Cheat days are huge right now. Just google them, or look on Pinterest and you’ll see more memes than you can imagine and enough information to fill an encyclopedia. Remember those? Encyclopedias? They were these big books that housed information before Google. By the time they got a whole set printed the information was out of date and you needed a new set.
The meme’s are pretty funny though. I post them on my Facebook page all the time, because they make me laugh. But the truth is, I’m not a fan of cheat days. I don’t approve of the word “cheat” when it comes to a healthy lifestyle at all. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in treating myself or rewarding myself. I think it’s really important. I just take issue with the word cheat and the idea of a whole day. I have a few reasons why.
The word cheat evokes the idea that you’re doing something wrong. Giving yourself the opportunity to indulge isn’t wrong. It keeps you focused on your healthy eating when you know you have something to look forward to. Think about it. What are you cheating on? Your diet! And we’re not on a diet, are we? This is a healthy lifestyle. There’s nothing to cheat on. It’s a way of life, and there are no absolutes.
So your splurges and treats and rewards should be enjoyed without guilt and without feelings that you’re engaging in some type of illicit behavior. You’re not sneaking around behind your diet’s back are you? You aren’t hiding candy wrappers from your diet are you? Your diet isn’t going to see crumbs on your face and get mad at you, is it?
When we take away the feelings of “bad behavior” and “good behavior” that we have assigned to food for so many years, and we learn to see cravings for what they are, it’s much easier to get a handle on them.
Craving carbs? Comfort foods?
This may be because of the chemicals your brain releases after you eat a meal that’s heavy in carbs. They literally change the way you feel. They do make you feel good, they are comforting. It’s not in our imagination.
Cravings sweet stuff? Candy?
This could be a sign of dehydration. You could actually be craving fruit. Our bodies get water from fruit, so many many years ago our bodies would crave sweet fruits to let us know we were in need of hydration. We’ve screwed up our natural intuition over the years so much that we don’t even know what our body is telling us anymore.
How much easier is it when you have a craving for pizza when you know you can have pizza on the weekend, versus when you tell yourself you can never have pizza because you are on a diet. It’s much easier for me. I know I can turn down all kinds of things that look OK to me, that I don’t really want when I know I’ve got something great planned for the weekend.
It’s a meal, people! Not a day!
That being said, let’s talk about the other issue I have with the term cheat day. The day part. No, you don’t get a whole day! A meal is one thing. A meal is great. A day? You can do a whole lotta damage in a day. Let’s say that you need 1700 calories per day to maintain your weight and not lose any weight at all. This is just an average person. So on a normal day to lose some weight, maybe you eat 1500 calories of really great, healthy foods and workout for 30 minutes.
Assuming your workout is muscle building and your calories come mostly from protein, healthy fats and non-starchy veggies, you have a calorie deficit plus you are in a nice hormonal fat burning zone. I can’t say for sure how much weight you would lose each week based on that formula because it would depend on exactly what you ate and your metabolic structure, but let’s say for fun you would be losing an average of one pound per week, which sounds reasonable.
Now, let’s say you have a cheat day every Saturday.
For breakfast you have a Belgian waffle with powdered sugar, syrup and whipped cream. Some bacon on the side. Maybe 800 calories. For lunch, a cheeseburger and fries. 800 calories. For dinner, pizza, of course, because that’s what we always want on a cheat day, right? 300 calories a slice, how many slices, 3? Plus some garlic bread. Another 300. Skip the salad, it’s cheat day. How about some ice cream to top it off? You better eat everything you want today, because tomorrow you are back on the wagon! Ice cream, 300 calories. Are you going to a movie? Get some popcorn then. 300 calories worth, I think.
Check my math because I don’t like to math, but I’m pretty sure that’s a whopping 3000 calories.
So, 1700 calories is how much it takes to maintain and you’ve eaten 3000 today. Twice as much as you’ve been eating. Over 40% more than you need to maintain and enough to gain about 1/3 pound. If it takes a week to lose a pound you’ve set yourself back two days. Do this every week and you’ll really be sandbagging your weight loss efforts.
That’s also enough salt to keep the scale up a few pounds for several days. So even if you didn’t gain weight, you’ll think you did. And what will that do to your self esteem?
Here’s what I think…
My recommendation for a reward meal or a treat meal is this.
Take the word cheat out of the equation.
I know it sounds like all the cool kids are saying it. Well, they are not. They will soon learn that cheat days are keeping them from reaching their goals and they’ll be begging you to hear what you’re doing. Just point them in the direction of this blog please. 🙂
Next, take the word day out of the equation.
There are only seven days in a week. There are at least 21 meals in a week, up to 63 depending on whether you are a small meal eater or a big meal eater. A reward meal is plenty. If you eat 6 meals a day and you want two reward meals a week, go ahead, it’s your life and your rules and you get to choose. If you are still losing weight, then more power to you.
My other recommendation for a reward meal is that you should eat whatever it is you really want.
Eat what you’ve been craving and what will make you feel warm and fuzzy. There are no rules except don’t make yourself sick. If it’s a funnel cake eat a funnel cake. If it’s pasta, eat pasta. Just enjoy it. Don’t make it into such a huge deal that you can’t enjoy it though.
Don’t set your expectations for steak and lobster at a five star restaurant every week. Unless that’s how you roll, in which case I am available to dine with you should you need a friend and you are buying. Every cheat meal is not your last cheat meal, so don’t stress if it’s not the one thing you had your heart set on. You can have that next time. But don’t settle for your kids leftover McNuggets either. This is where planning is important. You plan your healthy meals out, plan your reward meals too.
So, what do I eat for my reward meals?
Ice cream usually. Here’s what my awesome mailman hubby posted on Facebook the other day. Isn’t he great? He wanted to make sure my ice cream moment was on public record for everyone to see. Please note that I only ate about 1/3 of that giant ice cream cone. It was way too big. My eyes were bigger than my stomach is these days apparently, and that’s a good thing.
Here’s another ice cream cone from earlier in the summer. Graeter’s is the absolute best. This one I ate every bite of. Not sorry.
This dude inherited my fondness for ice cream. Isn’t he the cutest? And the messiest. I had to change his clothes before he could get back in my car. He’s not sorry either.
So whether it’s ice cream, cotton candy, potato chips or lasagna, make sure you reward yourself with a treat meal once a week. It’s part of living a healthy lifestyle. There’s no need to feel guilty, or have the evidence preserved forever on Facebook either, but whatever.
Let me know what your favorite reward meal is!