Cheat Days?

I was asked a question this week that I often hear from my dieters: Is it okay to have one “cheat day” per week? My (unsatisfying, I’m sure) answer always is that it depends on the person. I know that different things work for different people, and what might be very effective for one person is likely to be completely unhelpful for another. That being said, most of my clients over the years who have tried instituting a cheat day find that it just doesn’t work. The main reason for this is because cheat days mean that one day a week their eating is completely different from every other day – which soon enough starts meaning that non-cheat days feel restrictive and sometimes punishing, and they’re just trying to get through the week to the cheat day when they can finally “enjoy” their eating.  If every day’s eating is about the same, then no day feels hugely better or worse, which makes every day feel normal and fine.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that we do advocate for planned treats and indulgences scattered throughout the week. It’s critical that dieters prove to themselves there’s nothing they can eat when they’re off track that they can’t also eat when they’re on track. True, if it’s a very caloric food they might have to eat less of it than they’d like, or eat it less frequently, but there’s nothing that’s completely off limits. When dieters make sure to plan their favorite foods into their diets, then nothing feels like a “cheat” and everything feels overall more manageable because they don’t feel deprived all the time.person with a popcorn bowl

Related to this, my client, Ben, was being very restrictive during the week, and basically eating the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner almost every week day. He wasn’t doing this because he thought those were the only foods he could eat; rather he did it out of laziness and not wanting to put in the effort to come up with new meals. He found that he was having a very hard time controlling his eating during the weekend, and we figured out that it was because he was using the weekend as the only time to eat all the variety of foods he really wanted to be eating. He kept thinking, “I’m not going to eat this during the week, so I better eat it now.” For Ben, we made it mandatory that he have at least three different things for dinner and at least two different things for lunch, and that he plan in advance to have dessert at least twice each week so that he got variety during the week. It meant more effort in food planning and food prep, but it also enabled Ben to finally get his weekend eating under control.

So rather than have one designated “cheat day” per week, we find that for the majority of our clients it works so much better to have planned indulgences all throughout the week, so that most every day has a reasonable balance of healthy food and treats.

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