You've seen the photos on your Instagram feed: perfectly filtered acai bowls, avocado toasts, decadent smoothies, and roasted veggies.
These days it seems like everyone — that is, everyone on social media — is on some kind of health kick, but even those perfectly toned, Soul Cycle-loving social media influencers have a cheat day sometime, right?
Well, the folks over at FitnessGoals.com analyzed more than one million Instagram posts to determine the most popular cheat meals in the U.S. and found that, unsurprisingly, plenty of people do indulge in a well-deserved treat, whether it's a reward for sticking to a diet or workout regimen, or just, well, because why not.
Using the hashtag #cheatmeal, they found that good 'ol mac & cheese is the most liked cheat meal on Instagram, beating out other favourites such as french fries, cheese, tacos, doughnuts and pasta.
"This calorie-rich, carb-loaded, high-sodium dish doesn’t have a place in most balanced diets but remains one of the most craved by those who are giving their self-control a rest," noted FitnessGoals.com. "In fact, the average number of likes of a mac and cheese #cheatmeal Instagram post were more than twice as many as the next most commonly liked food — which was cheese."
And, according to the study, the day most Americans choose to eat their cheat meals is on Sunday, followed closely by Saturday.
"What we found was that, while most people seemed to be steadily on track with their diets by Tuesday or Wednesday, the weekend brought the greatest temptation to give in and enjoy a rare treat," explained the study, which also noted that the best time for cheat meals is usually immediately after working out, "when the body is ready to use this increased caloric intake most effectively."
If you were wondering how much exercise it would take to burn off those cheat meals? Prepare yourself. According to the study, three slices of cheese pizza would take a 195 lb. man one hour and 21 minutes of aerobic exercise and a 166 lb. woman one hour and 36 minutes of aerobic exercise to burn it off. Thinking about grabbing some fries? A large order would take that same man 47 minutes of biking to burn it off and that same woman 55 minutes of biking.
However, we do want to reiterate that it's totally fine to indulge in your favourite treats now and then, and you shouldn't be made to feel guilty about it.
In fact, research has shown that there are benefits to the occasional cheat meal. According to The Daily Meal, if, while on a diet, you allow yourself some cheat meals, you're more likely to stick to your health plan.
“The 90/10 rule means that 90 per cent of the time you should eat according to your specific goal-based nutrition plan, and 10 per cent of time you can indulge in something that is not on the diet. If you consume cheat meals this way, you won't derail your fat loss or fitness goals," noted Obi Obadike, a nutrition specialist.
Letting yourself indulge, within limits, can prevent you from over-indulging and derailing your health goals, and can even regulate how your body stores and burns fat.
“There is a psychological component to the cheat day. Without rewards, it can become mundane to keep a healthy lifestyle day in and day out. Oftentimes, it may take several weeks to see the scale budge, so knowing that a cheat day is coming can help keep up motivation,” Jillian Guinta, professor in the Health and Physical Education Department at Seton Hall University, told Medical Daily.
So there you have it, folks. Go ahead and eat that mac & cheese.