This Is Why I Don’t Believe In Cheat Days, And Neither Should You

This Is Why I Don’t Believe In Cheat Days, And Neither Should You

I keep waiting for the concept of ‘cheat days’ to go away, but sadly, they’re as sticky as tar on a hot day. Search #cheatday on Instagram, and 3.1 MILLION posts pop up. So yeah, it’s still on for cheat days.

I’ve never liked the word ‘cheat day’, and I also don’t like the concept of ‘cheating’ on your diet. If you’re in the position to do it, that says a lot about your diet, and our diet culture today. The more a diet restricts, the more attractive the concept of a cheat day is. I get it – who wants to be on a restrictive diet 24/7? 

Except that, cheat days suck. And since we’re on the subject, so do diets.

Here’s why I don’t believe in cheat days, and what I do believe instead:

Cheat days perpetuate the ‘’good food’/‘bad food’ thinking of diet culture, which is toxic and unacceptable. 

There are no good or bad foods. Yes, some foods are healthier than others, but you will inevitably be more satisfied and content if you don’t have to assign a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ label to everything you eat. I’m not saying that you should be eating a ton of ultra processed foods, but it’s completely normal for some days to be healthier food-wise than others. 

Placing food into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories and ‘cheating’ with the ‘bad’ foods because you’ve been ‘good’ all week perpetuates the concept of forbidden fruit (figuratively and literally, for some). This comes complete with eventual overeating, guilt, and shame around consuming the ‘bad’ foods. It’s punishing, oppressive, and it takes away from the enjoyment of food and eating, which by the way, you should be experiencing.

People who assign ‘good’ and ‘bad’ labels to foods also sometimes in turn, assign those labels to themselves depending on what they choose to eat. You are not your food choices, you are not your diet, and to believe anything different is unhealthy emotionally and categorically untrue. So please stop. 

The next time you think to categorize a food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, stop yourself and reframe that thought. If none of the foods you eat are considered ‘bad’, then the power of the cheat day and the guilt you experience from eating goes right out the window. How can you cheat on your diet if there’s nothing to cheat with?

Concentrate on making the best food choices in the moment. That might mean that some days are ‘healthier’ than others, but hey – isn’t that what ‘normal eating’ is all about? Healthy eating entails not only a wide variety of foods, but also having a healthy attitude towards food, hunger, and eating without the burden of guilt. It’s the understanding that choosing a less-healthy food occasionally has very little impact on the overall quality of our diets and on our health, but can actually be fun and soul-nourishing. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Some words about diet culture. The only place that diet culture has gotten us is into a shitstorm of self-loathing and extreme fads that are messing up peoples’ relationships with food even more than they already are, if that’s possible. Sadly, the media portrays bodies as having one ideal, which is slender, and that’s just not real life. It drives people away from the foods and relationships they love in order to follow a shitty diet to try and ‘fix’ themselves. 

You don’t need ‘fixing’, our culture does.

If you feel the need to cheat on your diet, then your diet is clearly not okay.

Some people defend cheat days by saying that the cheat days help them stay on their diet. 

Is that a good thing, because if your diet doesn’t ‘allow’ the stuff that you’re eating on a cheat day, then is it really sustainable for the long term? And if it’s not sustainable for the long-term, chances are, at some point you’re going to backslide into your original situation. Sustainability and comfort in that, are key to maintaining a healthy diet and weight.

It’s a fair assessment (at least by looking at that #cheatday hashtag on Instagram) that most people who are in the throes of a cheat day are eating food that’s clearly not the healthiest choice. But what would your life look like if you relaxed and let yourself eat in a way that didn’t make you want to wolf down a triple burger or a huge bowl of pasta at the end of the week? 

Even more importantly, what’s this diet doing to your emotional health? 

Ask yourself these questions:

Are you isolating yourself from fun times with friends and family because they don’t fit into your diet or are on the wrong day for your ‘cheat’?

Are you anxious around food because you’re afraid that you’re going to eat something that’s not consistent with the restrictions on your diet? 

