It’s Saturday, Finally! The time has come to have your “cheat meal”. You’ve been thinking about it all week, what should I have this week? Maybe you’ll use the family BBQ as your “cheat meal”, or perhaps you are in the mood for pizza. Tough decisions! The moment comes and goes by faster than you can say “cheat meal” and then it’s back to the regular diet and count down to the next Saturday night grubbing. But why use the word “cheat meal” at all? Is that really what we should be calling it? I hear it ALL the time from my clients, here are reasons why I believe there is no need to call it “cheating” at all…
1. “Cheat Meal” Doesn’t Fit the Definition of “Cheat”
The most applicable definition of the word “cheat” is: “to break a rule or law usually to gain an advantage at something”. What LAW are you breaking because you want to enjoy a slice of pizza? The law that you made up? Since when do diets have laws? What rules are you breaking? Even if you are trying to lose weight, you should be following guidelines and suggestions, not rules. Rules suck, and who wants to stick with a diet for the long-haul that’s full of all these obnoxious rules anyway? I think what happens is when individuals receive a new meal plan or format to eating to follow, in their head, they THINK it’s a given rule they shouldn’t be eating specific foods outside of what they are referencing. Which is understandable, but it seems it is becoming a universal “rule” and expectation being set for whatever reason for everyone. The advantage that you are gaining by having something you truly enjoy is plenty: variety, taste, moderation, interest, glycogen replenishment, extra calories, maybe sodium replenishment for athletes, and more. The “rule” or “law” you are breaking is nothing. A healthy diet, whether you are trying to lose weight or gain size, includes moderation and variety. It’s normal that not 100% of the foods you eat 7 days a week are from only nutrient dense sources. If you are following a diet that involves zero flexibility, then I suggest you get off of that right now. (Fitness and bodybuilding competitors when dieting for a show have very rigid rules of their diet to follow-I’m not talking about this different breed of athletes and level of compliance necessary to compete. I’m talking about 99% of everyone else whom are trying to lose weight,and eat a sensible diet).
2. You Aren’t Doing Anything “Bad”
Holy cow is the world going to come to end if you have a freaking piece of cake?? NO!!! Why do we beat ourselves up about it? We are so hard on ourselves! The expectation for perfection with our diet I always hear about is astounding, yet it is so unachievable and unrealistic! In our efforts to “be good” and lose weight we tend to ignore our need for moderation and include a few favorite foods. YOU ARE HUMAN. IT’S OK TO LIKE FOOD. Maybe right now you are thinking, “But Shelby, if I eat what I want I will gain weight!” Wrong. If you are mindless about it and eat it impulsively all the time and don’t stop when you have had enough fuel and ignore your body’s needs, then yes, you probably will! We are talking about creating balance between eating for nourishment and eating for pleasure.
Eating for nourishment means what it sounds like, you are choosing foods that meet more physical needs: medical conditions, food allergies, energy, digestion, performance, etc. When we are trying to lose weight, we tend to spend all our time in their world of eating for nourishment… ‘MUST KEEP OUT ANY EATING FOR PLEASURE’. Eating for pleasure plays a very important role in your long-term success with your eating, even if you are trying to lose weight. We ALL have needs for pleasure, variety, and balance when it comes to our food. Sometimes this comes in the form of healthful foods, and sometimes it doesn’t. Eating for pleasure allows an individual to not feel deprived or restricted. Deprivation and restriction are actually some of the top emotional triggers for people to “go off the wagon” so to speak. By being mindful that you would like to keep one piece of dark chocolate in your day, every day because that is the pleasurable amount of variety and moderation you need right now to feel comfortable and not restricted, then that’s what you do, that’s not cheating, that’s knowing what you truly want and need to be successful. You’ll find by giving yourself permission to meet these needs you’ll naturally find the balance between eating for nourishment and eating for pleasure, a must-have for both short-term and long-term success!
3. Cheat Meals Can Lead to a Bingeing Episode
Putting a “cheat meal” up on a pedestal all week can sometimes lead to eating more than your fair share for many reasons. It’s just food, but building up a “cheat meal” in your head can make this particular meal feel like the goddess of all foods that has magical powers or something. Again, it’s just food. Hyper-focusing on a cheat meal all week can cause individuals to go into the meal in the mindset of needing to “take advantage of it” because it’s the only ONE meal they “get” for the week that they really want. Well that sucks if that’s the case for you and I recommend you do something about it by changing your mindset surrounding “cheat meal” verbatim.
4. May Take Away the Enjoyment of the Meal
Let’s face it, by the time your “cheat meal” gets under your eyeballs you’re eating so fast that you act like you can’t wait to get rid of it and move on! Rarely do we eat slow, with appreciation, and free of any negative thought. Instead, many times we are faced with thoughts such as “I don’t want this to end”, “Can I have more?”, “How much more cardio will I need to do to work this dessert off?”, “I’ll start back on 100% on Monday” “I’m so fat right now” thoughts. By eating so fast we also are negligible to our body wisdom telling us when we’ve had enough. We usually keep going until we are past the point of being content. Sometimes we are left feeling physically uncomfortable. So tell me again why you look forward to your “cheat meal” when it’s leaving you with a headful of negative thoughts and emotions and feeling physically uncomfortable?
5. Can Create Unhealthy Relationships with Food
“Cheat” = “bad” “naughty” “shouldn’t be having” associations with food that we don’t need to have. When we are in a mental state where we are feeling negative or not being “good”, we lose the pure pleasure that non-healthy foods in our food abundant society can actually bring to our lives, and also ignore the needs of eating for pleasure that we all have. It also creates a stronger restrictive mindset surrounding food. Other restrictive talk and mindset easily begin to build, and words such as “rules” “good or bad” “perfection” “rationalizing” “failing” “willpower” “guilt” and “shame” begin to emerge. You keep this up you will be eating healthy foods only because you feel you “have to”, so you’ll continue to “cheat” more often and the vicious cycle will only continue to get worse. Before you know it you’ll be working with us to unravel all of it and reset your mindset surrounding food and renew your relationship with food!
Am I inside your head yet? Sound like you? Maybe it’s because I’ve been in your shoes, MANY times. I come from a restrictive eating background of competing and let me tell you, it has done a number on me mentally through the years. Luckily by working through my personal experiences and undergoing formal training in mindful eating, I have made 100% turn around with my eating and am able to help others as well. So what should we call this event then you say? Well, do really need to give it a name? I guess if you want to you could call it a “refeed”, for some, this is literally what it is, a part of your big picture regiment that involves you giving your body extra calories for various reasons: glycogen replenishment, boost in leptin hormones, boost in metabolism, etc. You really don’t need to call it anything specific at all. You can just say, “I had an awesome dinner, tasted great!” or nothing at all and let it be. Mentally and quietly you can remind yourself of the importance of having balance and variety, and the role it plays in the big picture and that there is no guilt that needs to accompany you for eating something you truly want and enjoy. Now if you really over extend yourself and almost purposely try to over eat, well then you can call it what it really is: bingeing, overeating, mindless eating, or overindulging. Now that has a negative vibe that DOES fit the description. Hopefully the above information hits home and helps you revise any negative mindset surrounding these meals into one with positivity, purpose, and without guilt or shame.