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Why You May Want to Avoid Cheat Days

I recently read an article about cheat days, and it made me realize that the concept of cheat days had completely fallen off my radar. Then I realized just how glad I was to have them in my past.

But I know that’s not the case for everyone. Some people still like the idea of following a diet most of the time, but on some days they can eat whatever they want. I don’t think that’s a great approach for a few reasons.

Reinforces judgmental thinking

One of my main concerns is that the very concept of a cheat day implies that some foods are bad and others are good – and that you’ll be judged by what you eat. Even if you hold off on eating something “bad” until a cheat day, the implication is still that something is “bad” about the food and you’re being “bad” for eating it.

This type of black-and-white thinking about food is outdated and harmful.

For one, no food is inherently good or bad. Some of it may make you feel not so great, especially if you eat a lot of it too quickly, but that doesn’t mean something is wrong with the food.

I was also thinking about this after watching a video by Hank Green. He’s a YouTube creator who recently finished going through chemo, and he commented that during chemo, his doctor said Hank should eat whatever he wanted. That’s because chemo hits the body hard, and most people can’t eat much while going through treatment because it makes them sick.

In that case, anything you can eat – and keep down – is the best food for you and your body, even if it’s potato chips, ice cream, cookies, pizza, fried chicken, or anything else that might be on the “bad” list for some diets.

Plus, this good/bad approach to food can lead to negative self-talk and judgment. If you eat a “bad” food when you’re alone, you’ll probably still beat yourself up about it even if no one else knows.

Encourages overeating

Another problem is that when you get to the cheat day, you’re likely to overeat the “forbidden” foods because you’ve been restricting yourself. And if you’re going back to the diet tomorrow, you’ll probably want to make the most of the cheat day by eating as much as possible.

Or if you start a day intending to stick with your diet, something might change to make you consider it a cheat day. Maybe someone brought in a birthday cake to work, or a friend invited you to lunch, or whatever else it might be.

Once you get off the diet in that situation, you may decide that since you’ve already “messed up”, you should eat whatever you want, and as much of it, for the rest of the day. You’ll just get back on track tomorrow.

Discourages mindful eating

That brings me to the last point, which is that cheat days discourage mindful eating. You’re apt to overeat and may even eat things you don’t particularly want, simply because they’re on the forbidden list.

With mindful eating, though, you don’t need to wait for a certain day to have what you want. You can have it any day, and that freedom can make some of those foods less appealing.

You might also find that you don’t need much of those previously forbidden foods to satisfy you. I think back to when I used to eat large candy bars in one sitting, or even two of them, but it simply doesn’t appeal to me now. Most of the time I’m good with a square or two of dark chocolate – but I can also have a candy bar (or part of one) if I want it.

Cheat days may leave you feeling cheated

Cheat days are problematic for several reasons, but one of the biggest is that it’s still a form of restriction and encourages black-and-white thinking about food. But eating isn’t quite as straightforward as that.

Rather than only eating certain foods on “cheat days” because those foods are supposedly bad for you, it’s much more freeing to eat what you really want when you actually want it. That way, you won’t feel cheated on the days you’re restricting yourself due to some arbitrary diet.


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