I’ve never really liked the term “cheat meal” and the concept goes against most of what I teach when it comes to building a sustainable nutrition plan. If you are following a plan (specifically for compositional changes, not necessarily medical reasons) that doesn’t allow you flexibility to eat the things you enjoy, in my personal/professional opinion - you’re doing it wrong.
What is the difference between the two?
A cheat meal is designated as a “free” meal usually at the end of a period of restrictive eating. This meal is untracked in any way, generally includes a large amount of calories and realistically can actually undo all the progress you’ve made prior depending on the extent of it.
This is not to say that you can’t eat food that is untracked, not at all, however if you have specific goals in mind then you have to be aware of at LEAST the caloric intake because if you are in a moderate caloric deficit throughout the week and completely blow it on the weekends you can quite literally negate everything you did during the week.
From the mental aspect, you shouldn’t feel like you’re doing something wrong every time you eat something you enjoy, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to earn it. If you can balance your meals you should be able to eat things you love on a daily basis in moderation. I have found that the “cheat meal” concept generally leads to bingeing and disordered thinking when it comes to foods that are deemed unhealthy.
Refeeds on the other hand are specifically designated surpluses of calories (usually carbs and fats) that are implemented as a refueling of your bodies stores after a period in a caloric deficit. These refeeds are at least ESTIMATED to include sufficient amounts of protein and designed to fill specific amounts of carbs and fats without going over in calories. These specifications allow for more flexibility when it comes to the foods you choose, however, it doesnt necessarily mean that you’re not allowed to have those kinds of foods any other time as long as they fit your calories/macros. In my experience this type of system allows for a more flexible lifestyle approach and a better mindset around the freedom of foods.