The term “cheat days” has been around for a long time. But what does it mean? First, you eat healthy and “clean” for six days, you stick to a balanced diet. Everything that is junk food, like fast food, dessert, or processed snacks is off the table during these 6 days.
On the seventh day, you let loose. You allow yourself to eat what you crave. You think: what is the worst thing that could happen if you break the rules just once a week?
Kelly Hogan, Ms. RD affirms: As a registered dietitian, I shudder when I hear the term “cheat day.” Not because I’m thinking of people shoving donuts and cheeseburgers in their mouths left and right, but because it’s a term rooted in diet culture that firmly places food in “good” or “bad” camps.
Escape negative feelings towards junk food
You should never associate moral highs and lows to categorizing foods as good or bad. One of the first things a registered dietitian works on is food neutrality and this happens each time a client confesses to being “bad” or “cheating” on their diet. They often experience guilt feelings towards food. Putting all foods on a neutral playing field — that’s right, cookies and kale in the same category — can help free up a lot of the brain space used worrying about eating or not eating certain foods.
Overeating or bingeing is often followed by feelings of guilt and shame but also results in calorie intake. A recent study looking at common factors in those engaging in cheat meals and those with eating disorders, such as binge eating, found precipitating factors of both behaviors to be consistent — psychological and physical food cravings.
After periods of strict dietary restriction, there are two factors that appear, as a symptom of binge eating disorder and normative behavior in diet culture that is so prevalent today. The studies associated symptomology to that of eating disorders, although dietary restricting and cheat days are socially acceptable behaviors in today’s society. If disordered eating is not already present in those with regular cheat days, it is often a gateway to more disordered eating behaviors.
Build a positive relationship with food
Kelly Hogan affirms that as a dietitian who often works with clients on healing their relationships with food and their bodies, a common step is to eschew the cheat day. It can help take away the guilt often associated with cheat days or meals and the yo-yo diet cycle that might follow, and also, it can help you start to have a more food-neutral mindset.
Try these healthy strategies:
- Eat the things you like when you crave them, but don’t forget about the right quantities.
- Honor your cravings. If you want to eat a burger, eat it and savor it. You will get a feeling of satisfaction and you can continue your diet with a different level of motivation.
- Sometimes, the most nourishing choice we can make is to add another serving of vegetables to our plate.
Follow these healthy strategies and you will feel motivated to have a healthy, balanced diet in the long run. Don’t ignore your cravings, embrace it and adopt a positive attitude towards food.