #4 in your post cheating no-nos has been proven untrue. Starvation mode only happens after at least 72 hours of fasting. Fasting for 24, even 36 hours is actually extremely beneficial.

    • Hi Peter – Thanks for writing in. I see where you’re coming from, as certain hormones related with starvation will begin to peak with extended hours of fasting (ex: growth hormone). While intermittent fasting holds certain benefits, I was mainly trying to address those that consistently eat little amounts of calories in hopes for weight control. This is detrimental to metabolism and a faulty way to control hunger often leading to overeating. Very good point though. For those committed enough to try intermittent fasting, you may look into the research done here:

    • I agree 100%!!

  3. becky parks says:

    I read this and it helps but my problem is with my job I work odd long shifts. I am a restaurant manager even though I am around food all day I never have time to eat or even drink something for that matter. So I have tired alot of diets that help but always gain the weight back. I have a hard time with protein shakes and mixes I have tired almost all I have no taste for anything that taste like milk so I about throw up to drink them. So by the time I get off work shower and start cooking its so late that I eat and go straight to bed. So im asking I know eating at night is bad but with not ever having time to eat with my crazy schedule what can I do to make my goals seem like reality because another issue the only time I can go to the gym is the times I work twelve to fifteen hour days because thats the only time that my ex husband has my five year old daughter and by the time I get off work I am so wore down and tired I cant bear the thought of the gym and knowing that its late and I have to get back up the next morning and start the day again and there is always something going on. So if you have any help for me please I would love the help.

    • Hi Becky – Thanks for writing in. Here are a couple of suggestions: try snacking occasionally at work on something healthy like nuts, seeds, fruit or low fat dairy. These small snacks can make a big difference and help you avoid the need for an over-sized meal right before you go to sleep.
      Going to the gym can be tough and honestly, it’s not the best solution for everyone (especially busy, over worked parents). Instead, focus on the forms of activity that can keep you moving throughout the day: outdoor exercise, daily walks, at home workouts, etc. Some activity that you can do with your daughter may be great for both of you too! Lastly, remember than in times of severe sleep deprivation, an hour in bed may be more beneficial than an hour at the gym.
      I hope that helps! Good luck with your goals for the future!

  4. Karri says:

    Question for you about the fiber: does it matter whether it’s soluble or insoluble fiber? I’ve read that you want both, but do we know how much of each?

    Another trick I use to prevent a cheat is eat two apples. It may sound like a lot, but if I’m thinking about cheating then I usually need a lot to get over the craving.

    And lastly, the meal replacement shake totally works as a post-cheat remedy. I already do the protein meal shake for breakfast every day, so if I’ve cheated, I just do it for lunch too, with apples and yogurt for snack until dinner. Puts me back on track by the third day. (Don’t forget to weigh yourself every day, without fail!)

    • Hi Karri,

      Thank you for posting your question to our website. You are right both soluble and insoluble fiber consumption is the best option. Soluble fiber obstructs the absorption of fats and sugars. Soluble fiber doesn’t keep you from absorbing calories from foods high in fat and sugar—at least, not in any meaningful way. But its fat binding action can help reduce cholesterol. And by slowing down the absorption of sugar, it helps keep blood sugar levels steadier—which is helpful for managing and preventing diabetes. Now let’s compare insoluble fiber, it won’t dissolve. It will however, soak up a bunch of the water and expand, the way a dry sponge expands as it soaks up water. Now imagine this sponge moving through your intestines, and you’ll begin to get an idea what insoluble fiber does for you. Insoluble fiber is very effective treatment constipation and other digestive disorders like diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome.

  5. Elisabeth says:

    Dr. Steve,
    What do you mean when you say to ‘use a meal replacement’? The pre-meal tricks make perfect sense to me (as does most of what I read on your site), but this expression confuses me.

    • Hi Elisabeth,

      Thank you for posting your question to our website. Protein is not only a necessary part of your diet; it’s also one of the healthiest and most beneficial parts. Everyone (athlete, fitness guru or not) can benefit from supplementing with protein.
      According to the Whey Protein Institute, your body uses more energy to digest protein than other foods, which creates a thermic effect and enables you to burn a higher rate of calories after a protein meal. A study by The Journal of Nutrition, of people whose diet included whey protein had less body fat and a smaller waist than those who didn’t. People who ate it in their diet plan also doubled their fat loss compared to those who didn’t, yet ate the same amount of calories.
      Whey is a high-quality, concentrated milk-based protein food source. It is typically sold in powder form as a dietary supplement to increase your protein intake.
      Whey protein is low in calories, fat and sugar, which helps to prevent weight gain while promoting a lean body composition. Whey protein helps to reduce glucose absorption time into the bloodstream to prevent hunger, according to the Whey Protein Institute. Slower glucose absorption can help fight the urge to snack between meals. Consuming whey protein as part of a nutritious diet can help aid in weight-loss efforts. We recommend using a whey protein concentrate like RealMeal GF versus a whey protein isolate, because it includes healthful nutrients that get stripped away during the process that creates the isolate version. There are also several plant based protein available for vegans. These are made from peas, beans, or hemp.

  6. James says:

    So Dr. Is it ok to do the fiber supplements? If yes, which one do you recommend?

  7. Monique Walker says:

    Can you list a few good sources of fiber?

    • Hi Monique,

      Thank you for writing in and for posting your question! The best sources of fiber are still your fresh fruits and vegetables. A large portion of salad greens is more than enough dietary fiber and will do wonders to your digestive health. Eating fruits and berries, preferably with the skins on, will give you about a half or quarter (depending on your portion size) of fibers. Hope this helps! Have a healthy day!

  8. Teresa says:

    Thank you. Plain and simple. I needed to “hear” this after the holidays and a two pound weight gain.

  9. charlie says:

    I have a question on the plan of using a whey protein for a meal replacement/ protein snack. What nutrients are stripped out of the whey protein isolate that you referred to in Mar of 2013 versus your real dose GF???? I use the isolate and have very good results versus a soy based….but thought I was still getting enough nutrients. And I can also benefit from using it for a mid – afternoon snack. I have gone to using almond milk or water tho in place of 1/2% milk. Just would like an explanation please. Thanks for all the great info.

    • Hi Charlie,

      Thank you for writing in and for posting your question! I am sorry but I am not completely certain of which article or blog post you were referring to but please allow me to answer your question, as best I could. Should you be able to find the article or post, please let me know!

      We have released a new and reformulated version of our RealMeal GF. Reformulated, in the sense that it mixes and blends better when other ingredients are added in or if mixed liquids. Also, after a lot of taste tests and evaluation the product now contains a better mixture of Stevia and other natural flavors. The source of protein is still the same, as is the other ingredients. These small changes are meant to improve the original manufacturing and create the best possible product.

      Also, kudos to using almond milk or water in your smoothie! It is indeed a healthier version and do hope you continue to share your experiences with us! Have a healthy day!

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