Actually, the reward of a cheat day can sabotage your diet a lot more than you would think. And we aren’t just talking about the calories you will consume in that one day.
The “C word”. “Cheat” is a bad word. It carries negative connotations, and it gives us the idea that some foods are “good” while other foods are “bad”. Separating our foods into categories this way only enforces the idea of guilt and shame around eating. That’s not a good thing for someone who is trying to unravel their complicated relationship with food.
Loss of portion control. Once you’ve separated your food into “good” and “bad” categories, an odd psychological phenomenon begins to happen. If you must restrict your intake of bad foods, then the opposite must be true for the good foods. You can eat all you want! Of course, we know this isn’t true. Even healthy foods contain calories, and there really is too much of a good thing. But if you buy into the good food/bad food school of thought, you will probably find yourself losing sight of correct portion sizes even on your “diet days”!
Promoting obsession. When you look forward to that “cheat day” all week, you begin to obsess about it. You think about all the “bad foods” you can eat on your cheat day. Pretty soon you have an extraordinary menu planned. And the worst part? You’re focusing on your one day of indulgence so hard that you aren’t learning to enjoy healthy foods and exercise. You’re now treating your diet days like a prison from which you can’t escape. How likely are you to stick with this diet in the long run, if that’s how you view it?
So, instead of giving yourself “cheat days” as rewards, try this:
1. Don’t completely deprive yourself. Have the meal you’re craving for dinner. Eat a large salad first, and drink plenty of water. Then let yourself have some of that pasta. You’re less likely to overindulge if you don’t make yourself wait forever for some arbitrary reward day.
2. Enjoy more frequent treats. Instead of saving up for one big free-for-all day, allow yourself a bit of dessert here in there. Have one cookie after dinner, or a few pieces of chocolate.
3. Savor it. Any time you eat, avoid rushing through the meal. Enjoy the sight, taste, and smell of every single bite of food. Slowing down and truly appreciating your meal brings you greater emotional and physical satisfaction, and you’re less likely to enter into the yo-yo diet cycle of deprivation and binging.
Please Note: If you are on a specialized medical diet, please discuss this with your physician prior to making any variations.