Are “cheat days” a good idea? Do these special days of indulgence help you reach your health goals? Or do they set you up on a seesaw of destructive eating habits?
The Argument FOR Cheat Days:
Some say that giving yourself days of indulgence is giving yourself a needed break from your diet. These cheat days are a relief valve that help you stick to healthier foods.
The logic behind these days has more than a few flaws, and it’s due to the psychology and physiology behind them…..
The Argument AGAINST Cheat Days
⛔️The Name Is to Blame….The problem with “cheat” is that it carries a huge emotional weight of guilt, shame, and failure.
“Cheat” is not a positive word. When you talk about “cheating” on a diet the same way you’d “cheat on” a partner, you’re adding a massive load of moral judgment that has no business being attached to a burger or a piece of cake, because your “relationship” with your diet is fundamentally different from your relationship with a spouse or partner.
Think about “cheating” in the context of a relationship. If you cheat on your husband or wife, it’s wrong because it’s hurting the other person, betraying their trust and breaking a promise.
Treating a person this way would make you a sociopath, but when it comes to food, this is a perfectly normal and healthy attitude. And that’s why using a word with moral connotations like “cheat” doesn’t make sense.
What’s more, when we deem certain foods “bad” or “cheating,” the negative name doesn’t help us pump the breaks.
⛔️When a food is off-limits, it can develop a specific, emotional charge. You begin obsessing over it, fantasizing about, and looking forward to that ‘indulge day’ all week. Then, when you finally have access to it, you overeat.
Separating foods into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories encourages you to associate eating with guilt and shame. This means that instead of enjoying everything we eat, we feel bad about ourselves when we eat something we consider “bad.”
⛔️Furthermore Science shows when we think something is healthy, we’re not concerned with portion control and thus overdo it—whether it’s a “normal” day or a “cheat” day. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing.
The problem now becomes: what word to use instead? Call it a treat, a detour, a “free day/free meal” or a non-healthy meal. Or just call it “part of the way I choose to eat” and leave it at that.
Once you stop making food into a moral issue, it becomes much easier to sit down and think rationally about whether (and if so, when) it makes sense for you personally to eat something that isn’t healthy.
⛔️Attack of the Calories
Those who assume they can compensate for giving into temptations—say, by holding themselves back on all days except their cheat days—are actually less likely to reach their dietary goals. This is because they’re more likely to consume a greater number of calories, not just on their cheat day but on the days following it.
Restricting ourselves throughout the week and then slamming our bodies with sugar and fat once our cheat day rolls around, can have “a massive impact on blood sugar and insulin levels. You’ll wake up the next day craving more sugars and simple carbs, and you’ll find yourself feeling pretty ragged. And if you repeatedly increase your caloric intake above baseline, you may inadvertently end up gaining more weight over time.
Cravings serve as a sign that your nutritional approach isn’t sound. Most cravings come from overly restricting your food intake, using food as a drug, or over exercising.
⛔️Binging Leads to Extra Cheat Days
Once that day of indulgence comes, it’s not about enjoying the foods you haven’t had all week. Instead, you’re approaching it out of a need to consume all you can before the day goes away. “It feeds into a feast-and-famine cycle,”.
Binging on a cheat day also makes it challenging to confine cheat-day foods only to that designated 24-hour window. It’s very hard for people to compartmentalize their diets. ‘I’m only going to have those cookies on Saturday’ can easily spill over into ‘I’ll only have a few cookies Sunday too.’
✳️The Solution: Stop Restricting, Start Enjoying—in Moderation✳️
So if cheat days don’t work, are we all better off eating whatever we want, whenever we want?
Well, not quite, following a healthy diet means including a number of foods—all of which are consumed in moderation. If weight loss is the goal, this usually means three square meals a day with planned snacks, incorporating treats but in smaller portion sizes.
Research suggests eating a balance of foods—with none of them off-limits or labeled “bad”—is the best way to reduce the kinds of cravings that can lead to a binge.
So what does a game plan for a healthy eating with no cheat days look like?
➡️Remember these 3 things:
1.✅Listen to your appetite.
If you want to eat spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, have it! Don’t find the low-carb version with the fat-free sauce. If you actually eat what you want, you’ll likely end up eating a more reasonable amount of it.
Eating in tune with your hunger is a principle of intuitive eating, and it’s shown to have a positive effect on both your weight and your wellbeing.
2. ✅Enjoy treats from time to time.
Research shows (and experts agree) that sprinkling reasonably sized desserts or treats into your daily diet encourages you to find pleasure in meal time again—and that pleasure will help ensure you don’t feel the need to go overboard.
So instead of confining your treats to one single day, drop them into places throughout the week.
3. ✅Savor every bite.
Once you place any item of food into your mouth, take a moment to: taste, smell, and experience it as a whole. When you take the time to be mindful about what you’re eating, you tap into your satiety cues.
Forget about designating a cheat day to reward yourself. Denying yourself most of the week and then indulging like crazy on your one day “off,” just promotes guilt, anxiety, and shame around eating—which means you won’t likely get to the health outcome you’re looking for. Instead, make every day a great day by listening to your appetite, periodically adding in some of your favorite foods in small portions, and savoring each and every bite of everything you eat. This sustainable approach will help you think of all of your eating as enjoyable, and that’s what gets you down the road to where you want to be.
✅”Calories in vs. calories out” is the golden rule for effective weight loss. To lose weight, a person must eat fewer calories than he or she burns.
You are not a quitter! You are not a cheater!
If you feel the need or desire to “cheat” on your diet, it may be worth examining your relationship with food and whether you’re actually taking steps to leave dieting behind in favor of adopting a healthy eating plan that you can live with for life.
Please feel free to email me – click here. Or leave a comment below on whether cheat days work for you – I would love to hear your story.