Dieting brings up a lot of questions about the foods you have to avoid, not the least of which is do you ever get to eat them again? When you’ve changed your eating habits to cut out foods that are high in fat and calories, is a “cheat day” to satisfy your cravings really worth it?
Cheat meals are sometimes referred to as “reward meals” or “free meals” because they offer a chance to be free from dietary constraints for a short time. But they aren’t as simple as they sound. Here’s what we know about cheat days and how they can affect your diet in the long run.
Some believe cheat meals are good for helping you stick to your diet, allowing people to avoid feeling deprived of the foods they enjoy eating and making them less likely to fall off the wagon and, eventually, fail. They suggest planning cheat meals in advance and consuming these foods “guilt-free,” thus preventing you from ever getting to the point of no return.
These small, planned breaks keep you happy yet in control, especially those who feel they need rewards or incentives to keep going. Though the logic makes sense, cheat days, unfortunately, can do more harm to your diet than good.
Despite the fact that a cheat day may help satisfy temporary cravings, here are a few reasons why cheating on your diet may not be the way to go.
When you start a diet, your body begins to adapt to it. Cheating keeps your body from completing this metabolic adaptation. You won’t get the same level of enjoyment from eating the healthy foods that you would without eating the cheat foods.
Just as an alcoholic shouldn’t drink alcohol, junk food junkies should avoid their favorite calorie-laden treats. Continuing to eat these foods just feeds the addiction. In most cases, one cheat day turns into two, which turns into a week, and before you know it, you’re completely off your diet. When you’re able to refrain from unhealthy foods for an extended period of time, your body will begin to crave the healthy foods it needs.
Eating a diet full of fresh, whole, nutritious foods cleanses your body from the toxins junk food brings in. When your body is fed the right foods, you feel better and your system’s functions improve. Trans fats, seed oils and gluten linger in the body for a long time. If you keep eating them, you will never be fully rid of them. Even one cheat meal can erase the effects of a cleanse.
The cheat meal may give you immediate gratification but you won’t feel good afterward, and you’ll inevitably feel guilty for breaking your diet. On the other hand, resisting cravings can boost your resolve to continue you on the path toward health.
If you’re tempted to cheat on your diet, take a few minutes to remind yourself why you decided to cut out certain foods in the first place. Isn’t your health and wellness worth the short-lived feelings of satisfaction you have when eating your go-to cheats?
If you need a reward for doing well on your diet, don’t reward yourself with a cheat day. A study in 2014 published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows financial incentives are more effective than food rewards for those who are dieting. Treat yourself to a spa day or a new outfit as opposed to a slice of chocolate cake.