Cheat Days: Should We Have Them or Not?

Will a cheat day help or hurt your results?

With more and more people trying to make better choices with what they eat, we’ve all heard of them-cheat days. I’ve seen numerous people in many groups sharing photos of their “cheat day” meals.

It just makes it harder to go back to their healthy WOE and stick with it. There are a lot of opinions out there about this concept, this day of eating all the stuff, so here are my thoughts.

Some people have specific days of the week or month that they have these days, days where they eat all those foods that they love, but usually avoid because they are unhealthy. Pasta, rice, cookies, cakes, breads, you name it. For some people, this seems to be okay, but for others, not so much.

First, I don’t like the term “cheat day.” It immediately sounds negative, like you’re doing something wrong. We all give ourselves enough grief and criticism without scheduling days that add to it. So, before I do anything else, I’m going to suggest you stop using that term.

Some people say they “slipped up” or “fell off the wagon” as well. These, too, are negative terms in my mind. From here on out, if you decide to eat foods that aren’t part of a healthy lifestyle, why not own it? It is, after all, a choice. Yes, it may be a choice that you later regret. It may be a choice that you later view as a mistake. But that’s okay.

We are all human and we all make mistakes. We then learn from those mistakes. So, if you do make the choice to get that sugar filled, chocolate dessert after dinner, use that as a learning experience. Maybe you can remember next time how you felt after eating it. Maybe you felt great, who knows? If you did, that’s okay too. Maybe you’ll know now not to look at that dessert menu or try a different option next time. Maybe you’ll even decide to figure out how to make your own healthy version at home and avoid that place all together.

Regardless what you decide, use this choice as an opportunity to experience and learn and grow. Do NOT use this as another reason to berate yourself or feel ashamed of yourself. 

Now let’s talk about why people decide to eat the foods they’ve been making a conscious effort to avoid. I think part of it is because we have been trained to think of all these processed, carb-filled, or sugary foods as rewards. Think about it. When we celebrate holidays and birthdays, we eat cakes and pies and pastas. When we got good grades in school, maybe we got to get an ice cream.

If we ate all our food, maybe we could get dessert. Nearly anytime we celebrate an achievement or special day, we tend to revolve the celebration around food. We have started viewing so many foods as rewards, indulgences, but not as fuel for our bodies. When we have those chocolate chip cookies, they are delicious, but they don’t really give anything good to our bodies. Yet, when we don’t eat the unhealthy foods, we feel like we are depriving ourselves.

Often people around us make that feeling worse. “That one piece of cake won’t kill you.” “You only live once. Eat what you want.” “You’ve ate good all week, you deserve to splurge.” I’m sure we’ve all heard one of these or a variation of it as we travel down this road. This causes us to feel like we are missing out so we come up with these days to reward ourselves.

So what if we stopped thinking like that. What if instead, we realized all the food we put into our mouths is a conscious decision? What if we started thinking of food as fuel, as nourishment to help our bodies perform better, to help us live longer, healthier lives?

If you do that long enough, this WOE will become easier, more natural. Before you know it, you will automatically reach for the almond flour at the store or order the salad and steak at the restaurant. Maybe then we can find new ways to reward ourselves, ways that are more beneficial to our lives. Maybe save money for new clothes for your new, healthier body. Or buy that gym membership you’ve been wanting instead of working out in the garage. Get the concert tickets you’ve had your eye on. Or, maybe you don’t want to spend money.

Find other ways to reward yourself. Spend the whole day reading and relaxing. Or sleep under the stars. Find something that you enjoy, something you don’t get to do often, and reward yourself. These rewards will make you feel great without the sugar or bloating later.

I know that it isn’t always easy to make the best eating choices. I love ice cream. It is probably my favorite of all junk foods. I have learned how to make it to go with this WOE, but sometimes I find myself in a situation where I can’t make it myself. Sometimes, I just don’t eat the ice cream. But sometimes, I do. Sometimes, food is part of an experience.

It’s something new you’ve never had and will likely not have again, or at least not for a long time. For instance, you may be going to a new city and eating at a restaurant you’ve never been to before. This restaurant is one you probably won’t come to again for at least a couple years. If you choose to eat that one of a kind bread plate or the massive, gooey dessert that looks like nothing you’ve ever had, is it going to derail all the progress you’ve made? No, it probably won’t.

Again, this could be another learning experience. You would be experiencing new flavors and dishes. You could try learning to make it in a more healthy way once your home if you enjoyed it. If you didn’t, then you’ll know and you won’t need to try it again.

On the flip side of that, there are some foods we already know the flavor of. I’ve had tacos from Taco Bell and pasta from Olive Garden. I know what they taste like. If I chose to go have a plate of fettuccine, that would be just that, a choice. It wouldn’t be an experience, or a cheat, or a reward. I would just have chosen to eat that for my meal that one time and then move on. 

Another time many people tend to decide to eat the foods that they enjoy, but aren’t healthy for them is on vacation. You’re in a new place with new restaurants and new experiences.

This is one of the times we tend to feel like we are depriving ourselves. This is where the new experiences could come into play. Maybe pick one specific restaurant, or one day, while you’re on vacation to have the new experiences with food that doesn’t fit into this WOE. One thing you do not want to do is ending up gorging on junk food the entire trip. This will inevitably lead to you feeling tired, sluggish, bloated, sick, or just generally not well.

Nobody wants that when they’re trying to enjoy their vacation. And, again, do not beat yourself up or carry around guilt for any poor eating choices you do make. Remember, they are choices, but they can be learned from. 

I also don’t usually plan days that I am going to eat unhealthy foods on a regular basis. I feel like if I do that, it will become a habit. I don’t want to make it a habit, yet again, to eat foods that aren’t beneficial to my well being. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone doing this because, again, it is a choice. All choices, when made responsibly, can work out just fine.

Everyone is different and everyone has to do things in a way that helps them. Some people can pick a day that they choose to eat junk food or sweets. Some people also work out every day and burn more fat that way. While other people may not be able to eat just one cookie without eating the whole dozen. Some people may not physically be able to walk more than a few minutes at a time without getting winded.

My point is, everyone has different needs, limits, and abilities. You have to make this journey your own. What works for one person may not work for another, and that’s okay. 

We all make choices every day. One of the most important choices we make is how we eat. Food is fuel to help us enjoy our lives. It is not something we should use as a reward, as a “cheat”, or to make us feel guilt or shame. We all need to own our choices and learn to make responsible ones that benefit us, while still having joy and happiness in our lives.

Whether or not you CHOOSE to pick a specific day each week or month, or a specific time of year, or specific event (like vacation) to indulge in foods that aren’t part of this WOE is totally up to you. Maybe you’ll decide to only allow yourself to make the decision to have sugars and breads a couple times a year or on occasion. Maybe you’ll make the decision to never go back to eating those foods again. No matter what you choose, there is no wrong answer.

As I have said many times, this is your journey. You are doing this for you and you have to do what works for you. Also, surround yourself with people that support those choices and encourage your efforts to be healthier and happier. Having negativity around while you’re trying to make these major life changes will definitely make things more difficult.

Support and encouragement is so important when doing this, when doing any major life changes really. If you don’t have people around you that do this, find support online. (This is one of the reasons we decided to form this group.) Be proud of your efforts, own your choices, and let’s all stop turning our choices into more ways to put ourselves down.

Written by easywoe


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