verb: act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination
noun: a person who behaves dishonestly in order to gain an advantage
If you’ve been in the fitness world any amount of time, you’ve heard the phrase “cheat meal” or “cheat day”. While I understand how these phrases got started, the underlying emotions attached are not healthy.
First, I don’t act dishonestly to gain an advantage. This just isn’t who I am, and I’m quite sure, neither are you. When I hear the word “cheat” my first thought is “cheating” on one’s significant other. And, friend, no one likes a cheater.
So when it comes to cheat meals, why do I balk? The negative connotation alone is reason for me to avoid the cringe-worthy saying, but the hidden agenda is what makes me sick.
When someone has a cheat meal, or cheat day according to their diet, this has several negative implications. Today I’m going to discuss once and for all, why I never have cheat meals.
There’s Nothing to Cheat On
In order to cheat, you have to be dishonest about something or act unfairly. You have to leverage something in order to gain advantage. Well, what are you being dishonest about? Are you gaining advantage or acting unfairly towards something?
Ok, let’s assume you’re on a diet. You decide to “cheat” on the diet and have a real brownie instead of a black bean brownie (gasp!). Does your diet care? Nope. Quit telling yourself you have something to cheat on, and you’ll find very quickly that the “cheat meal” becomes less important.
It Zaps the Joy Out of Eating
If you’re cheating on your diet and are eagerly anticipating your cheat meal, you’ve already labeled that food as “bad” (more about food moralizing here), and there’s a negative connotation attached to the meal. Whenever their are negative vibes going on, there’s some level of guilt attached. This is no bueno (am I bi-lingual?!?).
You Black Out
Alternative of the “joy of eating” reason, but also, oddly in line, is the “black out” rule. This effect of cheat meals, turns a regular burger and fries into a “last meal mentality” where you must consume the entire burger, all the fries, the beer, the shake, and your friends fries. You know you’ll be able to eat it again some day, but you don’t know when, so let’s get it while the getting is good! This is hedonism, and not healthy.
So what do you do if you want to eat healthfully most of the time, but also allow yourself some less-healthy options?
Drop the All or None Attitude
This is probably the most important mental shift, but not an easy one to break. Just because you enjoy a candy bar, doesn’t mean you’ve “cheated” and now must deem this a cheat day. Quit looking at your nutrition plan as a diet, and realize that a lifestyle means finding ways to fit in your favorites while still eating healthfully.
Reframe Your Words
It’s a subtle shift, but going from “cheat” to “treat” is huge. A treat is positive, it sounds yummy, delightful, something to savor! Your dog may even understand the glory of a treat.
Eliminate the Rules
This is similar to dropping the “all or none” attitude, but is still another matter. Now that you’re having “treats” instead of “cheats” there is no reason to plan them. You don’t need to decide Saturday nights are my cheat meals and I’m going to go haaaam. No. You also don’t need to limit yourself and say, “I’ll have one treat a week”. This kind of thinking means well, but set’s you up for failure. If you have two treats, you fail. If you have no treats, you fail. This is too exact. Instead, try to be very mindful when you eat (treat or not), and enjoy every single bite.