We are all familiar with the term or phrase, “Cheat Meal”. I hear it a hundred times a week and constantly throughout the day. “I eat clean all week, but let myself have one cheat meal”, or “It’s cheat day!” Lets, break down this idea, of the “cheat meal.” The word, cheat in its essence has a negative connotation to it. By definition:
: to break a rule or law usually to gain an advantage at something
: to take something from (someone) by lying or breaking a rule
: to prevent (someone) from having something that he or she deserves or was expecting to get
When it comes to designing your health and diet for long-term maintenance, adopting an all-or-nothing mentality is a recipe for sabotage. In life, so few things are simply black or white, good or bad. When we put a negative spin on a behavior, like having a “cheat meal” it tends to affect that behavior greatly. In the case of food, it leads to the inevitable binge. The idea behind allowing yourself a “cheat meal,” is that you shouldn’t be indulging – that you deserve to be ashamed of your behavior. This kind of thinking is a slippery slope. Once you’ve cheated a little and you’re already feeling bad about yourself, why not cheat a lot? If you’re already feeling down on yourself for cheating on your diet, you are much more likely to feed your indulgences and overdo it.
Enjoying a treat once in a while, on the other hand, means just that. By definition:
: an occurrence in which you pay for someone’s food, drink, or entertainment
: something pleasant or amusing that is unusual or unexpected
: something that tastes good and that is not eaten often
See the words they use. “Entertainment.” “Amusing.” “Pleasant.” It’s a treat! You deserve that cookie or that bowl of pasta – you earned it through days and weeks and months of maintaining healthy habits. It’s like taking a vacation. We all need a break to relieve stress and relax from the grind. We do this when it comes to our workout programs, don’t we? We take rest days when our bodies need them we should also take rests from our diets when our body wants a treat.
Doesn’t that sound better? Can you imagine if you thought about food in this way? So the next time you are out with your friends, enjoying a glass of wine and a delicious meal, instead of the shame and last supper mentality, reclaim your right to eat what you want in the moment. Give yourself unconditional permission to have a treat when your body desires it, and then put it to bed. This shift in perception will prevent you from binging and also allow you to make the food choices that you truly desire and not just indulge for indulgence’s sake. It’s called balance, and that is how you really set yourself up for a lifetime of healthy living.