Don't Cheat Yourself, Treat Yourself!
When placing yourself on a diet, it can be tempting to stray away from foods that you feel you are supposed to eat. Each Monday feels like you are starting all over again after a weekend of throwing all food rules out the window. That weight that you thought you had left behind is suddenly back again, and you promise yourself that you will “be better” this week. What leads to these so-called cheat days, and why do they hinder diet progress?
In short, the more we restrict ourselves, the more likely we are to binge later. By categorizing foods as good vs bad, we assign morality to a topic that never needed it. When we tell ourselves to not think about something, it tends to become the only thing we can think about. This concept also applies to food: restriction --> obsessive thinking --> binging.
Imagine the following scenario. You eat only “good” foods throughout the week: salads, lean meat, yogurt, fruit, granola, etc., providing your body with the nutrients it needs while still being in a calorie deficit. On the weekend, you decide that after a week of “being good,” you deserve a reward, so this may look like a scoop of ice cream. Since you restricted ice cream throughout the week, your brain then has the urge to binge because it is unsure of when your body will get this opportunity again. As a result, this scoop may turn into an entire half pint and add hundreds of calories to what was originally a small snack. Later that day, you decide that you are tired of eating salads, so you decide to have pizza for dinner. Again, your body sees this as a rare opportunity, so it has the urge to eat a large amount, which may lead to hundreds of excess calories depending on the amount eaten. When it comes to beverages, caloric beverages add up very quickly. Whether they are alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages, it is important that they are consumed in moderation rather than binges.
Rather than incorporating these foods into your diet throughout the week, the weekend becomes the only time you allow yourself to have them, resulting in bingeing. By allowing yourself the freedom to balance them with more nutrient-dense options throughout the week, you are more likely to stay within the calorie range that is right for you. Your mind and body will not feel starved, which reduces the urge to binge because you know that you are allowed to have these foods when you please, not just on “cheat days.” Since you are allowing yourself to actually enjoy food, you will be much more likely to adhere to these diet changes.
Remind yourself that you do not need to eat only salads and fruit throughout the week to successfully lose weight. While nutrient-dense food is important for anyone, whether they are trying to lose weight or not, you can incorporate foods that are not as nutrient-dense in moderation and still stay within your calorie needs. Smaller portions of them may need to be considered, but they definitely do not need to be cut out entirely. It is better to have these foods in small quantities throughout the week rather than consuming massive amounts in just one day. By trying to cut them out entirely, you are setting yourself up for a cheat day. Remember that moderation is important, but so is enjoying your meals. Your diet does not have to be all or nothing, and a good mixture of these foods throughout the week encourages sustainable eating habits that will help you reach your goals and improve your health.