Re-feeds vs. cheat meals – what’s the difference?

Do you know the difference between a refeed and a cheat meal?

The answer is: mentality.

I’m certain all of you have heard of cheat meals. I get asked often whether I allow my clients to eat “cheat meals” or whether someone should incorporate “cheat meals” into their diets. My immediate response: forget the word pair to begin with!

Cheat meals are a term used amongst bodybuilders who, during or after a bland and boring diet (because they have no imagination) decide to destroy 3 pizzas, a family size milkshake and a tower of brownies in one go. Worse yet, they might dedicate a whole day to overeating. They won’t care of the 10000 excess calories consumed since “broscience” encourages this because – gains. For someone on a fat loss plan this could set you back for weeks.

Athletes have “re-feeds”. These meals are carefully planned and consumed as and when a boost in calories/macros/energy/performance is needed. The word “re-feed” is empowering as opposed to “cheat meal”, which suggests you’re doing something bad. Do not mentally sabotage your attempts to improve your diet because the only person you’ll be cheating is yourself.


The best way to approach a re-feed is to prepare the food yourself so you know what goes in. When dining out, choose dishes with fewer ingredients (for example avoid adding all the bells and whistles to a burger and don’t get starters and sides). If you’re craving a pizza, opt for original thin sourdough pizzas and choose protein rich toppings plus add vegetables and no extra cheese! Then split the pizza with a friend and don’t take any leftovers home. Once you’re done with the meal, it’s back to work.



You can also bake something, like a lovely banana bread when you feel like something sweet; avoid store bought biscuits, cakes and pastries that are unnecessarily high in sugar and fat and full of additives, probably even food dyes and whatnot. I highly recommend my friend Yasmine’s banana bread recipe – you’ll find it on her profile in highlights. She’s used all natural ingredients, which are easy for your body to digest, provide a balanced glycaemic load and avoid crashes in energy.
A re-feed on your diet doesn’t even have to be a high carb meal. It could simply be any dish or food item that you usually try to avoid or don’t eat that much of. Say, high calorie healthy foods like avocados and nuts, which you might avoid to not rack up calories by accident. Or, maybe you would like to just sit down in front of the tv with a massive bowl of berries because that’s what you feel like.

Whatever the choice, make sure your decision is conscious and empowering. On the day of the refeed, for someone on a fat loss diet, I would recommend capping their food intake at maintenance calories (~500-600kcal extra) and for someone building muscle and already on maintenance calories, you could even go as far as an extra 500-1000kcal. After the meal, pay attention to how you feel immediately after/the next morning/two days after. If you feel bloated the same evening or next morning, you might have consumed the wrong type of food. If you feel leaner the next day, congratulations, your body needed all the fuel! Should you still feel uncomfortable two days after your re-feed then I’m afraid you’ve seriously overdone it.

If you have any questions about this or would like some more tips, leave a comment!

Why I don’t support exclusion diets.

My 6 week challenge group is already making great progress and I couldn’t be more proud. Everybody is involved, asking questions and encouraging one another. This morning they brought a challenge to my attention – J-Lo has announced a 10 day no sugar, no carbs challenge and my first thought was: “Oh no!” 😳

My very first diet was a “no starchy carb” diet back in 2010. I had no idea what I was doing at the time so I followed it religiously and didn’t touch anything that even resembled a carbohydrate. Due to lack of explanation from anyone and lack of knowledge on nutrition and nutrients, it got out of hand. It got to the point where I was scared to even eat yogurt (just to bring one example) without feeling guilty. But yoghurt is dairy and dairy contains naturally occurring milk sugars (yes, even Total 0%; it just doesn’t have any fats). It also contains valuable calcium. So you can imagine what removing such a valuable food group would do to one’s body and health. That is just one example as I know at the time my list of foods I would eat was shorter than the list with things I couldn’t/didn’t dare eat. My cravings started getting out of control as I was becoming deficient in minerals and vitamins that I was no longer receiving from the banned food sources. 

As soon as I stopped the diet I went on a mad sugar binge and started eating cakes and chocolate bars and incredible amounts of fruit because I had forbidden it so long that I could no longer stop myself. It took me about 6 months or more afterwards to turn around the mental damage and to learn to “trust” carbs and sugars again. 

You might think “oh relax Rahel, it’s just a challenge” – but I can’t support diets like this as my motto is “everything in moderation”. I am a Nutritionist and I know that there is no reason for any individual to seclude certain food groups unless they have a medical condition that would require this. I’d like to hope J-Lo is encouraging the 10 day challenge to get people to be more healthy and lose a bit of weight while they’re at it. However, a sufficient calorie deficit can be created by simply eating fewer calories across the board without completely excluding any macronutrient groups. If you are already eating for optimal health, you don’t need to worry about a bit of sugar in your tea or in a yoghurt like I did. 

My goal is to leave everyone better than I left them so please be careful if you still wish to try this. If you feel that, like me back in 2010, you currently don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to dieting, please get in touch and I’ll point you in the right direction! 😊