Cheating and Eating: Are You In Charge?

I believe the reason I’ve been successful at maintaining a healthy weight throughout my life is because I’m the one in charge when it comes to food, not my emotions or hunger. And it’s not about a strict structure or a rigid way of dieting. Here I share one of the reasons I’m in charge; I’ll share another later this week.

Cheater, Cheater Pumpkin-Pie Eater

Plenty of people who are losing weight or trying to stick to a healthy eating lifestyle use “cheat days” (or cheat meals or weekends). If this is you, you exercise admirable self-control all week long while wishing for that one piece of fluffy white cake, a double scoop of ice cream, or a night out at the most decadent restaurant you know of. You might even schedule this indulgence into your calendar.

I’m not a believer in cheat days and I‘ll tell you why-

  1. It’s too easy to go overboard and undo all the calories you’ve avoided during the week. This is especially risky if you do cheat days or weekends and not just cheat meals. (But I also don’t believe in cheat meals.)
  2. In my experience, cheating perpetuates cravings. I found that when I stopped eating a piece of chocolate every day (my “indulgence”), my craving for chocolate disappeared. Did I feel deprived when I stopped? Yes – for about a week. Then my cravings disappeared, and I was able to stay lean more easily. It wasn’t until I stopped the chocolate habit that I realized I didn’t need it anymore.
  3.  Having cheat days creates the mindset of deprivation instead of abundance. If you have cheat days (or however it manifests), you can feel like you’re sacrificing all week long without even realizing it. That’s no way to live in my book.

Looking forward to a certain food for days and days puts too much emphasis on eating. Having the image of an unhealthy or caloric food emblazoned in your mind all week long while you “sacrifice” by eating healthy is putting your energy into the wrong place. After all, using food as a reward may have helped you put on this extra weight, right?

And since you didn’t ask, I’ll tell you my approach. The only times I have ever gained weight in my life are when I (1) ate out frequently, (2) got pregnant,  and (3) was trying to build muscle mass and deliberately consumed more calories.

I avoid sweets and fatty foods every day, indulging only on some special occasions. It’s not self-sacrifice, either; when those special occasions do roll around, I almost never want to indulge. The quick yum factor and emotional fix aren’t worth the stomach upset and extra weight – which takes a long time to get rid of. Plus I just don’t crave it anymore.

If I do want a treat (which is rare), I can have it, because I eat healthy 99% of the time. Because if you’re trying to lose weight, you really should be able to have fatty or sugary food without guilt or worry. Doesn’t it sound nice to be the one in charge – not the forbidden food?

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Comments

  1. I completely agree about cheat days – puts the focus on eating. I can see a positive to indulging or rewarding, but it’s still not the healthiest view, and it easily goes overboard.

    I am the same way, with my regular clean eating approach I really do not crave sweets (or pizza or insert ___ here), mainly because I FEEL SO GOOD. I am human and we dine out… so it’s not restriction at all, it’s honestly about choosing foods that make me feel good. with the occasional cheesecake. 😉 (this sounds VERY hypocritical when my latest post is what it is –>) 😀
    Kristina @ spabettie recently posted..pecan coffee cheesecake barsMy Profile

    • Lol, so true, your recipes lead me to believe you are a perpetual dessert eater! But for you of all people – baker extraordinaire – to not crave sweets… you’re doing something right!

  2. funny i actually had a posts going about cheat days too… i don’t like the name for starters because it implies good and bad which we all have way too many issues with when it comes to food 🙂 I’m pretty sure enjoying a small treat daily is more fun for me than feeling deprived all week and then going bonkers
    Amanda – RunToTheFinish recently posted..October Unprocessed: Midway Check InMy Profile

    • Yes, cheating does imply wrongdoing. I suppose it also sounds illicit and kind of enticing ;). Who’s to judge people for their little indulgences? We’re all on a quest for health and we’re doing the best we can while being surrounded by LOTS of temptations!

  3. Zoe Billerwell says:

    100% agreement right here!

