Cheat Meals We’ve All Done It…
It’s Saturday! The time has come to have a cheat meal. You’ve been thinking about it all week, or perhaps the unexpected occurred and the opportunity to eat something “off your diet” appears before you that you were hoping you could avoid. Regardless, you eat it and consider the event “cheating”.
But why use the word “cheat meal” at all? I hear it ALL the time from my clients as they recall their past few days of eating to me, followed by the sense of disappointment and shame. They have no idea how their inner dialogue and perception of “cheating” is hurting their relationship with food. Here are reasons why I believe there is no need to call it “cheating” at all…
“Cheat Meal” Doesn’t Even Fit the Definition of “Cheat”…
The most applicable definition of the word “cheat” is: “to break a rule or law usually to gain an advantage at something”. What LAW are you breaking because you want to enjoy a slice of pizza? The law that you made up? Since when do diets have laws? What rules are you breaking? Even if you are trying to lose weight, you should be following guidelines and suggestions, not rules. RULES SUCK… and who wants to stick with a diet for the long-haul that’s full of all these obnoxious rules anyway? When individuals receive a new meal plan or format to eating to follow by the latest “expert” in the media, it’s assumed one “shouldn’t” be eating specific foods outside of this and when they do it’s “cheating”. Many consider cheating a failure and say “screw it” and continue the overeating episode which takes them far opposite of their health and wellness goals.
The advantage that you are gaining by having something you truly enjoy MINDFULLY is plenty: variety, taste, moderation, interest, glycogen replenishment/extra calories/sodium replenishment for athletes, you feel like a normal human being, and more. The “rule” or “law” you are breaking is nothing. A healthy diet, whether you are trying to lose weight or gain muscle, includes moderation and variety. It’s normal that not 100% of the foods you eat 7 days a week are from only nutrient dense sources. That goes for me too! My house is not obsessive about being perfect with eating only nutrient dense foods every single day. If you are following a diet that involves zero flexibility, then I suggest you leave that circus right now because trying to “control” every aspect about your eating out of fear of weight gain or fear of overeating or binge eating is negative, exhausting, and unsustainable. Remember, attainable doesn’t mean sustainable!
You Aren’t Doing Anything “BAD”…
Holy cow is the world going to come to end if you have a freaking piece of cake?? NO!!! Why do we beat ourselves up about it? We are so hard on ourselves! The expectation for perfection with our diet I always hear about is astounding. It is so unachievable and unrealistic! In our efforts to “be good” and lose weight we tend to ignore our need for moderation and include a few favorite foods.
YOU ARE HUMAN. IT’S OK TO LIKE FOOD.
Maybe right now you are thinking, “But Shelby, if I eat what I want I will gain weight!” Wrong. If you are mindless about it and eat it impulsively all the time and don’t stop when you have had enough fuel and ignore your body’s needs, then yes, you probably will. You must find balance between mindfully eating for nourishment and mindfully eating for pleasure.
Eating for nourishment means what it sounds like, you are choosing foods that meet more physical needs: medical conditions, food allergies, energy, digestion, performance, etc. When we are trying to lose weight, we tend to spend all our time in their world of eating for nourishment… ‘MUST KEEP OUT ANY EATING FOR PLEASURE’ (imagine I’m saying this in a robotic voice). Eating for pleasure plays a very important role in your long-term success with your eating too, even if you are trying to lose weight. We ALL have needs for pleasure, variety, and balance when it comes to our food. Sometimes this comes in the form of healthful foods, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Eating for pleasure allows an individual to not feel deprived or restricted. Deprivation and restriction are actually some of the top emotional triggers for people to “go off the wagon” so to speak. By being mindful that you would like to keep one piece of dark chocolate in your day, every day because that is the pleasurable amount of variety and moderation you need right now to feel comfortable and not restricted, then that’s what you do, that’s not cheating, that’s knowing what you truly want and need to be successful. You’ll find by giving yourself permission to meet these needs you’ll naturally find the balance between eating for nourishment and eating for pleasure, a must-have for both short-term and long-term success!
Cheat Meals Can Lead to an Overeating Episode…
Hyper-focusing on a cheat meal all week can cause you to go into the meal in the mindset of needing to “take advantage of it” because it’s the only ONE meal you “get” for the week that you really want and don’t want to waste it. For others, the unrealistic expectation that they should not be consuming any unhealthy foods ever causes them to feel like they have zero willpower and that all their success and efforts up to that point just went down the toilet so they say “screw it – might as well enjoy myself!” and continue spiraling out of control.
Remember, IT’S JUST FOOD. And you’re not going to jail if you have something you really enjoy. The more you deprive yourself of what you want, the more you’re going to want it and eventually, have it but in a mindless way. So you might as well just enjoy it mindfully!
Can Take Away Your Ability To Enjoy Food..
Let’s face it, by the time your “cheat meal” gets under your eyeballs you’re eating so fast that you act like you can’t wait to get rid of it and move on!
Rarely do we eat slow, with appreciation, and free of any negative thought. Instead, many times we are faced with thoughts such as “I don’t want this to end”, “I don’t want to waste this”, “How much more cardio will I need to do to work this dessert off?”, “I’ll start back on 100% on Monday” “I’m so fat right now” thoughts.
By eating so fast and mindless (your mind is elsewhere other than the meal) we also are negligible to our body wisdom telling us when we’ve had enough AND we’re unable to fully enjoy the meal causing us to (drumroll) eat more to feel more satisfied. We usually keep going until we are past the point of being content. Sometimes we are left feeling physically uncomfortable.
Cheat Meals Can Create Unhealthy Relationships with Food…
“Cheat” = “bad” “naughty” “shouldn’t be having” associations with food that we don’t need to have. When we are in a mental state where we are feeling negative or not being “good”, we lose the pure pleasure that non-healthy foods in our food abundant society can actually bring to our lives, and again, ignore the needs of eating for pleasure that we all have. It also creates a stronger restrictive mindset surrounding food.
Other restrictive talk and mindset easily begin to build, and words such as “rules” “good or bad” “perfection” “rationalizing” “failing” “willpower” “guilt” and “shame”, “clean” vs “dirty” begin to emerge. You keep this up you will be eating healthy foods only because you feel you “have to”, so you’ll continue to “cheat” more often and the vicious cycle will only continue to get worse. Before you know it you’ll be working with us to unravel all of it and reset your mindset surrounding food and renew your relationship with food!
I’ve been in your shoes, MANY times. I come from a restrictive eating background myself and let me tell you, it has done a number on me mentally through the years. Luckily by working through my personal experiences and undergoing formal training in mindful eating and eating psychology, I have made 100% turn around with my eating and am able to enjoy food without all the guilt.
So what should we call this event then you say? Well, you really don’t need to call it anything specific at all. You can just say, “I had an awesome dinner, tasted great!” or nothing at all and let it be. Mentally and quietly you can remind yourself of the importance of having BALANCE and VARIETY, and the role it plays in the big picture and that there is no guilt that needs to accompany you for eating something you truly want and enjoy.
I hope the above information hits home and helps you revise any negative mindset surrounding these meals into one with positivity, purpose, and without guilt or shame.
Your language creates your reality, so this week, practice catching that restrictive talk and check it at the door!