Cheat Meals (Repost)

The following article was posted a couple of years ago here on my blog site…

If you ask a competitor about favorite cheat meals, you had better expect the person’s eyes to glaze over as he or she lovingly describes his or her most beloved foods. You may wonder if cheat meals are only incorporated into the lives of fitness people, but they actually serve a purpose for anyone who is committed to healthy eating. Perhaps you have just embarked on a healthy food regimen and are struggling with it. When you incorporate one or two cheat meals into your plan each week you will boost your metabolism and foster a more balanced relationship with food.

Let’s face it. We are only human, and we carry our emotional relationship with food with us throughout our lives. If we were to practice a rigid adherence to a healthy meal plan without any fun meals, we would feel guilty if we were to ever indulge in a bad food in a moment of weakness. There is a diagnosable condition known as orthorexia in which people develop a mindset which demonizes all but the cleanest foods, and which sets up a cycle of shame and remorse every time forbidden foods are consumed.

Rather than punish yourself for eating anything which falls outside your concept of “clean” foods, you have a far better chance of harboring a healthy approach to food if you allow yourself to enjoy the occasional treat. If you know that you are allowed to eat a fun meal (I prefer this terminology over “cheat” meal), you can rest in the comfort that it is acceptable, and avoid the psychological spiral which can create unnecessary anxiety. This also works nicely if you tend to go to events on the weekends and don’t want to be the party-pooper who can’t ever eat anything that is being served.

When you eat a more calorie controlled meal plan during the rest of the week, a fun meal will speed up your metabolism and satisfy cravings that have been accumulating during the week. I believe it is important to eat something you truly crave instead of doing a small cheat. For example, if you are craving pizza, go ahead and have a couple of slices of pizza, and quit pretending that you would be perfectly happy with a rice cake topped with some tomato sauce as a substitution! Just make sure to eat an acceptable amount of food and don’t gorge yourself. This means exercising some self-control so that two pieces of pizza don’t turn into an entire large pepperoni pizza which you annihilate in one sitting.

I am often asked by weight management patients if a cheat day or a cheat weekend is acceptable. My response is no, for the simple reason that this creates a slippery slope which causes many individuals to lose self-control and spiral into the guilt-ridden “I messed up so why stop now?” mentality. If it is too difficult to do one fun meal per week, incorporate two smaller fun meals spaced by at least one day so that your body can recover.


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