    After battling for 20 years with non diagnosed eating disorders, I know for sure cheat days DO NOT hold any place for a life in Freedom in Food ~ hence my decision to reach out and start a group to share the word…

    Clean, healthy and nutritious eating is THE ONLY WAY to go 🙂

    This article is brilliant! Thank you so much for sharing… I will be sharing it with the group Freedom in Food xo

  4. When I was slimmer I ate whatever I fancied in moderation, no need to cheat. Now I am overweight I just look for excuses to eat and even when I eat “normal” I overeat. I have now reached the stage in my life where I have to chew my food…
    Sarah Arrow recently posted..Facebook Video for BloggersMy Profile

  5. I’m a great believer in everything in moderation, but of course one person’s ‘moderation’ is another’s huge indulgence, or failure to moderate. 🙂

    My husband and son can eat masses of food without gaining an ounce, whereas sometimes I joke that I might as well apply what I eat externally as it has the same effect, especially when I’m in a deep writing mode and not exercising enough.

    I do find that continuous careful and considered eating – being mindful of what I consume – works better for me than allowing myself indulgence days.

    As you say Suzanne any craving disappear after a week or so, and the longer I keep off the desired treat – be it peanuts, cheese, chocolate or whatever – the less they call to me.
    Christine Miller recently posted..The Goddess Paradigm – beauty, peace and transformationMy Profile

  6. No cheat days for me! I don’t like the idea of deprivation which makes me want whatever I can’t have even more! I try my very best to abide by a practice of eating the things I like in moderation. Instead of grabbing a bag of cookies and heading to the sofa, I take two out of the bag and put the bag away. I find that when something is in front of me it is way to easy to resort to mindless eating.

    I’ve also learned the importance of NOT making a clean plate. I used to feel guilty for eating out and not finishing every damn thing on my plate… that’s a recipe for disaster, but it’s what we are raised with.
    Yolanda recently posted..I’ve Got Nothing to Say…My Profile

    • Oh yes, the clean plate syndrome. So many of us were taught that we should do this. And to do it at a restaurant! Definitely a recipe for disaster with dinner plates as big as a kitchen sink.

  7. Agree! I do not have cheat days. Never did when I was losing my 100 pounds and don’t know. A cheat day implies that I’m on a diet the rest of the time–which I’m not. It also implies that I’m doing something bad by “cheating.” I eat whatever I want but in moderation.
    Lisa recently posted..Wits, Wagers and WineMy Profile

    • Always interested to hear your perspective since you’ve been so successful at losing the weight. Good points about it implying being on a diet, which we know is basically ineffective. It’s more a lifestyle of choosing to eat the right things.

  8. I love that you reassure people that their cravings will go away. I have said this so many times. Unfortunately, people have a hard time believing that it requires literally zero “willpower” to avoid certain foods once you stop eating them and get the desire out of your system.

    Maybe it’s easier to tell ourselves, “I can’t control this, so I don’t need to try.”

    Like you, I don’t believe in cheat days. If I’m cutting calories for fat loss, I use the zig-zag method—alternating several calorie-cutting days with one maintenance day. On that day I continue to count calories, but I eat at maintenance level and thus can easily eat normal portions of things I otherwise avoid—like pizza. I’m still in control but can eat a little more, which has the benefit of giving my next workout a little extra juice.

    Excellent post!
    Mary C. Weaver, CSCS recently posted..Exercise = your personal time machineMy Profile

    • I really like the sound of your “zig-zag” method. It’s something I could definitely see myself doing because it’s not long-term deprivation of any kind. Thanks Mary!

  9. I couldn’t agree more with this. Cheat days, meals, weekends, etc. can be real pitfalls on a weight loss journey. I’m not sure I necessarily agree with everything in moderation. What I do believe in is listening to your body and consuming whatever it asks for. This is not crave eating. Some might call it intuitive eating. And I realize not everyone is tuned-in to their bodies. It takes practice and effort to learn how to listen and to know it’s your body and not a craving. I also agree that if you stop giving in to cravings, the craving goes away. If your body needs whatever it is you’re craving, that won’t happen. It isn’t likely to need chips or cake, mind you. 😉 And once you’ve given up fulfilling cravings and they’ve gone away, when you do eat something greasy, sugary or just plain rich, make sure you have some upset stomach medicine cause it’ll happen – indigestion, heartburn, etc. Not fun and generally not worth the trouble.

    Great post, Suzanne!
    Sacha recently posted..Weigh-in and Reflection Week 6: Holy [Non] Scale Victory!My Profile

    • Ha, yes, the stomach upset is the true underlying motivator for my not eating greasy, fattening, rich foods. I’m grateful for my stomach problems… may have (partially) enabled me to remain at a steady weight!

