Anyone who has ever been on any kind of diet looks forward to one thing: the cheat day.
But despite the fact that they are part of almost every diet (with the exception of the superhuman Beyoncé diet), cheat days may not be the healthiest thing for you. That's not because of the food you eat on these days. It is because of the mindset cheat days so often instill.
Most diets include cheat days as a way to reward you for your nutritional discipline. No matter what kind of schedule they are on, everyone is incentivized by some type of reward or goal. Making it to the cheat day is a powerful motivator during dieting.
In theory, this sounds normal. You need willpower to make good choices about food most of the time. What's a better for willpower than treating yourself to something delicious?
There are several problems with the concept of the treat day. The biggest problem is that the whole idea is a trap. This kind of motivation can be dangerous psychologically and its usually ineffective in terms of physiology.
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Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is all about the relationship you establish with your food.
In an ideal world, people would use food to positively fuel their body, mind and spirit. Food helps you make it through the day. But too often, food becomes an emotional crutch. When many people feel sad, they eat. When they feel stress, they eat. Even when they are celebrating, they eat.
Using a cheat day keeps food as a crutch, even when you think you have moved passed that. When you call it a cheat day, you use it to confirm the distaste you have for dieting and depriving yourself.
More than that, a cheat day divides food into good foods and bad foods. When you call a day a cheat day, you are more likely to associate the food you eat with "bad" things. This negative association can come to affect the way you feel about yourself and about your relationship with food.
You never want to think negatively about food. Food is how you power your body to do amazing things. Food is good for you, and eating is natural. You should embrace it as a form of empowerment rather than restricting it as a way to feel in control.
When you think about your body and your metabolism, the role of the cheat day does not improve.
Some research shows that people who withhold food from themselves on every day except their cheat day are far less likely to reach their dietary goals. This is because they are more likely to consume more calories than they need, not only on their cheat days but in the days following it. This is because they feel so deprived that their body tells them they need to catch up.
Also, eating nothing but kale for six days and then consuming an entire packet of Oreos freaks your body out. It causes your insulin and blood sugar levels to go crazy. You feel wired for awhile. Then you find yourself suffering a serious crash. The next day, your body craves more Oreos to get back to the state of satiety it was in.
So if cheat days don't work, how is anyone supposed to diet?
First, everyone should stop thinking of dieting as a way to restrict food intake. A diet is what you eat, not what you don't eat. When you think of it this way, it's easier to consume the foods you want with moderation.
This means you can have your cake and eat it too. The difference is that you don't need to fast for two days beforehand.
Eating a healthy balanced diet is an important part of your overall health, not just how you look. Instead of subscribing to fad diets or counting calories, most people are served better by the food they eat when they listen to their bodies.
Your body knows what it needs. If you listen to it, it will tell you. Just be careful not to confuse it with your emotions. Your bad day at work may cause you to want a Snickers bar, but your body may be telling you something else entirely.
Whether you call it a cheat day, a treat day or a YOLO meal, take a moment to think about how you think about food. Remember, a treat does not have to be cake. You can think of any food you love as a treat because after all, you only live once.
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