With Halloween just having happened this past week I thought this would put some people at ease that are sneaking a Reese’s here or there. There are some studies on how a cheat day compares to a cheat meal when it comes to things like leptin (hormone that makes you feel hungry), but I want to focus more on sustainability. Also the general attitude toward how we view these snacks isn’t always helpful.
These cheats I’m talking about are when someone following a set meal plan or diet of some kind go off their rules and consume something they’ve been abstaining from. Usually this is junk food like cake, pizza, burgers, or other indulgences, but technically it could be something like eating bread on a paleo diet or meat when you’re trying to be vegetarian. In CrossFit most people, that choose to follow a meal plan of some kind, go with macros and use meal prepping to stay on track. Trying to constantly restrict yourself to eating specific things can be mentally exhausting so people use these cheats to give a little break, and reward themselves along the way.
Some people go all out with cheats, and will chose a day, usually the weekend, where they will allow any and all indulgences they want. Others maybe just have one meal where they eat bigger portions and have a dessert or drink. Is going with a “all or nothing” view the best way to go though? I think that the way you eat needs to be a part of your lifestyle, and not something you force yourself to adhere to. If you’re waiting all week for Sunday to come so you can eat whatever you want then you’re basically just waiting for an end, and eventually you’ll just let that end happen. Then your day turns to a week and a month and then you’re done with it. Letting yourself have some wiggle room, I think, makes it much easier to sustain. Making a lifestyle change like food is about consistency over time, not perfection for 6 days and then total breakdown on the 7th. If once or twice during the week you allow yourself a cookie cause someone brought them to work or a quick drink after your shift with some friends, then I bet when the weekend comes you won’t have some crazy craving for a whole pizza. And a cookie and drink is way less of an impact then 3 slices of deep dish!
I don’t think people like to allow small treats more often because it makes them feel like they’re doing it to many times. This is where the problem of actually calling them “cheat” meals is a problem. Just the word cheat itself implies it’s highly negative. Whether it’s on a test, in a relationship, or during a game the thought of cheating is almost horrific, but eating isn’t like this. If you take a snickers out of your kids Halloween stash your body isn’t gonna give you an F or bench you for the season. Now if you’re eating a dozen KitKat bars everyday it very well could fail you, but that’s on the other end of the spectrum. So, maybe we change the language around it. Instead of a cheat this or that it’s just a snack or a treat.
Remember that almost everything is fine in moderation, and eating shouldn’t be a list of things to not have. Making healthy food choices should be a natural habit like any other daily routine that you develop over time through consistency. So, don’t look for the light at the end of the tunnel, or more appropriately the cake at the end of the week. Live your life knowing that the wine you had with dinner last night and half a donut you had with your coffee the other morning won’t reverse the benefits of the other 20+ meals you ate that week that were healthy.