I’m positive you’ve heard of ‘cheat days.’ If you haven’t, I’d like to shake your hand, just because I feel like you would be some kind of magical unicorn. And in case you haven’t heard of the concept of cheat days, let’s go over some stuff, shall we?
What Are Cheat Days?
Cheat days are essentially the day you can let loose and consume the foods you have been craving without monitoring calorie intake (or giving yourself more leniency at least). A cheat meal falls into this same category but obviously restricts the cheat to just one meal, maybe eaten once a day or once a week.
The Problem with Cheat Days
Cheat days tend to cultivate a mindset of good vs. bad. If I’m “good” all week and eat my salads, sweet potatoes, and chicken and hit my calorie goal x times a week, then I can then have a cheat day where I can consume all of the “bad” stuff I want so I don’t feel completely deprived. I’ll say it again… “If I’m ‘good’ all week, I can be ‘bad’ as a reward.”
This is a bad mindset to fall into. Cheat days create the possibility for diet extremes, and both mind and body don’t benefit very well in extremes. The back and forth swaying from extreme restriction to extreme binging (and let’s face it, a cheat day reinforces the binge-guilt-restrict mindset) can create a lot of unnecessary anxiety and guilt about food, plus eating large quantities of anything in a short period of time is not doing your body any good.
Often times, we feel sick and/or guilty after our cheats, even if we justify them as a “reward” for being good all week. This isn’t a healthy relationship we are building with our food choices. This mindset tends to hold us hostage to our food, can interfere with our everyday lives, and in worst case scenarios, can even lead to the development of an eating disorder.
How do I know if cheating is making things worse for me?
It’s very important to address WHY you are considering/doing cheat days in the first place.
- Are you doing this to lose weight and feel like you’re experiencing some negative feelings towards food and/or yourself?
- Is it because these diets are typically associated with your kinds of goals?
- Do you feel restricted in between cheats, almost ready to break down in a binge at any point?
- Do thoughts about diets tend to trigger feelings of fear, anxiety, or obsession?
- Do you feel like you need a “break” every now and then from your diet because it’s so hard?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may need to take a step back and think about other possible options. Realize that it isn’t you who is potentially failing your diet. Your diet is failing YOU.
What can I do instead of cheat days?
Instead of the back-and-forth extremes, I highly recommend learning to navigate the path of moderation. I know, I know. It’s easy to say “eat everything in moderation” and leave it at that. But moderation is truly an individual experience that takes time and effort to fine-tune. But it is possible. You can learn how to eat just one or two cookies during the day, instead of 27 on your cheat day. You can learn to listen to your hunger cues and find out what food combinations keep you feeling happy and full and energized. Moderation can help us break free from our food fears and obsessions.
I’m not saying that any of this is easy, but to be honest, the binge-guilt-restrict cycle is usually the easier way out. That is why so many people are drawn to cheat days/meals. It seems simple enough: deprive yourself long enough to start seeing results, and then reward yourself with a huge feast. Then… Feel bloated. Feel guilty. Feel like you just negated everything you’ve worked towards. And repeat.
That process isn’t sustainable for a huge majority of those who participate. You are more likely to see success in the long run if you focus on eating as much as you need to feel happy and satiated, and then putting the fork down when you have reached that point, i.e. moderation.
I feel like I’m struggling. How do I start?
Eating is an extremely troublesome and sometimes triggering subject for a lot of us. I personally am still trying to conquer some of my food obsessions. I refuse to call them addictions because science shows that no single food item is addictive. However, there is such a thing as a behavioral addiction when it comes to eating food.
If you feel like you have no idea how to begin the path of moderation, I have some recommendations for you. Please examine each of the links in this list and think about what methods may work best for you:
- Almost anything from Jill Coleman: http://jillfit.com/?s=moderation