  10. I feel the same way that having specific cheat meals or days causes me to focus too much on deprivation and thinking about the food all the time. I do still indulge in a little each day but that is how I deal with it at this point because if I take those indulgences away, then again I feel deprived.

  11. I totally agree with you on this! I used to do “cheat” days, and I never ended up losing weight. Once I stopped eating junk all together, the cravings stopped completely. Now that I only eat “good fats” such as avocado, coconut oil, flax seed, etc, I NEVER have chocolate or red licorice cravings. I used to crave those things all the time. Sure, once in a while (once every few months), I’ll have a tiny piece of birthday cake, but I find I don’t even really want it. It took a long time to get to that place, but I’m so glad I’m there 🙂 Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels!

    • It’s really gratifying to read how many people get the whole cheat days pitfall. Your comments sound like they could’ve been written by me… thanks for sharing.

  12. I totally agree about cheat days. It’s just setting yourself up for failure. My downfall is baked goods, bread, pasta and cheese. If I cut any one of these out completely I don’t even miss it.
    Lisa recently posted..Are you a spectator or a participant?My Profile

  13. I won’t take a position on agreeing or disagreeing with “cheat” days. I will just offer the perspective that when the body is in a long-term cycle of clean eating, and sugars and bad carbohydrates are suddenly reintroduced into the body, those sugars and bad carbs have one job ahead of all other jobs — to make you crave more sugars and bad carbs. And yes, they are very good at their jobs.

    I have a friend who likes to refer to them as, Weakness Days. Uplifting, yes….?

  14. Hi Suzanne

    The automatic self sabotage for me is saying “I’m not going to have… because it’s not good for me/ will load on the pounds/ will make my skin break out… My inner critic will just go “Course you won’t… let’s just see how long you last”

    I’m better off negotiating with me and agreeing something like: “Yup you can have that pizza and wine – so long as you trade it off against x amount of exercise.” And I’m a fair negotiator with me – most of the time! 🙂
    Linda Mattacks recently posted..From LinkedIn… to Christine Hamilton… to It Had To Be You?My Profile

    • Negotiating is probably what I do without even realizing it. It’s almost subconscious. Conscious deprivation results in self-sabotage to be sure!

  15. okay…THIS makes all the sense in the world. It also makes me kinda pouty. 🙂
    ragemichelle recently posted..Advice From Your Aunt Michelle – The ListMy Profile

  16. When i first started using MyFitnessPal and was very disciplined and would avoid all rice and junk food and sweets. Now, i really try to do things in moderation. If i feel for chips, i’ll have them but opt for a small bag. My “cheat meals/days” aren’t planned… they just sort of happen; like all of a sudden going out to dinner (and drinks) with friends

  17. soooooo true! I never really got the cheat days/meals. That is not to say that I don’t enjoy less-than-healthy meals at times. But your point about feeding for fuel and abundance is a wonderful one. My nutrition approach is ALWAYS about more… more breakfast, more protein, more water, more veggies, more more more! And by filling up on more of the good stuff, my “cravings” have definitely changed – my blood sugar is more regular – my energy is better and my body CRAVES more of the good stuff. YAY! GREAT POST Suzanne!
    Kris @Krazy_Kris recently posted..Drinking Water and Liking It | She Likes It, She Likes It!My Profile

    • Thanks Kris! Love hearing that your blood sugar is regular – this is a HUGE deal for me and staying away from sugar and eating regularly is a big part of that.

  18. Great subject for discussion.

    Against the position of the post, and apparently the majority of the commenters thus far, I ‘m a huge believer in “cheat days”.

    “Why?” you ask?

    Because they absolutely worked for me (and maybe I like to feel a little naughty) :).

    Truth be told I have a tremendous sweet tooth, AND I work in an office where we celebrate 85 birthdays a year (no joke!). That’s 85 birthdays where the person gets to chose whatever scrumptious sweetness they’d like, and the head of our onsite H/R department makes it for the company. I also have an insatiable appetite for most of the crap that’s horrible for you (bread, french fries, burgers, beer, etc).

    What the cheat day did for me was to give me a reason to make healthier choices 6 days a week. On those 6 days I’d opt for broccoli instead of french fries, and rolled oats with flax instead of a doughnut at the company meeting. And guess what happened???

