The concept of “cheat meals” and “cheat days” have become more common in our society. However, I don’t like using these words, nor do I encourage others to use them (when it comes to food) because I believe it fosters an unhealthy relationship with food and here is why:
it perpetuates diet culture
The idea of eating in a restrictive way, then “cheating” on that “clean” diet perpetuates diet culture. Diet culture is rampant these days, every season there is a new reason and way to “drop pounds fast” with the newest “cure-all” diet (that is usually not at all beneficial for long-term health). This often involves juice cleanses, miracle pills, restrictive calorie counting etc. Again, none of these have long-term physical or mental health at their core intention. However, they all have in common that people are usually not physically or mentally satisfied eating in this manner. This then leads people to feel they need to “cheat” on their diet which often contributes to the binge-restrict-binge yo-yo hamster wheel that so many people are caught on. If we re-framed the way we thought about food, and perhaps did not go on unsustainable diets, I don’t think we would feel the strong urge to “cheat”.
it implies most of the time we should eat in a way that’s not enjoyable
Most people eat at least three times a day, every day… which, is over 1,000 meals a year. Don’t you think we should enjoy these meals? So why are we choosing ways to eat on a daily basis that don’t make us happy and satisfy us and therefore we need to “cheat” on this way of eating? Beats me… I am not saying everyone has to eat the way I do. However, I truly believe healthy eating can taste amazing and make you feel amazing inside and out. I also believe that there is a balance for everyone, and it will be different for everyone, of healthy foods and perhaps “less healthy” foods that still contribute to our mental health. Once we find this balance, we won’t need to “cheat” on anything. We can just incorporate all the different types of foods we love. Additionally, by calling an indulgent meal a “cheat” meal, we are taking the enjoyment out of that meal itself. Why not just enjoy the meal and not call it anything in particular and move on with it.
it gives food and eating behaviors a moral value
I often hear from clients that they feel “so guilty” because they ate “horribly yesterday”. If what you eat gives you a stomach ache or puts you in pain, that’s one thing. But there is no reason to feel guilty about eating food. If we are not on a diet, and we are not “cheating” on anything, there should be no moral value attached to food. Foods can evoke different feelings and memories for sure, but I think there is no reason to waste mental energy regretting food you ate. Each time you eat is a new opportunity to eat again. No reason to dwell on the past, just move onward and upward and make the best choice for you at the next meal/opportunity.
it does not allow room for balance
Cheating implies extremes when it comes to food, not balance. The connotation with cheat meals and cheat days is that they are all out junk food fests, and that the rest of the time we should be eating 100% in a strict “clean” way. I don’t think either is healthy. Like I mentioned above, everyone should find their own balance of healthful foods and indulgent foods and that balance most likely will vary day to day and that’s ok. But as long as you are eating in a way that makes you feel good overall, that’s what matters. Not eating in a way where you feel extremely deprived in one instance and then sick from over-indulging in another instance. Everything should even out to somewhere around Goldy Locks’ porridge…. just right :)
What do you think about the word “cheat” when it comes to food? Let me know in the comments below!