What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “cheat”? Often we associate this word with words like “wrong”, “dishonest”, “shameful”, or “bad”. We are constantly disadvantaging ourselves just by categorizing any sort of food consumption with the word “cheat”. It’s likely that you immediately associate negative feelings with whatever “cheat” food choice you make, regardless of the food. By labeling foods, or even whole meals, with this terminology we are surrendering all of the power to the food. This means we are giving up our own control, and often landing ourselves in an endless cycle of binging and restricting.
In theory, a “cheat day” seems like it could be a great idea, a way to eat healthy most of the time without depriving yourself of other “less healthy” foods you enjoy. However, in practice, the concept doesn’t quite play out like this. The term “cheat day” is incredibly subjective and lacks a technical definition. Depending on your interpretation, it is likely that you are doing your body much more harm than good.
Most of us think of “cheat days” as a day that you grant yourself permission to eat whatever you want. Here’s the problem: this concept makes is nearly impossible to listen to and trust your body. By “saving up calories for cheat days”, you are basically depriving yourself 5-6 days of the week and then embarking on an eating frenzy the other 1-2 days. We all know this type of behavior isn’t healthy for our bodies. What happens is you begin engaging in a “yo-yo” style of eating, which has proven to have negative effects on your metabolism - not to mention the impact it can have on your mental and emotional well being.
Engaging in “cheat day” behavior sends your mind and body on an emotional roller coaster. It may be that the day you deemed as your “cheat day” was actually a day that your body was intuitively craving primarily vegetables and fruits. Instead, since it was your designated day for cheating your diet, you ate pizza, cake, and french fries. Food becomes a "novelty item" and by giving yourself only one day, not granting yourself unconditional permission to eat everyday, we often end up consuming more. At the end of the day your left feeling unsatisfied and maybe even disappointed in yourself.
"Trust yourself and work on improving your capacity to decipher between what your cravings are telling you and why."
Now picture this with me, a non-”cheat day” mentality; you have dinner plans with friends two nights in a row. The first night you get pizza because it’s from your favorite place and you know how much you will enjoy it. The next night, you skip the nachos your friends order and decide on a delicious looking salad instead because your can feel a craving for some seasonal veggies. You leave dinner both nights feeling equally satisfied and content. Just by listening to your body’s cues you are able to make choices that allow you to enjoy the food and the company surrounding you without being consumed by what you “could” and “could not” eat.
By allowing ourselves unconditional permission to eat we can avoid food classification words such as “cheat” that leave us feeling guilt and shame. The concept of “unconditional permission” doesn’t mean we eat whatever we want whenever we want, but rather, approach each day with the mentality that no food is ever “off limits”. We may actually end up eating less by listening to and respecting our body's natural cues. Remind yourself each day that the food does not have the power, but rather you have the power. Trust yourself and work on improving your capacity to decipher between what your cravings are telling you and why. Most importantly, be kind to yourself! Select foods that make you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally satisfied.
Does the concept of unconditional permission to eat feel scary to you? We want you to know that you are not alone in this! Working with a non-diet dietitian can help ease those fears and help support you in working towards a trusting relationship with food and body. Want to talk more about? Schedule a visit with us - we're here to help you every step of the way :)