    I actually started to prefer the “healthier” options. I LOVE broccoli and salmon, instead of burgers and fries! If you’ve ever smoked (guilty) and than kicked the habit (yay you!), you know how truly awful smoke begins to smell after you quit (after it smells like filet mignon for a few months of course). That’s exactly the way it progressed with me and junk food. It’s now to the point where my cheat days aren’t so “cheaty”. I actually can’t stand the smell of grease, except for on very rare occasions. Your body, at least mine, actually starts to lose it’s addiction to fat filled indulgences.

    I understand what many of you have spoken about above regarding the pitfalls that cheat days can pose for some, but that doesn’t mean that’s the whole story. It truly can work amazingly for some.

    *Stepping of the soap box sheepishly*

    I wish you all the success your life can hold! 🙂 Be bold!

    -Matt
    Lean Muscle Matt recently posted..100 Push-up Challenge UpdateMy Profile

    • Lol… Matt you know, this but I’ll say it anyway. I love it that you say what you really think here. That’s the point, to engage in dialogue, even if it’s not “my view.” I seek out discussion – agreeing with me or not – and many times there isn’t enough discussion to satiate me!

      I totally see what you’re saying too, which you sum up nicely: “What the cheat day did for me was to give me a reason to make healthier choices 6 days a week.”

      I get the need to indulge, and I certainly get the necessary occasions when it’s all but impossible to refuse, such as office birthdays (85?). I am glad cheat days have worked for you AND I’m glad you described why. XO

  19. I am kind of for and against cheat days. I recently discovered one thing that I didn’t realize before. I always use to have cheat days, but during the week I stayed eating totally healthy and it was very easy to do. Then I decided not to have any cheat days at all, I worked out 5 days a week, ate clean and cheat free for month’s. Even my husband noticed that I was eating healthy way too much. About a year went by and I though all of the cravings I ever had went away. And all of a sudden it just snuck up on me, I started to become obsessed with eating something that was not healthy, even the foods I despised before such as chips. All I could think about was chips and cake, so after weeks of obsessive torture I went out and bough my self a back of chips and a whole cake, which took me a whole day to finish and I wanted to eat nothing but chips and cake. That has been going on for over a month now, all I want to eat is cake and I can’t even stand to look at any healthy food. My husband told me, ” I warned you, you can’t always be so healthy all the time, you have to relax and eat other things “, but I didn’t listen to him at all, and I should of. I am blessed with good metabolism so I am not gaining any weight, maybe a pound or two, but because of all the insane sugar consumption I can’t sleep. Anyway, I thin a good balance when it comes to eating healthy and eating junk food once in a while is a way to go.
    Tatianna recently posted..Bounce On It WorkoutMy Profile

    • So you’ve gone in the opposite direction after feeling too deprived. That’s the thing, I really do believe deprivation is not the way. I don’t feel deprived… I could eat junk if I wanted to. I’m not on any kind of rigid diet. I just don’t want it anymore. Everyone’s different though, and you’re right when you say a good balance is the key. We all have to find it for ourselves.

  20. good golly, it’s pumpkin pie season!! I’ve been so busy, I almost didn’t realize. Kudos to you woman.. for your stance on greedy matters such as these AND for reminding me to go eat pie(s). #becauseyouknowIwill
    Yum Yucky recently posted..My Progress Pic: This Is What I look Like Today!My Profile

    • And you weren’t kidding about the pie lol. I had me a 2,000 calorie night out last night and I think I’ll need a little cardio after that! 🙂

  21. Why not try something like a cheat snack? If you’re like me, a chocoholic, your guilty pleasure pops into your mind at least a couple times a day. So while sticking to a diet is a part of your everyday routine in staying healthy, there are more and more healthy snack options that can include sweet craving-fixes, and can help you stay on track. Lately I’ve seen things like Nature Valley Granola Thins that have penut butter or chocolate flavors, or even Skinny Cow treats, claiming “healthy candy”. I think by allowing yourself a small indulgent snack (that doesn’t contain too many calories) a day, you’ll be less tempted to binge on these kinds of foods at one time, and you can keep cravings satisfied.

    • A cheat snack is exactly what I used to do with my one little chocolate piece every day. It surely works for many. For me…. it fed my cravings. Now I don’t have them and sometimes wish I did! 😉

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