Why I quit having cheat meals, and what I do instead.
I used to white knuckle through the week. I’d eat clean as a bee* Monday through Friday, so I could earn my weekend cheat meal. Typically when that food finally got in front of me, I’d be fiending so bad for something that wasn’t “diet food” or low calorie that I would lose all control, eating with complete abandon…usually right up until bedtime. I would feel as if no matter what I ate, I just couldn’t get satiated.
*(I made that saying up and it sounds good so I’m rolling with it).
What I didn’t realize was that depriving myself so badly during the week was what was making me feel so ravenous and insatiable on the weekends.
Understandably, it became harder and harder to stay lean.
You might feel this way on a weekly basis too and be stuck in the cycle of deprive, binge, feel guilty, so restrict more then binge again cycle.
The catch here is that the point to which we feel deprived directly effects the degree to which we overindulge later.
Ever skimp on food all day only to get home and eat your entire kitchen? Same thing.
So what’s the solution?
It’s most definitely not “have more self-control” or just “be more disciplined”. All that resisting and restricting is what lands us on planet binge in the first place.
I’ve successfully broken free from the cheat meal mentality that was causing me to have to regain momentum over and over again after each cheat went overboard.
Here’s how I did it and why I no longer implement cheat days for myself and for clients.
“Cheat” Implies You’re Doing Something Wrong
The cheat meal mentality perpetuates the idea that we have to be perfect with our diet for x number of days in order to earn certain foods, or that certain foods are a reward for being good.
First off, you never need to do anything to deserve your food. Second, getting a lean, strong, healthy body does not require being 100% perfect.
Striving to be consistent rather than trying to be perfect is the key to achieving a healthy long term lifestyle which will promote on-going results. We don’t need to be perfect and faultless, we just need to have the courage and ability to manage life’s hurdles and adapt our plan of action when they happen – because they will happen – rather than give up completely.
Solution: Approach food the same way every day
Don’t wait for special occasions or weekends to eat your favorite foods. Eat the foods you want, when you truly want and only if you’re hungry. Find ways to build them into your weekly eats.
I use something called #NutritionalSwerves to swerve deprivation. These are foods that I incorporate on the daily that aren’t considered “physique friendly” by the mainstream. Their purpose is to satiate and satisfy me enough to not feel deprived and to prevent overeating later on, but aren’t blatant overindulgences.
Some examples of these for me are things like a sprinkle of cheese or a spoonful of ranch on my veggies, 1 or 2 pieces of bacon in a salad, guacamole on whatever meat I’m eating or a spoonful of nut butter.
Including my #NutritonalSwerves into my daily meals helps me reach the weekend without feeling worn out and deprived, so I can approach my weekend eating just as I would on a weekday.
Cheat Meals Put Certain Foods on a Pedestal
Viewing certain foods like pizza or ice cream as “bad” or labeling them as treats/cheats gives them a whole lot of unnecessary power. This power makes us feel like these foods have command over us and that we can’t control ourselves in their presence without overeating.
When we put foods either off limits or on a pedestal, they also suddenly become more desirable. Even if we didn’t want them that badly before, now that we can’t have them we want them even more and our cravings skyrocket.
This also encourages a scarcity mindset (“I better eat all of this now because I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to eat it again”) whether conscious or not, which is what causes us to go overboard when we finally get our “treats” in front of us.
Solution: Stop labeling foods
Creating a healthy and enjoyable relationship with food, one free from guilt, shame and judgment, involves treating all food as morally neutral.
Food is food. It’s not inherently good or bad, special or not, so avoid putting labels, especially moralistic ones on it. How we experience food, what we eat, how we eat it and how often we do is directly affected by how we perceive it.
Every notice how eating a food we’ve labeled as bad often makes us feel that we are now bad as a person?
There are healthier foods and there are less healthy foods but there are no evil or magic foods that will completely ruin or transform your physique in one hit. It’s all in the dose.
I found that once I removed the “off-limits” label from certain foods and realized I’m allowed to eat those foods whenever I want, I started to crave (and need) them less. Now, if I truly want a once off-limit food, like a cheeseburger, I eat enough of it to squash my hunger and move on.
Cheat Meals Are Isolating
Only letting yourself eat certain foods at your allowed cheat times can be a real drag when your significant other wants to go out for ice cream but you can’t, or your friends want to go out for tacos and drinks but it’s not your cheat day.
While trying to change your physique will require some level of sacrifice, there’s no reason to miss out on date night, family events or other celebrations, especially because having to isolate yourself is going to cause you to really resent your journey and self-sabotage.
I used to have a TON of anxiety around eating anywhere that wasn’t my kitchen, until I realized that eating out doesn’t have to be an all or nothing event, nor does it have to be saved for a cheat day. It’s totally possible to make healthier choices and moderately indulge in what I like, if I want to, without going overboard and without guilt.
Can I have my meal plus french fries on the side, 3 glasses of wine, and dessert? Of course. But neither my fitness intentions nor mindset will probably benefit. Instead, by choosing my indulgence (or nutritional swerve) – such as fries OR wine OR dessert – and consuming it moderately while following my hunger cues, I won’t feel deprived and I can fully enjoy my meal.
Having this kind of flexibility in your eating is absolutely vital to sustainability and happiness, which both go hand in hand.
A huge tenant of my nutrition philosophy is that there is no one size fits all and that it’s super important to find what works for YOU. So, if you are implementing cheat meals successfully, they’re not negatively effecting your relationship with food and how you’re eating feels sustainable – keep at it!
However, don’t feel obligated to follow one single method or think that just because your co-worker, Facebook friend or Instagram idol is following a certain protocol that you have to too.