If we’ve been connected for a while, you’ll know that I prefer to be positive. I talk about the things I want you to do more of, eat more of, instead of the things I want you to cut out of your diet. But every once in a while something gets stuck in my craw and I feel the need to speak out about it. Loudly. Rant-style. The ubiquitous concept of cheat days is one of these things that cause me to want to scream from the rooftops. So here I go…
I’m completely against cheat days. Let me repeat that because I feel so strongly about it. Completely. Against. Cheat days. Cheat days set us up to have a negative relationship with food. I’ve found that the secret to achieving, and keeping, your happy weight is to first create a healthy relationship with food. Then the weight loss will follow. Cheat days take you further away from your goal of a healthy weight and feeling happy about your body.
First, let’s look at the term ‘cheat days’. ‘Cheat’ implies that you’ve done something wrong. Cheating on a test is wrong. Cheating on your spouse is wrong. Who, or what, are you cheating on when having a ‘cheat’ day? On your diet? A diet’s purpose is to serve you – not for you be loyal to it.
Most people go on a diet to be healthy. I’ve got some excellent news for you – to be healthy we don’t need to follow a diet where every single morsel of food serves only to supply essential nutrients to your body. True health means having a healthy mind and a healthy body. A truly healthy diet meets your body’s need for nutrients AND you enjoy the pleasure that food can provide AND you feel connected to family and culture. Each of these three factors is equally important. To eat in a way that promotes a healthy mind and body, you need to be able to balance these three factors. That balance will look different from one day to the next. Some days you’ll put more focus on giving your body healthy fuel. Some days you’ll put more focus on enjoying food for pleasure. You could say that this looks like cheat days. What you eat may look the same. But the psychology behind it is completely different.
That psychological difference is really important. True health means having a healthy body and a healthy mind. It’s simply not healthy if you eat in a way that supports your body to be healthy but you’re filled with thoughts about self-deprivation regarding food followed by guilt and shame when you eat something for pleasure. I was very happy when the medical world recognized the extreme end of this as an eating disorder and called it orthorexia. However, research shows that this is a continuum. And, most women in North America are somewhere along the unhealthy end of the continuum. And just because it’s ‘normal’ to have a complicated, negative relationship with food and your body, it doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Nor, that life has to be this way.
In summary, don’t have cheat days. Instead, on some days, choose food for pleasure and connection to family and culture instead of its nutrients. Ditch the guilt and negativity associated with “cheating”. Heal your relationship with food, and your weight loss will follow.