Should You Have A “Cheat Day”?

donut vs apple and womanWhen I hear a person say “Saturday is my cheat day” I gotta be honest, it pushes my buttons. To most people it sounds like a harmless thing, but to me it is a red flag. An alarm goes off, triggering this irritating feeling throughout my body. I try not to react, it is a conscious decision on my part to ignore it if I am overhearing a conversation in the elevator of the hospital where I work part time, or somewhere else where there really is not time to get into it. Otherwise, such as a party or other informal gathering where women especially tend to chat about what they are doing to change their bodies…. I always take the opportunity to educate people about Health at Every Size, and how focusing on being healthy verses being thin is a much more sane goal. Then I may ask what they mean by”cheat day”. Inevitably, it means following some type of “healthy” eating plan or dieting throughout the week, then allowing themselves to overeat any of the foods  they have denied themselves during the week on Friday or Saturday, and often again on Sunday.

What bothers me about this approach to eating is that it ignores all of the principles of “mindful” eating, and about “listening to your body” . It gives food so much more power than it deserves. It makes me think of how back in the day (and actually still today unfortunately) food is used as a reward. For example, “if you finish your spinach, you can have the cookie”. What does that message send? It says “something is very wrong with spinach, and something is very special about cookies”. I wish food was never treated this way. If you are really honest with yourself, you have to admit, that sometimes fresh vegetables or a great salad or roasted garlic with asparagus is extremely yummy. And an Oreo cookie could never substitute for that taste. If however, one were to hold that Oreo up as a reward, then it might be different. Over time,we might become conditioned to look at that sweet in a different way, and want it even if we really didn’t want it! If we really were mindful and not conditioned to think some foods were good and some foods were bad (that we could only eat them on a “cheat” day) and REALLY listened to what our bodies wanted, then we would not even need a “cheat” day. We would eat in a mindful way, cooking meals that were healthy and that we enjoyed, because we want to feel good, have energy and live a long and healthy life. But that means enjoying the fun foods too, the ones that are important to us, in our culture, our family traditions or socially. Having a homemade blueberry muffin at Grandma’s house or sharing a favorite dessert when out with our old college roommate,or Grandma Harmon’s favorite cinnamon buns that you only get once in a blue moon. It may not be a Saturday or a “cheat” day, but it may be and should be just part of normal life. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday….I hope everyday you listen to your hunger, and fullness, and enjoy healthy eating, have energy, and never miss an opportunity to enjoy a serving of a special food that you enjoy. Heck with “cheat” days. Enjoying life is living, not cheating.

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