Hey Angels and Alphas,
Every registered dietitian or nutritionist should shudder when they hear a term like “cheat day”. Not because we’re thinking of people just stuffing themselves with cheeseburgers and donuts all day, but because the term is deeply rooted in a diet culture that firmly places foods in either a “good” or “bad” category.
Let’s talk about why associating morality with your own food choices can trigger some unhealthy eating behaviors and how you can forget about the entire cheat day mentality so you can focus on helpful, positive dietary strategies.
THE PROBLEM WITH GOOD-and-BAD THINKING
Categorizing foods as healthy or unhealthy, good or bad, will ultimately set you up for moral highs and lows that shouldn’t normally be associated with dietary behavior. Whenever someone says they are “cheating” on their diet, they often associate it with a feeling of guilt, one of the first things you should focus on when you’re getting started with food neutrality. Placing all dietary options on a neutral playing field – and yes, that means cookies and kale are in the same category – can free up a lot of your mental space that you use about worrying about eating or not eating specific foods.
“CHEAT DAYS” and BINGEING
Binging or overeating on a cheat day or cheat meal not only results in a massive amount of excess calories, but it’s often followed by those same feelings of guilt that shame the person into another cycle of rigid nutritional restrictions.
A plethora of recent studies have examined the common factors in the people who engage in cheat meals and people with eating disorders (such as binge eating) and found precipitating factors of both these behaviors to be consistent – psychological and physical meal cravings. Even though dietary restricting and cheat days are socially acceptable and even praised behaviors in today’s society, these studies have associated their symptomology to that you would find in patients of eating disorders.
IMPROVING YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
Instead of cheat days, cheat meals, and other forms of “cheating”, you can use the following strategies to foster a better relationship with food:
1. When it makes sense, eat your favorite treat.
You should always make it a point to enjoy the food you would usually have on a “cheat day” on just any random day. Many people tend to plan cheat days on a weekend, but this could also mean having a cupcake or a burger and fries on a Friday, just to give an example.
When you’re easing into the mindset these foods are available to you at all times, and you know that it’s more than OK to eat them when you choose, that tempting power they have over you disappears. This will result in less overeating, less guilt, and a diet that’s naturally balanced.
2. Honor your cravings.
Instead of always feeling like you’re “giving in” to the temptation of food cravings and ruining an arbitrary diet, honor them. Our bodies have a unique and personal way of telling us what we need at all times, and we just have to be better listeners.
For example, if you’re out at a fast food place and you are really craving a burger, but you decide to order a salad instead, chances are it’s not going to be all that satisfying for you. Then cut the persistent thoughts about food, low-level hunger, and that extra crankiness until you eat something else.
When you honor the burger craving and take the time to eat mindfully and really savor every moment instead of being distracted with the latest show, this can lead to much greater satisfaction after the meal, and this will free up a good amount of mental space you can use for more important things.
3. Focus on nourishment.
Nourishment is pretty much one of the best words you can use to encompass how you take care of yourself physically and emotionally. When it actually comes to food, this means that sometimes, the most nourishing choice you can really make is to add another serving of veggies to every plate in your day.
At other times, you just really need a sweet snack. Both are OK when it comes to nourishing yourself physically and emotionally. What’s going to be nourishing for you today might differ from what will nourish you tomorrow, so you have to continue being mindful and prioritizing taking care of yourself.