I have a problem with the whole notion of “cheating” on your diet.

By “diet” I don’t necessarily mean “eating for fat loss”; I refer simply to the way that you eat on a day-to-day basis.

Some time ago, I made the decision to do away with cheat meals altogether. Since then, I’ve been able to maintain my level of leanness without the drastic fluctuations, and my relationship with food has improved dramatically.

In the same vein, I've witnessed friends and acquaintances over the years struggle with cheat meals, and I've come to develop an aversion to them over the years. Here’s why:

Cheat meals imply that there’s something missing from your diet.

If your diet is so great, then there shouldn’t be a need to deviate from it, would there?

If you really need a mental break from the diet, that implies that what you’re doing isn’t sustainable for one reason or another. Maybe you’re restricted to a 10-item food list. Maybe you’re forced to eat asparagus on the daily, which happens to make you gag. Maybe you’re so deprived of the small pleasures that you love (eg. half&half in your coffee) that your cravings are now kicking in full force.

Whatever the case, your diet must not be fulfilling enough as a standalone that you have to pair it with something “naughty.

A cheat meal can be a slippery slope for more and larger off-plan eating.

If you had one meal a week to eat exactly what you wanted without having to worry about fat or calories, would you be content with two slices of pizza and perhaps a scoop of ice cream afterward? Maybe in the beginning, but eventually you’ll likely reach a point where you find your meals turning into six-course ordeals.

Perhaps what started out as a simple, hour-and-a-half event has now quietly snowballed into an all-evening affair.

After all, when it comes to cheat meals, anything goes, right? If that’s the case, then I am obligated to chow down on anything and everything that looks even remotely appetizing.

Cheat meals tend to bring out the balls-out mentality.

On a similar note, how many times have you sat down to take a planned cheat meal and thought to yourself, “Go hard or go home”?

This is the Last Chance Syndrome in full effect. In other words, you know that you only have a set period of time in which you can eat certain foods that are otherwise off-limits, so you try to take full advantage of the situation by eating everything but the kitchen sink.

Why? Simply because you can. Because you know that come tomorrow morning, you’ll be back to your regular diet with no fun foods allowed.

From @iifymacros Instagram. Ain't that the truth? 
From @iifymacros Instagram. Ain't that the truth?

All or nothing, baby.

The connotation of a "cheat" meal is misleading.

“Cheat” implies taboo behavior, which implies sin, which then begets guilt.

There should be no guilt associated with food consumption. Ever.

If the only time you allow yourself to eat a cheeseburger is when you’re “cheating” on your diet, how does that make you feel when you’re consuming said food? Probably pretty crappy.

This creates a dichotomy between what you may see as “good” foods (things that you’re allowed to eat) versus “bad” foods (things that you’re not supposed to eat). From here, the thought process evolves into believing that you’re a bad person for eating “bad” foods, and similarly, redeemed when you eat enough of the “good” food.

Yes, there are foods that are better for you, and others that you should probably enjoy in moderation.

But food is not naughty; food is not nice.

Breakfast burritos are an anytime-food in my book. I don't ever feel the need to wait for a specific day and time to enjoy this kind of treat. 
Breakfast burritos are an anytime-food in my book. I don't ever feel the need to wait for a specific day and time to enjoy this kind of treat.

 

“Oh, but it’s just semantics,” some may argue.

No, it’s not just semantics. Words are incredibly powerful. The implications are far-reaching, whether you realize it on a conscious level or not.

I can’t remember the last time I had a cheat meal. And I like it that way.

This isn’t to say that it’s been years since I’ve enjoyed some Stromboli or allowed myself any sugar.

In fact, I eat sugar almost everyday; I have “junk food” all the time.

The difference, though, is that no foods are off-limits in my book. If I truly want something, I’ll allow myself to have it. And I never feel obligated to finish off the bag just because it’s there.

The key here is moderation. The secret is portion control.

Nobody got fat off of one bite of lasagna – I promise.
A little bit of cream in my coffee never stopped me from reaching my fat loss goals.

I don’t have a set day and time for when I’m allowed to eat greasy food. I just do it when the desire arises.

Because the truth is, the more I place a food off-limits, the more my craving for it increases. Even if I didn’t even really want it in the first place.

Very rarely have I seen someone be able to truly enjoy a cheat meal without fighting the urge to go overboard.

I pay attention to my hunger signals. I’m mindful of what my body wants. I carefully weigh my options to decide if something is worth the indulgence.

I probably have a burger about once a month when the craving hits. The difference, though, is that I never end up polishing off the whole thing. #portioncontrol 
I probably have a burger about once a month when the craving hits. The difference, though, is that I never end up polishing off the whole thing. #portioncontrol

Independence Day? Thanksgiving? Christmas? Birthday?

Doesn’t matter. There should never be a good reason to throw caution to the wind and toss mindfulness out the window.

I'm not saying that cheat meals never work for anybody. Rather, I believe that a number of factors have contributed to my negative experiences: a coach who, many years ago, never properly taught me how to approach a cheat meal and also never cared to correct me when I'd veer down the wrong path; my type A perfectionist personality, which I'm still working on taming; and my propensity as a female to have a much more emotional response to said event.

With that said, I've seen cheat meals end poorly for enough people that I'm starting to think that something about its very nature is askew.

This doesn't mean you have to count macros - there is a time and a place for that. This doesn't mean you can never enjoy a greasy meal for the rest of your life.

At the very least - at the absolute minimum - I think we should be calling them something different. "Cheat meal" is simply too prickly of a name.

If your diet is truly successful (whatever it may be), then you would have no problem maintaining it for years to come. In other words, can you see yourself eating the same way a year from now? Or does your heart drop as you realize that you can barely keep it up for seven straight days?

If a diet is not sustainable, in most cases, it’s not worth following. After all, what’s the point of shedding 10lbs of fat in one month, only to pile back on 30lbs of fat over the next year?

 

So with that, cheat meals be gone.

 

Tweetables:

[Tweet "If your diet is so great, then there shouldn’t be a need to deviate from it, would there?"]

[Tweet "There should be no guilt associated with food consumption. Ever."]

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[Tweet "The connotation of a “cheat” meal is misleading."]