It’s finally Friday, and you’re exhausted from work and tired of calorie-counting. You’ve managed to get through an entire week of strict dieting and are ready for your Saturday cheat day. Considering all you’ve done this week, you definitely deserve a slice of cake, or pizza, or maybe a burger and a milkshake (with a side of french fries of course), and then obviously some pasta with cheese (duh) and garlic bread etc.... the list could go on. While I’m positive that you absolutely deserve to eat all of these amazing foods, are cheat days actually the way to go?
When dieting, it’s natural to want one day a week where you don’t have to worry about calories, carbs, or cholesterol. But, in my experience, restricting yourself all week will only lead to overindulgence later. Plus, is it really healthy for us to look at food in terms of good versus evil? Eating healthy shouldn’t be so torturous or restrictive that you feel the need to binge eat on designated “cheat” days. What if, instead of restricting ourselves first and pigging out later, we commit to enjoying each and every meal? Here’s why I’ve decided to make that change.
Restrict Now, Binge-Eat Later
Cheat days are a slippery slope. Remember the movie The Purge? Where, for one night a year, all crime is legal? Well, I’ve got news for you. Cheat days are the food version of The Purge, and in case you haven’t seen the movie, (#spoileralert) it doesn’t end well.
Unless your self-control and willpower are through the roof (please teach me your ways), then I suggest avoiding cheat days at all costs. It’s way too easy to start justifying that second, third or fourth sweet treat once you’ve already started to indulge.
The Good vs Evil Paradigm
Separating foods into “good” and “bad” categories is a recipe for disaster. Categorizing healthy food as “good” can subconsciously make it seem less desirable. When you put fresh veggies or fruit into the “good” group they suddenly become an obligation - something you have to eat, instead of something you want to eat. Studies have also shown that eating food out of obligation can leave us feeling unsatisfied and hungry (or in my case 'hangry').
Alternately, categorizing unhealthy or high-calorie foods as “bad,” can subconsciously make them seem more desirable. “Bad” foods become an illicit indulgence or a delicious fantasy after a hard day, that feels exciting to eat. I mean, who doesn’t love breaking the rules? YOLO! On top of that, while eating these “bad” foods might give you a rush of adrenaline, the come-down is not pretty. When you put sweets, sugar or grease into the “bad” group, eating them can leave you feeling guilty, and that feeling of guilt can propel this cycle of restriction and indulgence.
Post-Cheat Day Cravings
Restricting yourself every day except on your cheat day can actually prevent you from achieving your weight loss goals. This is partly because you’re likely to eat more calories than you normally would, or should, by bingeing on your cheat day, setting you back by way more than just one day. But, it’s also because the more sugar you consume, the more likely it is for your cravings to spike. The reality is, that overloading on sugar and fat one day can leave you with even more intense cravings the next day.
So what’s the alternative?
Eating healthy while also indulging in the occasional, and well-deserved, treat is a highly personal balancing act. But studies have shown that listening to your cravings, and your body can have a positive effect on your overall health and well-being. Eating some of your favorites, and maybe not-so-healthy, foods sporadically throughout the week can also prevent binge-eating later and keep you feeling satisfied every day.
In addition, when you stop thinking of food as either “good” or “bad,” you eliminate preconceived notions that subconsciously make some foods seem more satisfying than others. Eating well, enjoying sweets in moderation, and listening to your appetite can all prevent overly indulgent eating and reduce unwarranted feelings of guilt or shame. So, this week, instead of being ruled by extremes, try listening to your body and taking in exactly what it tells you it needs.