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Cheat Days: Harmful of Helpful?

Cheat Days: Harmful of Helpful?

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Everyone knows eating healthy takes discipline and self-restraint. If you never say no to chocolate cake, it’s going to be hard to stay healthy and fit. Still, eating healthy also shouldn’t mean torture. Eating healthier will leave your body feeling better, more energetic, and focused. It shouldn’t make you feel deprived and depressed that you can’t eat what you want. One of the keys to a sustainable diet is finding nutritional foods that you enjoy, rather than making an extensive list of things you can’t eat.

Delicious gourmet chocolate truffles hand made by professional chocolatier.

Set Personal Limits

Of course, it is important to identify unhealthy food we’re drawn to and set limits on when we treat ourselves. If you can eliminate a particular food or drink that isn’t healthy to you, more power to you. For most of us though, it’s a good idea to cut back before we try to cut out. This is where cheat days come in.

There’s no scientific foundation behind cheat days, rather they are often designed to allow breaking from a strict diet with the hope that a weekly break will help sustain the plan for the long haul. The battle of choosing to eat healthy is primarily a mental battle, and cheat days are intended to provide respite to a lifestyle that can often feel like work.

Girl refusing to eat dinner

Pick a plan that works for you

In recent years, cheat days have become a punch line for unhealthy eating, a sort of comical defense for breaking from a strict diet. For those who tend to rack up 3-4 cheat days each week, or those that strictly abide by the once a week policy, the question remains: is designating a single day that allows for unhealthy eating really the best idea?

Again, it’s important to acknowledge that the best plan is a plan that works. If you find having one cheat day has been the secret ingredient to giving you the results you want, then there’s no need to abandon it. However, for many, cheat days halt momentum and prove counterproductive.

Woman Looking Inside Fridge Full Of Unhealthy Food

Do cheat days satisfy your cravings or extend them?

The biggest flaw with a cheat day is simply that cravings can’t be scheduled. Sure, you may get excited when you wake up on cheat day, knowing that your favorite foods are on the day’s agenda, but that’s not the same thing as a craving. We’re all familiar with that sudden hankering for a particular sweet or salty food that’s much tastier than it is healthy. It can feel almost overwhelming at times. What if that feeling comes the day after your cheat day? Since you’ve “used up” all your unhealthy eating for the week you have to ride out your craving however long it lasts. We all know how difficult, and miserable, that can be.

Given that most cravings are unpredictable and unexpected, it may be more practical to designate a certain amount of cheat meals (between 3-5) in a given week. Often, a satisfied craving is rejuvenating, so there’s not a need to continue eating unhealthy for the day’s remaining meals. The concept of a cheat day is to allow reasonable flexibility within a strict diet, acting as a sort of safety net for imperfection.

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However, assigning an entire day to unhealthy eating is not a necessary, or prudent, plan. Using the same safety net concept, allow for a few single meal provisions each week, tailored to your particular weakness (i.e. desserts, fried foods, sour candy, sodas, etc.).

Substituting this plan for the single cheat day will help you budget each nutritional compromise and limit time in between indulgences, leaving you both happier and healthier. It may feel much easier because after all, it is cheating.

About Zac Howard

Zac Howard is a writer on The Path Editorial Team. He is a graduate of Florida State University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in magazine journalism at NYU. With his passion for lifting and dieting, Zac enjoys writing about all different kinds of exercise as well as keeping up with the latest news in the world of fitness. For more of his work, visit his website.

 

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