Who Are You Really Cheating?

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I often hear the women I’m coaching talk about “cheat days,” those glorious-sounding times when they allow themselves to eat whatever they want, to overeat, to forget about the “diet” and just enjoy themselves.  If that sounds like you, the question is: Who are you cheating?

Some say that giving yourself a day off from worrying about what you eat provides a relief that can strengthen your willpower once the day is over.

To that I’d say: Why are you worrying so much about food to begin with?

Others argue that cheat days can increase the hunger-dampening hormone leptin, boost metabolism and actually help you lose weight.

My response? I don’t know for sure, but it sounds like you’re looking for a good excuse to eat a lot of unhealthy food for a day! I could be wrong, though.

One of the biggest issues I have with cheat days is the name itself. If you’ve been separating food into “good” and “bad” categories, if you’ve been strictly restricting what you eat, if you’ve denied yourself all pleasure of eating, if you’re looking for a rationale for “eating everything in moderation,” my suggestion is to go back to the basics of clean eating.

Clean Eating 101

(1) Diets don’t work for the long haul. Sure, if you restrict your calories you’ll lose weight, whether you completely give up carbs, protein or fat … or all three?! When you cut out an entire food group, of course your calorie intake will shrink and so will your waist. For a while. Until you go back to a healthier, more reasonable eating plan that you can live with.

(2) The 80-20 rule works best for most of us. That’s the philosophy that trying to eat healthy and clean (ie., unprocessed foods without added sugar and chemicals, etc.) at least 80% of the time is a reasonable goal. The other 20%? Well, that’s where life comes in. When you find yourself at lunch with friends in a restaurant with very few healthy options, or you forget to plan ahead and have a long commute without your veggies next to you.

(3) We need to stop restricting ourselves when it comes to food choices. Stop thinking in terms of all the things you “can’t” have and start enjoying the foods you “can.” Instead of, “I can’t eat that much red meat anymore,” think in terms of, “I’m treating myself to healthier high-protein options that I love, like salmon, eggs and turkey.” Learn which foods make you feel good, which ones make you feel gross.

(4) Weigh yourself no more than once a week and start looking for “non-scale victories.” Your clothes fit better, you have more energy, you’re sleeping better, you’re happier. I don’t care what the numbers on the scale say, I’d take any of those victories over a half-pound weight loss that those highly inaccurate bathroom scales are telling me about — wouldn’t you?

So when you’re looking forward to a cheat day when you can relax and eat whatever’s in front of you … make sure what’s in front of you is the highest-quality cheat food you can find. Savor every bite. Don’t go hog-wild. Listen to your body, it’ll tell you what it needs.