Will that one ice cream end your fitness regime? Image Credit: Pixabay


  • Why a cheat day may be good for you
  • On a diet – but need a cheat day? Wait for this
  • How much can you afford to eat on your day off?
  • Diet trends and cheat meal options

Being healthy is a lifestyle choice and it’s never been easier to slip into one in Dubai – the whole city seems to have taken up the fitness challenge. Thirty minutes of exercise, every day, for thirty days. The annual project, which was kicked-off last year and runs until November 24 this time around, is the brainchild of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council.

It comes with an extensive list of fun events to help you make the transition to fit. But it’s never only about exercise; what you eat is crucial to all results. Which is why it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. Sometimes there are tears of craving and feelings of ‘hanger’ (a cross between hungry and angry).

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It doesn’t need to be torture however. Experts say when you are trying to get into healthy habits, sometimes you need to factor in the indulgent ones.

Is a cheat day really worth it?

The good news: it’s a resounding yes.

So that your body doesn’t get used to a routine and your metabolism stagnate. So that you don’t feel deprived of the goodies. So that on the other days you CAN stick to your plan. So that at the end of it all, you can be healthy. “Cheat days work for a lot of people and can help you from growing to resent your diet, as long as you have a plan to regain control,” explains Nina Rasovic, Precision nutrition for fitness professionals at GymNation. “Everybody wants to be healthy and look good but to survive a strict diet and calorie deficit...cheat meals can help to maintain hormonal balance, micro nutrition fulfillment and a healthy metabolism.”

You don't have to feel deprived all the time - even if you are trying to lose those pesky kilos. Image Credit: Istockphoto

It’s just a question of balancing things out. “When I provide a client with a nutrition plan, the first question they usually ask me is, ‘when will I have a cheat day?’," says Banin Shahine, Nutritonist at Fitness First Middle East. But, what she recommends is cheat meal instead of a 24-hour window into gluttony. “With an entire cheat day you can lose all of the discipline you built in the last two-three weeks,” she warns.

When can I have one?

While the break in monotony is important, she adds, “It should be at least two-three weeks after the person has started their diet plan, as the rate to lose fat/weight in the early weeks is high. After two-three weeks of starting a healthy eating plan, I would recommend having a cheat meal once a week.”

For body transformation coach and professional athlete Joy Salameh, a 6:1 ratio works. “As long as you give me a 100 per cent of your commitment in terms of the food, in terms of the quality of the sleep, your lifestyle [for six days a week] then nothing is going to happen in one day. Your body plays a fair game – [it] is going to give you the reward of all that hard work,” she explains. The problem is, she says, “Some people still have a cheat day when they are cheating every single day of the week in a small [way]. And then the clean day becomes the one that stands out.”

It’s a game of numbers

What’s your goal? Is it to stay your current weight? Slim down? Tone up? Here’s one scale to help you decide. Calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI).

Here’s the formula: your weight in kilograms/ the square of your height in metres. What does it mean? Range for healthy weight: 18.5 to 24.9; Overweight: 25 to 29.9; obese: 30 or higher. Where do you stand and where do you want to be?

BMI can tell you your ideal weight given your height, but without any other related factors Image Credit: Pexels

Now think about your Basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the number of calories your body expends without you having to do anything. Here’s the formula:

For women: 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

For men: 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)

Now do the math. How much should you consume, how much should you burn to achieve your goal? “When it comes to gaining or losing weight it’s pretty simple: [if] you burn 2,000 kcal and you eat 2,500 kcal you will gain weight. If you want to lose then you need to eat less than you burn. Exercise can help keep the balance, to maintain or lose weight come your cheat day,” explains Andreas L Borgmann, Founder and Co-CEO of UAE-based meal delivering service Kcal Extra.

One meal. One day. One week

But when you are talking about nutrition, diet and health, say experts, you need to strategise. “If a person has a cheat meal it doesn’t mean they have to skip all their other meals on the same day. If you have a cheat meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner and snacks should be consumed in between according to the diet plan you are following,” explains Shahine. “Also, mind your portions. A cheat meal doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you like, it is better to keep portions moderate.

“If you want to choose a cheat meal, try to have having it at dinnertime to avoid overeating, and avoid heavy meals before bedtime.

"It’s important to not turn it into an all-day fest and overeat, which can cause stomach discomfort and nausea. Eat mindfully, enjoy every bite and eat until you are 80 per cent full."

