Why a Burger Can Do a Body Good


You may have the best intentions in the world, if you have prediabetes, to lower diabetes risk by living a healthy lifestyle. Lark Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) is a support and guide for weight loss, healthier eating, and increasing physical activity. These are the choices that can slash your risk by over 50%. 

But what happens when you hit a glitch? What if you go out for pizza with friends, eat more than your share of your child’s birthday cake and ice cream, or start the day with a sugary iced latte and chocolate chip muffin from the local coffee shop drive-through? Is it time to throw in the towel?

No! As the Lark check-in said, the weight loss and health journey to lower diabetes risk is not black-and-white. Not only is it “okay” to have a treat once in a while, but it may actually be healthier! Here is why treats can be good, and how to keep them positive.


How Cheat Meals Can Help You Lose Weight

How often have you heard, “You are only cheating yourself when you cheat,” and, “Cheaters never prosper.” Those statements are not true when it comes to cheat meals! Cheat meals can be an important part of a weight loss diet

First, there are physiological benefits. Weight loss diets restrict calories and can cause the side effect of lowering metabolism and making further weight loss harder. A high-calorie cheat meal can wake up your metabolism and make weight loss easier.

Cheat meals also maintain metabolism by improving hormone balance, such as increasing levels of the hormone leptin.

In addition, cheat meals can be psychologically beneficial for weight loss. They can make healthy eating plan seem less like a restrictive, possibly unpleasant diet, and more like a long-term, sensible plan that allows whatever you want as long as it is in moderation. The different mindset, and knowing you can eat treats sometimes, can better enable you to choose healthy foods most of the time compared to when you feel that you may never enjoy a treat again if you want to lose weight.


Getting the Most from Your Cheat Meals

Are you convinced that a cheat meal is good? Or, are you at least ready to give it a try? Here are some ways to get the most from your cheat meals physically and emotionally. The trick is to plan them carefully.

What to eat: Eat whatever you want, but only if you really want it. Curl up with a bowl of mac and cheese if that is what you love, but think twice before adding in the breadsticks and ice cream. Will they really add to your pleasure?

When and where to eat it: A relaxed meal in a pleasant environment can enable your cheat meal to do what it is supposed to do. In contrast, a stressful meal in a loud or unpleasant room can increase stress and lead to more eating. When possible, aim to have the cheat meal on your terms in the place you choose.

How to eat it: Slow, mindful eating lets you enjoy the meal and get the most satisfaction as you taste every bite and savor it.

What to do before: The temptation may be to skip a meal or two to compensate for the upcoming indulgence, but a smarter strategy may be to eat meals as normal or possibly choose slightly smaller meals. Entering the cheat meal pleasantly hungry rather than famished can help keep it in check and make it easier to end.

What to do afterwards: Going back to your regular patterns by the next meal or snack can help get your mind and body back into the swing of things. It can help to plan when you will eat and what you will have the first time you eat after the cheat meal. A light meal with protein and fiber can be a good idea. For example:

  • Scrambled eggs or tofu with vegetables on whole-grain toast the morning after a cheat meal.

  • Chicken and vegetable stir fry for dinner after a cheat lunch.

  • Bean and vegetable soup for lunch after a cheat breakfast.

Getting in a brisk walk or your regular workout can also help get back into the rhythm of healthy choices.


Planned versus Unplanned Cheat Meals

Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, cheat meals happen without warning. For example, cheat meals can be the result of stress or emotional eating from loneliness, anger, confusion, or boredom. They can also happen when caught unprepared, such as going to a restaurant without checking the menu beforehand, and ending up with a meal higher in calories, starch, sugar, or sodium than you might have ordered if you had known. Another common cause of unplanned cheating is not having healthy foods around, leading to a trip to a fast food joint or vending machine when hunger strikes.

Cheating can also be sneaky. Instead of coming in the form of a cheat meal, it can come in the form of a new habit. For example, after passing up chocolate candy for a few months, you might finally decide to try a small piece of one. Noticing that that it doesn’t affect your weight, you might have some the next day, and the next, and then have a bigger piece. Suddenly, candy might be back in your life as a habit that crept up almost imperceptibly.

Unplanned cheat meals and cheating habits tend to be less beneficial to weight loss and health. They are usually less satisfying than planned cheat meals and they often lead to feelings of guilt instead of pride, the way you may feel after a successfully planned cheat meal.


Getting Over a Planned or Unplanned Cheat Meal

There are cheat meals, and there are cheat days, and cheat weeks. Without planning, a cheat breakfast consisting of pancakes and syrup with bacon and hash browns can lead to reasoning such as, “I started the day off wrong, so I might as well go out to lunch with the gang,” and then to, “I already blew it for today, so I’ll have cake for dessert tonight.” That all-or-nothing mentality can let a single beneficial, or at least not devastating, cheat meal slide into a more harmful cheat day or cheat week. Poorer choices may eventually replace those good weight loss habits you worked so hard to establish.

