Cheat meals, cheat days whatever you like to call them. The idea is that you throw all your good work and healthy habits out of the window for one ‘cheat’ meal or sometimes even the whole day. Often these days our meal splurges take place on the weekend with the attitude of ‘diet starts again on Monday’, sound familiar?
I realised a while ago that the term ‘cheat’ meal is incredibly damaging especially when so widely referred to in the fitness industry. What bothers me is with the idea of ‘cheating’ comes negative connotations, something we shouldn’t be doing or something we should feel guilty about.
Now I have no problem with treats (if I did we’d have a problem!). I very much have a sweet tooth but on the whole I focus on a hollistic, balanced, wholesome approach to eating. I eat well and healthy the majority of the time and I will treat myself when and if I fancy (of course all in moderation). For me I find depriving myself of the little indulgences I enjoy simply make me want them or crave something sweet even more – you know like when you take a toy from a child and it is ALL they can thing about getting back. Intuitive eating is very important to me. I eat to fuel my body for the activities I require it to perform while enjoying my food and the goodness and nourishment it brings me. I’m an advocate of drinking tons of water, I am mindful of how much refined sugar I consume and the majority of my meals are made up of lean meats, plenty of veggies and wholegrains. BUT if and when I fancy a few squares of dark chocolate I will eat it (even if that means on a Tuesday!!)
When following diets the common notion is to eliminate certain foods altogether. For example, while cutting out chocolate, cakes, bread etc will most likely put you in a calorie deficit and help you lose weight in the short term, you will often find that you can not think about anything else and by the time the weekend rolls around you are two tubs of Ben and Jerrys and three garlic breads later!
In order to gain control of your dietary habits it is important to change the way you think. A simple solution is to ditch the term ‘cheat meals’ altogether.
So if it is not a CHEAT what is it?
Put simply – a treat! An indulgence, something that makes us happy and brings us joy just when we feel we need it. Now I’m not talking bucket loads of pizza takeaways and fizzy pop more the daily pleasures that combat and curve the need to binge (nut butters, homemade chia puddings, dark choc, smoothies to name a few, things we can have when we felt like it, and not have when we don’t! So you might be thinking now, ‘but how can I do that and not put on weight?’. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to find a balance between mindfully eating for nourishment and mindfully eating for pleasure. Eating for nourishment does just that. It is eating for your physical, medical and daily needs. Eating for pleasure allows you to eat without feeling deprived or restricted. This is about knowing what you need to be successful in your everyday approach to intuitive eating. For example for me this might be my daily square of dark chocolate. You will realise by giving yourself permission to fulfil these needs you will naturally find a healthy balance between the two which will set you up for long term success.
Focusing on a Healthy, Positive Relationship with Food
If you are at the beginning of your journey to ditching the cheat meals and the weekend binging, here are some easy strategies you can try which enforce a positive relationship with food:-
1. Eat your favourite food when it makes sense to do so
So often people get so excited and fixated on their ‘’cheat meal’ that when the time comes, even if they are not particularly hungry they will make a point of eating way past the point of fullness just to have made the most of it. We all know how this ends, with us feeling very wobbly with a sick tummy! Instead make your favourite foods less restrictive. If your body and mind know they can access them at any time, it will often mean they are less likely to. For example, if you’re a pizza lover, instead of building this up on a Saturday, try a healthier, home-made version on a Wednesday or Thursday, have a read of these great examples: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/superhealthy-pizza This will help you to remove the association between bad food and the weekend and help you build a more naturally, balanced diet throughout the whole week.
2. Be a better listener
If you are constantly craving sugar and junk food it is time to listen to your body. Might it be that you are underfuelling yourself and not nourishing your body with the nutritious, balanced, meals you need? Under-eating has a hugely negative association with binge eating and constant cravings. Instead ensure you are filling your plate with lot’s of veggies, fruit throughout the day, lean meats and whole grains to keep you satisfied and fuller for longer. When you do have a treat, eat it mindfully and really savour and enjoy it.
3. We must NOURISH in order to FLOURISH
When it comes to our daily meals sometimes nourishing our bodies might mean an extra portion of veggies or an extra glass of water. Others it might mean a digestive biscuit, practice being mindful and open to what you really need at that time. This will help you develop a better, healthier relationship with food.
It is so important to develop a healthy, positive and consistent relationship with food and ditching cheat meals or days might be the first step you need to conquer on your journey. If you are struggling with your diet consider booking an appointment with a registered dietician to find out what is the best solution for you and your body’s needs.