I sometimes hear people say they eat a healthy diet most every day and then designate a “cheat” day to eat foods they normally avoid. If this applies to you, I really want you to reconsider this practice.
Why? Cheating suggests dishonesty and getting away with something you know is wrong. Losing weight permanently requires a consistent lifestyle change. It’s not a trial you’re enduring with cheat days to get you through. When you get rid of the “cheating” label, you free yourself from judgmental thinking that only sabotages you.
Create Balance with Treats (not Cheats)
As you intend to lose weight, you don’t need to cheat at anything because a healthy, balanced lifestyle allows for occasional sweets, French fries or pasta… if that’s what you want. If you choose to eat a piece of cake—or whatever food you desire—simply give yourself permission to do so as if it’s no big deal. Eating what you want mindfully and in moderation—any day of the week— keeps everything in balance.
Watch Your Words
Your words are powerful and define your actions. Cheating means to reward yourself for being dishonest. By designating a cheat day, you give those foods unhealthy power over you because you’re labeling them as wrong. This adds unnecessary guilt or shame. Even if you don’t feel this way on a conscious level, using the word cheat nevertheless erodes your integrity for empowered change.
Think about it…
Would you take a cheat day from wearing your seatbelt?
Would you take a cheat day from brushing your teeth?
Would you take a cheat day from taking your vitamins?
My point is that using the word “cheat”—and telling yourself your lifestyle change is something you need to take a break from—goes against everything you’re creating: healthy habits for not only losing weight but for life-long optimal physical and emotional well-being.
Normalize Special Occasions
You do have a life and there may be occasions that involve foods you especially enjoy and look forward to eating. For example, Aunt Sally’s white chocolate coconut cake at Easter or the Friday night pizza special at your favorite Italian restaurant. If you want these foods, eat them… and enjoy them. Instead of thinking you’re cheating, view them as special holiday treats you eat only occasionally or favorite restaurant dishes you order from time to time. Eating healthfully doesn’t mean you’re cheating when you eat the cake or pizza. The thing is to normalize these foods so they have a place in your nutritional plan while not feeling obsessed by them.
Regain your Power over Food
Along with the notion of cheat days comes the question of whether it’s best to avoid certain foods altogether. If certain foods trigger binge eating episodes, perhaps you need to make a decision to stop eating them. I know that may feel hard—or impossible—to do, but when certain foods hold that much power over you, you regain your own power by letting them go.
If your relationship with food feels addictive, you may have a hard time eating certain foods in moderation—and having a cheat day may make you continue to obsess about that food. Just as it’s best for someone trying to stop smoking not to have a cheat day to smoke a cigarette, or an alcoholic not to have a cheat day with a glass of wine, it’s in your best interest to avoid eating the trigger foods you know will set you up for out-of-control eating. To learn more, read breaking up with your trigger foods.
Give Yourself a Real Reward
While a balanced life has room for occasional treats, consider giving yourself a reward that makes you feel great instead. Getting a massage, taking a walk in a place you love, or buying a luscious skin-care product usually feels better in the long run than risking an episode of overeating, or just feeling guilty or lousy after eating food that’s not healthy for you.
You’re doing your best to be healthy, feel good and enjoy your life. Why would you want to cheat on that?
Will you end the cheat days?