Are you miserable all week because you’re depriving yourself, waiting for cheat day to come so you can splurge? 

If you’re answered ‘yes’ to even one of these, please consider if your diet is worth it. 

It’s not worth destroying your emotional health to look a certain way. If you want to lose weight, consider a gentler way of doing it.

I’m a huge fan of intuitive eating. For the uninitiated, intuitive eating is essentially nourishing your body with a variety of foods and rejecting diet mentality, while honouring your hunger and fullness. It’s about having faith that if you give your body the nutrition it needs and not punish it with diets, your weight will fall where it’s supposed to. Dieting with cheat days is completely the opposite of intuitive, since you’re basically making yourself eat junk on a day where you might not even want it, and denying your body’s cravings on every other day.  If IE isn’t your style, that’s totally fine. My recommendation for you then would be to think about the cost benefit of your diet and what you’re really getting out of it versus what you’re putting in.

The word ‘cheat’ has a negative connotation right off the bat.

Just like the words ‘guilt-free’, ‘sinful’, and ‘clean’ immediately assign a moral judgement to what we eat, and so does the word ‘cheat’. No one ever used the word ‘cheat’ to describe something positive: The very meaning of the word is to act dishonestly or unfairly. It can carry over into a person’s view of themselves, too: I’m a bad person, a weak person, because I cheated. 

Even if you brush that fact off, the subconscious effect is inescapable: you’re doing something bad, as a reward for being ‘good’. What? Why is this a thing? 

You don’t deserve a reward for restricting your diet. What you DO deserve is to stop restricting your diet and be kinder to yourself.

It’s so okay to enjoy food. Food is supposed to fuel us, but also nourish us physically and emotionally, and be a part of our social experiences. Eating and hunger are not the enemies, and neither is your body. Instead of cheat days, try to reframe your perception of food and hunger so that your diet nourishes your body and soul, and doesn’t feel restrictive or punitive. This might take a while to adjust to, but in the end, you’ll realize that you didn’t ever have to ‘cheat’ in order to be healthy. 

7 Responses

  1. Louisa Varalta Bloomfield says:

    Abby, you’ve hit it out of the park again! I have friends who follow this strict diet 6days then on the 7th, just like God, they take a break and stuff themselves with rich desserts, incredibly yummy doughnuts, pastas and as much starchy foods as their stomachs will allow! Then on Monday they jump back into this regiment of depriving their bodies of actual fun that consistent variety in eating brings.
    It may be Thursday but pass the olive oil cake!

  2. Thais Cesar says:

    Great text. I always believed in “eating intuitively,” but I did not know how to express that idea. Feeling good is surely the main goal to achieve in life, including our own diet as a means to achieve physical and emotional well-being. You have been able to explain these ideas very clearly in your text.

    • AstralStorm says:

      It’s not for everyone, like any nutrition, it fails in people who are obese or morbidly obese as the stabilizing mechanism is out of whack initially. Hunger is off, satiation is off and more issues there might be… That’s where a diet is necessary, but ultimately this should just turn into normal and better eating that sticks.

      For most normal weight or slightly overweight people, it’s not needed.

      Once you fix that – typically eating less but better and more delicious, accepting some hunger for the start, adding a bit of excercise – it’s fine.
      Like every homeostatis in human body, the set point can go wrong after all.

  3. Nita says:

    Thank you!! I love the info in your posts and appreciate your help saying through all this diet mania!! And love the recipes.. appreciate you! ?

  4. Jodi says:

    Awesome article !

  5. Brad says:

    This is the best article I’ve ever seen or read on dieting and the craziness of our culture around food and diets. Thanks for telling it like it is. Abby! I look forward to more wisdom and truth!

  6. Dr.Garry Lee says:

    The problem with the above is that it is a slippery slope. For many people some foods are addictive and they crave more even if they eat a small bit. I used to adhere to this philosophy of yours and it never worked. For five years I’ve stuff I don’t eat at all and do you know what? I’ve had my weight at ideal for more than four and a half years. Habit is way more powerful than willpower. HABIT IS WAY MORE POWERFUL THAN WILLPOWER.

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