A shift has taken place and “cheat days” have come into vogue. What used to be verboten is now encouraged. On a diet? Pick one day a week and eat whatever the heck you want; you are practically required to shove as much guilty pleasure food down your gullet as you can and relish the experience.
Back when I spent 30 days following Tim Ferriss’ “4-Hour Body” eating plan, I have to admit the first cheat day was fun. Gleefully (and guiltlessly) ingesting muffins and pasta and cupcakes had its charms. But the rush quickly wore off and the next week I struggled to “binge” and mostly just felt sick afterward. The third week I ate a lot less on my cheat day and mostly just upped the carbs a bit and added a sugary snack and dessert. I didn’t like how I felt and I didn’t think it was necessary to have this unregulated day.
Now I’m on a super-strict version of “The Smarter Science of Slim” plan. I mostly eat just lean proteins and a whole lot of non-starchy carbs. If I indulge, it’s generally one meal, and I’ll have a piece of bread, maybe a dessert, and a glass of wine. The only thing I really miss and will cheat on more often is ice cream, otherwise I’m dairy free.
But there are pitfalls to cheat days and I want to talk about them.
1. It can be the beginning of a back slide. My experience after a cheat day is that I feel resentful to be “back on the program.” I was annoyed to return to my leafy greens and grilled chicken and wanted more. Sometimes that feeling turned into action and I got more. Not good. A cheat day can easily turn into the end of your diet and it might even be a week or two before you even realize it!
2. Cheat days don’t teach balance. Isn’t the general idea, not just with a diet but with what you consume on a daily basis, that you eat mostly healthy foods and have an occasional indulgence? If your focus is solely on planned cheat days and what crappy food you’re going to gorge on, then how are you learning balance? I think the long-term goal should be making eating healthfully de rigeur and letting yourself have a sweet snack here and there.
3. Not for those with eating disorder tendencies. If you have any history of binge eating or overly restrictive eating, cheat days can be a set up just waiting to happen. You could easily wind up with distorted behaviors, which can be truly dangerous. Be honest with yourself, and if you have these tendencies, don’t put yourself in a position to trigger them.
I have slowly evolved to get to the place where eating right is my lifestyle, although right now it’s hard to tell because I am doing the hardcore “SSoS” plan. I won’t really know if I’ve changed permanently until the pressure is off on October 22nd, the day after I film my fitness videos. Then I can do whatever the heck I want and I hope that I’ll stick mostly to lean proteins and veggies and weave in a little bit of whole grains here and there. Planning to eat sweets once or twice a week will be plenty I think.
What about you? Have you discovered any drawbacks to cheat day? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
photo credit: Amy Loves Yah