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Cheat Day

“Every good dieter deserves a cheat day.” That was the premise in an article I saw about making Thanksgiving a “cheat day”, and before I even read any further, I found myself itching to write a response.

The phrase “good dieter” rubbed me the wrong way. It emphasizes the notion that you as a dieter are good or bad – not, perhaps, that the diet itself might be bad. In my opinion, if a diet is so unsustainable that you need to “cheat” in order to keep it up, then how good can it be? And how good do you have to be in order to deserve such a day? If you ate a cookie the day before, are you suddenly “bad” and don’t deserve to enjoy Thanksgiving?

As I continued reading, I found myself questioning even more. The article suggests indulging on cheat days, but with moderation, pointing out that people who feel deprived are more likely to binge. I agree with that, which begs the question – if deprivation causes problems, why not incorporate moderation on a daily basis, instead of waiting to splurge on a specific day?

The article also pointed out that Thanksgiving is a day to “soak up the beauty of family, friends, and life in general,” so it’s okay to “kick back and enjoy yourself”. What does that mean for the rest of the time? That other days we shouldn’t be focused on enjoying life, or appreciating our family and friends? Or that we should eat food we don’t enjoy so we make sure we don’t eat too much?

I can’t really argue with the suggestion on limiting alcohol, or making sure not to drink on an empty stomach. But my discomfort returned with the comment to eat slowly so you enjoy the food, or else the splurge is wasted. Again, that implies that the rest of the time you may not want to linger over food because eating healthy is all about deprivation and can’t be enjoyed. Unfortunately I think many people believe that, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can certainly savor healthy meals that are truly delicious. And you can have something that’s more fun than nutritious without being “bad”.

The article proceeded to suggest eating only until satiated by paying close attention to fullness cues. But if the rest of the time you’re only eating as much as the diet allows, how will you even recognize your fullness cues to know when you’re satisfied? This approach doesn’t come naturally to many, and it takes practice, something that would be difficult to learn if you’re only doing it on “cheat” days.

Finally, the article recommends getting right back to the diet the next morning without worrying about the calories from the day before. I agree with not worrying about the previous day, but why go back on the diet?

Why not continue to practice all those things you did on your “cheat” day? Eating mindfully; enjoying the food and company; practicing moderation; and eating what you love but stopping when you’re satisfied. You can make every day one of mindful eating, gratitude, and celebrating life, without worrying about calories.

That way you never have to wonder if you’ve been “good” enough to “deserve” a cheat day, or force yourself to eat in ways that don’t appeal to you. You can simply enjoy and appreciate feeling good and everything life has to offer. Isn’t that, after all, what Thanksgiving, and every day, is all about?

Note: For more information on mindful eating, take a look at the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program here or at

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