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Why cheat days are ruining your relationship with food

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You’ve heard your friends say it, your family say it, and likely even complete strangers say it – “It’s my cheat day!” I even heard my fitness instructor say it to my whole class last week, which is what sparked this somewhat ranty blog post.

Cheat day? What does that really even mean?

OK, I know what people mean when they say it…They are describing a day where they can eat whatever they want and not feel guilty about it, because it’s not something they would normally do. It’s a day without restrictions.

nachos cheat day

That doesn’t sound so bad: You eat healthy most days, but once in a while you like to have a day where you “allow” yourself to just eat whatever you want without worrying about your waistline. Maybe there is even an excuse, like a friend’s wedding or your birthday. Does that sound about right?

Here is the problem: If you feel the need to have a cheat day, then you are likely going through every non-cheat day feeling deprived or like you are missing out on delicious foods.

“Oh, I can’t eat that. I am on a diet.” Or, “How can you eat that? I would gain weight instantly. I just look at it and I gain weight!”

Thoughts like these usually centre on weight vs health, which is inherently a problem in itself. We all have the skinny friend who can eat five chocolate bars and drink three frappuccinos a day and still be slim. Yet, that doesn’t mean she/he is healthy. Appearance can be very deceiving.

In an ideal world – yes, I know this is unlikely but one can hope – we would all exercise because we enjoy moving our bodies and feeling stronger, and we would eat nourishing and enjoyable foods until we were comfortably full and then stop. We would have a small treat because we enjoy it. We would savour every bite without guilt and then move on.

The all or nothing approach does not work over the long term and it is stressful to keep up! It sets you up to over eat desserts and “treats” when you let yourself succumb to their temptation or you declare a “cheat day.” It puts these foods up on a pedestal that they don’t belong on. If you treat cakes, pies, cookies, chips, etc like forbidden foods, you will think about and crave them more than if they are treated just like other foods, which you can have reasonable amounts of when you wish. Or, ignore them if you don’t feel like having them that day.

cupcakes cheat day

This same principle applies to children when they are forced to eat their dinner, or “clean their plates,” before they can have dessert. Dinner foods become something they just have to get through to get to the prize. This is not the way to foster a competent eater who enjoys a wide variety of foods.

Becoming a competent eater takes a lot of practice and time. I am working on it every day. I still struggle when there is a lot of variety, like at buffets, because the foodie in me loves to try everything on the menu. I often end up too full and feeling sluggish.

Now, I try to look at the menu options and pick 4-5 things I know I will enjoy the most, and I savour each bite. Try being the key word. No one is perfect.

To learn more about eating competence, do some reading on Ellyn Satter’s website. Here is a good article to start with, “The Joy of Eating: Being a Competent Eater.” If you are more ambitious, you could even do, “The Satter Eating Competence Model for the autodidact.

So, please stop with the “cheat day” talk and start practicing competent eating. It may take years of practice, and you will never get it perfect, but you don’t need to! Just start by eating foods you truly enjoy and that make you feel good each day.

Eat foods that make your taste buds dance and your belly smile.

belly smile

 

Eat foods that energize you to go play outdoors or with your friends and family.

 

food is social

 

Eat foods that excite you!

Food is so much more than nourishment: It is memories, culture, family, tradition, creative, and fun! Enjoy it always. 

 

food is culture

Share your thoughts + comments with Melissa (upbeet, RD)!



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