- Nina Rasovic, GymNation

Rasovic adds: “The key here is to balance and control your impulses, your cheat day should feel like a reward for sticking to your diet. It’s important to not turn it into an all-day fest and overeat, which can cause stomach discomfort and nausea. Eat mindfully, enjoy every bite and eat until you are 80 per cent full.”

There is an alternative though. “In my experience,” she says, “most of my clients who were following a strict diet with cheat days failed. I personally feed more into the concept of adding healthy foods into diets, rather than just taking unhealthy foods away”.

Recent fad diets and their effects

The only thing constant about trends is that they will always exist. We spoke to nutritionist Shreya Katyal, from Diets & More by Shreya, about what four types of diets that are making the rounds, their pros and cons and if you are on it, what kind of cheat meal will give you the best benefit.


Keto diet
No carbs - but so much protein and fat on a Keto diet Image Credit: Pixels

You get on average 60-75 per cent of calories from fat, 15-30 per cent from protein, and 5-10 per cent from carbs. But remember the fat should be saturated MCD (Medium chain glycerides), which means butter, coconut oil or ghee. Oh, and you can eat cheese.

What happens to the body: Normally, “our body gets major energy from carbohydrates. When we cut-out the carbohydrates, it switches to using up the fat. The body is utilising fat as a source of energy for day-to-day activities," explains Shreya.

Pros: The weight loss in keto is drastic.

Cons: The weight loss in keto is drastic. “If you go back to your normal eating habits also, that increase in the carbohydrate level – like in keto you are taking like 5 per cent and in a normal, healthy diet you are supposed to take 60-65 per cent of carbohydrates - that shift to even 30-40 per cent is going to give you a sudden and a drastic increase in your weight,” she says.

Side-effects: Keton bodies – produced when fat breaks up in the body – will initially make you feel very lethargic, energy deprived. “Ideally, the first week is really difficult, you are going to feel the symptoms very strongly, but by second-third week the body kind of gets used to these symptoms and the body feels a lot better.”

Cheat meal: Beef, steak, mutton, veges and butter, fritters.


Fruits and veges do a vegan diet make. Image Credit: Pixels

In this case you are giving up animal-based food in any form. Yes, that means no milk, or ghee, either.

Pros: There are loads of vegan options in the market.

Cons: You need to be careful about nutrients. “If somebody is choosing this as a lifestyle choice, that’s one thing, but if anyone is choosing this to lose weight, then again if ever you want to go back to the normal diet, if you want to come back to normal eating habits, again there will be a shift in calories and you’ll end up gaining back the weight again,” warns Shreya.

Side-effects: You are going to be compromising on the calcium intake and Vitamn B12 - primarily found in animal foods. Vitamin D and calcium are interrelated. If there is deficiency of calcium in the body the Vitamin D absorption in the body is automatically down and vice-versa, explains Shreya.

Cheat meal: soups, salads, broths…it is all plant-based. Carrot cake.


Clean eating is a must when you go on the caveman diet. Image Credit: Pexels

Paleo diet is also called the caveman diet. The intake of grains is very little. “The protein intake is going to be good, but it is going to be very [rich] in fruits and vegetables,” says Shreya.

Pros: This is a more balanced type of meal plan, with no processed food and little fat.

Cons: “When you talk about those cavemen they used to have a lot of physical activity in their routine; walking, hunt[ing]. They were very athletic in their lifestyle. This is something that’s missing in today’s lifestyle. So one needs to be very particular about the workout part if you are on a Paleo diet.” If calories burned are less than calories consumed…well, let’s just say weight-loss will be the last thing you’ll accomplish. Nothing processed: no sugar, bakery items, refined. 5-6 eggs in a week, because you don’t want to watch the fat percent as well.

Cheat meal: Chicken salad without processed salad dressing. Grilled fish, fish curries, different types of eggs.


Are you allergic to wheat? Image Credit: Pexels

Gluten is a component that is found in all wheat-based products so [this type of diet is usually for those with] food intolerances.

Pros: Of the diets mentioned here, it’s the most sustainable plan. “Because carbohydrates also have a tendency of holding water in the body – they make you feel bloated,” says Shreya. Less gluten, less carbs, fewer calories – more weight loss.

Cons: Depends, how much do you like your bread?

Cheat meal: Anything goes – unless it’s got flour.