It is very rare that I encounter someone who eats perfectly healthily every day of the week. Most people, myself included, have periodic indulgences for less healthy foods. These indulgences are stronger in some of us than others, and that’s okay too. When these indulgences end up leading to less healthy food choices, we sometimes call it a “cheat day” or “cheat meal” (even though I don’t love the term to begin with).
When it comes to cheat days, cheat meals and general eating patterns, I often encounter people who:
1. Eat well but severely restrict themselves from ever eating less healthy foods , even though they enjoy them from time to time.
2. Have no problem eating well 100% of the time but strain their personal relationships because they are afraid of having an order of chicken fingers.
3. Are in the process of eating better but get down on themselves after one bad day of eating and allow that to negatively influence their eating habits going forward.
None of these situations are healthy or ideal and you would be surprised how many people I encounter that fit into one these three categories. If this sounds like you or someone you know, I am going to share with you three important reasons why I believe that having a cheat day , or even a cheat meal, might actually be a good thing.
1. It is mentally and socially healthy to do so: In the course of everyday life, you will encounter situations where certain less healthy foods may be the only edible options. Whether at a family event, on a date, or out with friends, it is inevitable. Now, I am not saying peer pressure should guide your eating habits, but I am saying it is not worth straining relationships over a scoop of ice-cream. Any of you who have been in this situation will know exactly what I am referring too here.
2. It reminds you how much better it feels to eat well: You don’t know what you’ve got until its gone. That classic expression applies here. Eating less well will help remind you and your body how much nicer it felt to eat healthier meals and it will also help you have a greater appreciation for the benefits of eating well. If you never take a small break from eating well, you can take these benefits for granted.
3. Your health is not determined by a single day or meal: If you are someone who generally eats well, having the odd bad meal or bad day is essentially irrelevant in the grand scheme of your weight and overall health. For those of you who get thrown off track by a single bad day or bad meal, I recommend adjusting your way of thinking. Use bad days to motivate you to have better days, rather than to perpetuate further bad days.
Andy De Santis RD MPH