It does not have to happen like that! Instead, having a strategy can help you get right back to your regular healthy choices. Here are some do’s and don’ts surrounding cheat meals.

If the cheat meal (or week) was planned OR unplanned...


  • Carefully choose an indulgence that you love.
  • Enjoy the food.
  • Return to eating your regular, healthy food at the next meal or snack.


  • Let the cheat meal extend into days or weeks.
  • Feel bad or guilty about it.
  • Have your “official” weekly weigh-in the morning after (you could have water retention from the large meal).

If the cheat meal (or week) was unplanned...


  • Forgive yourself.
  • Remember that it’s not all-or-nothing - so starting
  • Do some soul searching to figure out why it happened and how you might handle a similar situation in the future without turning to food.


  • Call yourself a failure.
  • Deny that it happened.
  • Wait until next week or next month to “start” over.
  • Avoid the scale or logging your food and physical activity.

If the cheat meal (or week) was unplanned...


  • Have healthy food available for meals and snacks.
  • Chat with Lark when an unhealthy urge hits.


  • Skip meals.
  • Eat if you are not hungry.
  • Choose foods that you know you will not want to log later.

As you continue on your weight loss journey, go ahead and cheat. It can help you lose more weight and keep you motivated. Just be sensible about it, and keep using Lark DPP to stay on track.


Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health

No-Sweat Tips for Building a Heart-Healthy Meal


Heart health is common in the news, and that is a good thing. The media coverage can increase awareness of this leading cause of death among Americans, and it can shed light on ways to lower your risk. 

Take eating, for example. Your weight and what you eat can affect risk for heart attack and stroke, along with risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and chronic inflammation. During Heart Health Week in the Lark DPP, the check-ins mention a few dietary factors, such as fiber and types of fat. There are many others, and the plethora can cloud your thinking when planning meals. These are some tips to make it easier to build healthy meals.


Food Groups 

These are the nutrient-rich categories of food that may be in most of your meals.

  • Build on vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables should be the foundation of most meals and many snacks. Green salads, raw vegetables for dipping, cooked vegetables as side dishes, and vegetables cooked into soups, sauces, casseroles, and stews are all

  • Pick a protein. Eggs, tofu, beans, lentils, chicken, fish, reduced-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt, and nuts are all good choices...take your pick!

  • Count a few carbs. Whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, and whole-grain cereal and pasta, brown rice, or starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, and peas, are high-fiber, high-antioxidant choices. So is fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit, such as berries, apples, pears, peaches, and melon.

  • Finish with fat. Whether used in cooking or added at the end, nuts, olive oil, avocados, flaxseed, and peanut butter are all heart-healthy options.


More Tips 

  • Know portion sizes. Non-starchy vegetables can be nearly unlimited, but keeping the other food groups in check can help with weight control and heart health. Serving sizes are about:

    • Cooked starches, such as pasta, rice, beans, or sweet potatoes: ½ cup

    • Bread: 1 slice

    • Beans: ½ cup

    • Fresh fruit: ¾ cup

    • Nuts: 1 ounce

    • Cheese: 1 ounce

    • Milk or yogurt: 1 cup

    • Chicken, beef, or fish: 3 ounces

  • Consider easy swaps. A meal can quickly go from heart-harmful to heart-healthy with easy swaps such as whole-grain pasta for regular, fish instead of steak with butter, a green salad instead of a baked potato, and fruit instead of ice cream. These are some guidelines for swapping.

    • Choose whole grains instead of refined.

    • Try non-starchy vegetables instead of potatoes or pasta as a side dish.

    • Enjoy fruit instead of sugary foods for dessert.

    • Cook with olive oil instead of butter.

    • Try fish, tofu, and chicken instead of fatty meat.

  • Enjoy your meal. Can you believe that enjoying your meal is good for your health? Eat slowly, enjoy the peace and quiet (if you are alone) or company, and create a pleasant environment.

  • Go with your gut. Your instinct may tell you that bacon and ice cream are not the healthiest foods for your heart, even if you do not know exactly why. It is smart to limit fried foods, fatty meats, and sugary and starchy foods, and when in doubt, just choose the foods you know are more nutritious.


Try This: Up the Heart-Health Factor

Are you ready to try your hand at increase the heart health factor of a few meals? Here is a sample menu!


Healthy eating can be simple, but some support can always help! Lark DPP is right there to help, offering reminders, encouragement, and suggestions for ways to make healthy changes next time if you want. Heart-healthy choices can become habits as you make changes that work well with your lifestyle and keep practicing those changes over time. You will also be helping out your blood sugar as you make heart-healthy choices!


Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health