Why Diet "Cheat Days" Actually Keep You On Track to Lose Weight

Posted in: Diet & Nutrition
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Susan Ohtake, CPT

Diets are never easy.

In fact, I don’t like the word diet, and I don’t believe anyone should ever be “on a diet,” I believe you should just maintain a healthy diet.

Don't even use the word "diet"again.

Being “on a diet” messes with how you feel about food and it can lead you to be unsuccessful in losing weight.

Here's a different way of thinking about "dieting" and cheating on your diet.

What happens to you while you’re dieting

When you’re on a diet, you eliminate certain foods from your daily meals. Usually, this includes sweets and fatty foods.

That means no ice cream, cookies, cake, chips, french fries, or other fried foods.

For some people this is easy and they maintain that type of diet. These people will always order the side salad over french fries. And then there’s those who cannot eat enough french fries.

If I’m out and there’s no sign of me going home for a sandwich, I grab a snack and it’s usually chips or fries because I love them and they’re quick, cheap, and easy. This is absolutely not good for your health and you should try not to do it often. However, it’s when you say no you cannot have these foods, that you start to crave them MORE.

When you tell yourself you aren’t allowed to have something, you begin to crave it more. Just like reverse psychology on your kids as they grew up. No, you can’t have that lollipop, well now they want it more and they’re going to throw a tantrum.

At first, you go a couple days without chips or ice cream and you may not notice. You may even say, “wow I needed a break from that stuff. I feel great.”

But then the next couple weeks hit and it gets hard. Your body becomes deprived of these foods it has adapted to and you begin to crave it more than you did when you were pregnant. This can cause some people to “cheat” on their diets and once they “cheat” they become unmotivated and “fall off the wagon.” This is why you should never completely eliminate something from your diet immediately.

Cut it out slowly

Much like trying to quit smoking, you’re body is addicted to these sugars and fats because it’s delicious to you and it has adapted to them. If you quit cold turkey, then you’re more likely to have cravings. But like with smoking, if you slowly decrease the amount you do it, your body is more likely to adapt with no set backs.

So if you find yourself having these setbacks you should slowly cut out these foods. Go a couple days without them, then one day allow yourself to have those chips, but maybe eat baked chips instead of regular ones. Slowly introduce a healthier option for your bad habit! A lot of smokers will replace smoking with chewing gum. When they crave a cigarette they pop a piece of gum in instead. Granted, many of these people then become addicted to gum, but it’s much less toxic to your body than a cigarette right? The same can be said for wheat over white bread, or baked over fried potato chips.

Have the cheat days, but don’t call them that!

I also don’t like the phrase “cheat day.” It has a negative connotation and makes people feel bad about themselves. Even when they know they’re cheating and they deserve it, they feel bad about eating that fast food on the way home from the soccer game because it was 8pm and the family hadn’t eaten yet. It’s ok to have those days!

There may be days like this at 8pm after practice where you don’t WANT to cheat but you just have to. Or there are times when you have had a long week and Karen at front desk pissed you off again so you just want to relax with that glass of wine or that ice cream sundae. Either way, you need to treat yourself. I call them “treat yourself days” because it has a more positive connotation. It says, “You know what? I know I shouldn’t do this, but I need to enjoy my food today. I’ve been working hard on maintaining my diet and I deserve this one.” Even if you may not have wanted to stop on the way home from practice and you wanted your treat yourself day to be later in the week with the girls, you need to eat just as much as your kids do. And if you REALLY want to save that day for the night out with the girls, then just get the healthiest option possible at the drive thru, don’t get the large combo meal with a milkshake!

The effect of treating yourself...

Letting yourself have these “treat yourself days” will help keep yourself sane when those cravings come back, let you still have fun when you’re out with your friends, and keep you from getting discouraged when you have no choice but to “treat” (not cheat).

Be careful

But you have to be very cautious with these treat yourself days. You can’t let them become too frequent! Some people start to find any excuse to treat themselves. They said, “wow I worked hard for an hour, I deserve a giant burger,” and that goes on to happen every day of the week. That’s not how it works! You can start with one treat yourself day a week, then lessen them slowly if you want, but you CANNOT let them start adding up, otherwise you aren’t maintaining that healthy diet and you aren’t going to meet your goals.

When used wisely, treat yourself days will ultimately help you stay on track with your diet goals. They keep you sane and happy, which your family also appreciates, and they let you enjoy yourself without totally ruining your diet.

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