7 Truths About Diet Cheat Days You Should Know

Cheat Day or Nah?

food guiltSome “cheat day” advocates claim that it helps individuals stick to their eating plans and maybe even boost their metabolism.  But, others claim it can do physical and psychological harm.

Now, even if it doesn’t harm you, here is the real question: “Will cheat days help you achieve your nutrition goals?”

Here are 7 things you should know about diet cheat days AND the best solution to enjoying chocolate when you want it!

1. Cheat days are a result of restriction.  

The only reason anyone would want a cheat day is because they have been holding off on eating certain foods or eating in a certain way for a period of time.  Therefore, they feel this is a way (maybe, the only way) to indulge in foods that they can’t get out of their brain. Restriction feeds the need for “cheat days.”  End restriction, end cheat days.

2. Cheat days support the idea that certain foods are bad and that food choices are a moral issue.  

“That was a ‘bad’ day, but I am getting back on track with my diet today.”  Have you either heard this OR said this? Food isn’t bad or good. It’s just food.  

Some foods have been manipulated, processed, and modified, removing beneficial nutrients and adding ingredients that have little to no nutritional value.  Eating these foods regularly or as a lifestyle opens the door to some health disparities and challenges that can reduce the length of your years and quality of life.  But, regardless of your choices, food isn’t bad.

However, if you want energy, if you want to live a long life, and if you want quality years even when you are elderly, your food choices today contribute to the life you desire to live tomorrow.

3. Cheat days contribute to the dieting cycle.  

After someone has a cheat day, they often feel guilt or remorse.  This is often followed by restriction as a means of punishing oneself for regrettable behavior.  And, the dieting cycle continues. Restriction→ indulge→ guilt→ restriction…

4. Cheat days may harm the health of some individuals.

People with diabetes, kidney issues, gastrointestinal problems or several other types of conditions may experience negative feedback as a result of a cheat day.  These individuals cannot cast restraint to the wind. It’s important to know your body and how it may respond to certain food choices or behaviors.

5. Cheat days often cause us to ignore our body signals and forgo intuitive eating/mindfulness.  

Many individuals choose not to follow their body signals on cheat days because they have been “saving up for this all week”.  It’s this idea of go big or go home. Your body is an amazing masterpiece with signals and mechanisms that work in sync to keep you healthy. Ignore those signals and you devalue your remarkable body.

6. Cheat days contribute to a false sense of control.  

The whole purpose of a cheat day is to let go of the reigns, avoid planning and embrace pleasure.  But, once the day is over, we tighten back up. Why? Because we felt out of control. This practice will never help you acquire peace with food, your weight, or body image.  

7. Cheat days can make the idea of moderation feel unattainable.  

The continued practice of cheat days (or meals) can make the ideas of actually learning how to listen to our body, fuel it well, and respect its signals feel elusive.

While this one study says that a cheat meal might not be a bad idea to stay motivated, the only way it benefited participants was by planning for it and keeping their calories in check for the week. Unless you are up for playing games, counting, living with inner angst, and staying on the proverbial hamster wheel, cheat days may not be your thing.

So, What’s the Play Call?

Here’s a different way to go about it…

Have a treat!  This is a fun way to enjoy a food or meal in a positive light with a thankful heart (1 Corinthians 10:30).  Here are a few things to think about when adding treats to your eating plan:

  1. Be intentional about having treats.  Remember, a complete restriction may lead to resentment and/or binging when you finally do.
  2. Plan treats.  Remove guilt by planning treats in advance. This might be a special date night or birthday party or just one of those days when you want to have dessert.
  3. Enjoy treats with people.  While not mandatory, one way to maintain accountability and practice self-discipline while enjoying food that you love is to avoid secretive or solo eating.  
  4. Consider a meal.  While there may be times in our life when we want to enjoy an entire day of treats, most of the time, a meal will do.  Remember that part of this act is to enjoy a fun and satisfying moment. If you want to enjoy an entire day of treats, that’s fine, but do notice how your body responds in terms of energy and fuel when several meals in a row are full of treats.
  5. You are the only one who can define a treat.  Make sure you choose what you want instead of someone else.
  6. You can enjoy a treat AND be mindful at the same time.  It’s not either/or. Acknowledge that you notice your body’s signals, even if you decide to take another bite. Remember that your body is a complex masterpiece and has built-in signals to take care of you and make you feel amazing.
  7. Enjoy treats with pleasure.  When treats are intentional and planned, there is no room for guilt – you planned it!  Don’t allow negative emotions in. Choose to be in the moment and enjoy!

Chocolate will never manage your stress for you.
A bacon cheeseburger will never cut your to-do list in half.
Chips won’t zap your anxiety.

But treats are definitely part of the good, abundant life!


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