THE TRUTH ABOUT CHEATS
In the dieting and fitness worlds there’s this thing that everyone longs for…THE CHEAT. That one meal or day of the week that you spend the entire rest of the week living for…
“Just make it to cheat day. Just make it to cheat day.” you tell yourself all week long. You laugh, but I bet you’ve done it just like I have.
Cheats are deviations from your normal nutritional plan for whatever reason. But there are several truths about cheats that I think warrant talking about openly.
WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING WHEN YOU CHEAT?
You’re rewarding yourself, right!? You’ve eaten super clean all week; you resisted to those donuts Jan brought into work, you didn’t drink during ladies night, or you resisted the game days snacks at the big game. You’ve trained hard in the gym; made it to every class, maybe stayed for some extra work, taken the dogs on an extra long walk or even gotten in some extra cardio on the side. The kids are still alive and the partner is even good too! Plus the house got clean and all the laundry is done AND put away. Now you’re going “treat” yourself for a job well done and eat whatever your little heart desires.
On your cheat day you eat everything that’s not “allowed” in your healthy weekly diet; bread, pasta, soda, chips, baked goods, fatty foods, you name it. Maybe you eat out that day and you NEVER do that during the week. Heck, maybe you even eat out for all three meals that day! Dare I say you even add in a few (or 7) drinks?
That is, my friends, what a dude I once knew called, eating until you hate yourself. Yup, he actually said that out loud one day… “I eat until I hate myself on my cheat day.” Yikes! That’s actually kinda sad when you really think about it! He restricted himself SO much through the week that he felt the need to gorge on everything he could get his hands on that one day each week. I bet you he overate so much that one day out of seven that he completely did away with any calorie deficit he created the rest of the week too. I’m pretty sure we can all agree that this approach is neither the best way to achieve your goals, nor is it the month mentally healthy approach to life either.
That’s when a cheat becomes a binge, and that’s a whole different issue for a whole different blog!
WHY DO FEEL THE NEED TO CHEAT?
So let’s talk about why you feel the need to “cheat” in the first place. Well, like I mentioned above, it’s a reward! You’ve become accustomed to getting that hit of dopamine to your brain that is pleasurable and makes you want to do it again. Couple that with the fact that you’ve gotten so used to categorizing (I mean demonizing) foods as either “good” or “bad” that you’ve created this Jekyll and Hyde situation for yourself so that you only eat “good” all week long and then go off the rails completely when you’re presented with “bad” foods.
The real question becomes why you demonize foods to begin with? Is it because you heard Dr. Oz say a particular food item wasn’t good for you? Is it because a friend or family member told you it was bad or you read the front of a tabloid in the grocery store checkout line that told you it was bad?
Why do we even call them cheats!? The word cheat means to “act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage.” That doesn’t seem to fit the description of how you use the word in the context of food now does it? By calling allowing an indulgence to happen within your nutrition plan a “cheat” you are calling yourself dishonest and unfair. You aren’t dishonest and unfair! You just want a few cookies for crying out loud!
HOW CAN YOU RE-FRAME YOUR THINKING?
Now that you’re head is reeling over the fact that you eat yourself silly each week out of a perceived need to not only reward yourself for properly adulting but also to subconsciously chastise yourself for wanting to enjoy food once in a while, let’s talk about how to change those ways of thinking.
What if I told you that you could enjoy what you’re eating every single day of the week? What if I told you that you could allow an indulgence item in regularly and actually achieve your goals more quickly?
The most effective nutritional strategy is the one you can stick with long term. Sustainable healthy eating habits combine occasional indulgences with periods of eating most high nutrient dense foods so that you aren’t severely restricting yourself and then overindulging later.
The first key to this is to stop demonizing foods. There is no amount of chicken and broccoli that will make you a good person and no amount of pasta, donuts or alfredo sauce that will make you a bad one. There are nothing more than higher nutrient dense and lower nutrient dense foods and what will help you leave the “cheat” mentality behind is by filling your days with mostly high nutrient dense foods while allowing yourself to fit in less nutrient dense foods sometimes.
Bread, bagels, English muffins, cereal, pasta, chicken thighs, pork, steak, pizza, whole eggs etc can all fit within a healthy, balanced nutrition plan to get healthy and stay healthy. Those foods just need to be implemented in a way that still encourages overall healthy choices rather than a free for all mentality.
It’s called the 80/ 20 rule. 80% of the time you want to be focusing on high quality, nutrient dense foods like vegetables, a variety of protein sources, nuts, seeds, healthy oils and some fruits and the other 20% of the time allowing yourself to enjoy a bagel, have a couple of tablespoons of Nutella, enjoying a slice of cake at a friend’s birthday party or grabbing a latte from the local coffee shop.
Over the course of a 7 day period of time most people eat 35 meals (3 meals and 2 snacks per day). Here are two strategies for following the 80/20 within your week:
You can enjoy 28 high nutrient dense meals and 7 less nutrient dense meals. You can place those meals throughout your week however you choose them too and they can change each week given your schedule or events you have going on.
You could allow for one indulgence food every single day of the week at the appropriate serving size, for a total of 7 indulgence food servings per week.
In both of those scenarios there is never any mention of you cheating on your plan, going off the rails or deviating in any way. This is because you aren’t deviating from your plan. It IS your plan and it is flexible and allows you to enjoy your life and still achieve or maintain your goals.
By disassociating yourself with terms like good, bad and cheat when it comes to the foods you eat and replacing those terms with more nutrient dense, less nutrient dense and indulgence you are re- framing your brain to think of those foods as they truly are versus labeling them negatively.
This will create a better relationship between you and the foods of the world and will open you up to enjoying your food within the overarching theme of a healthy, balanced diet versus one that teeter totters between restriction and overindulgence.