Why You Shouldn’t Have Cheat Days

  Apr 20, 2016  |  #Eats/WIAW
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When I was trying to figure out my theme for this week’s What I Ate Wednesday, I thought back on the idea of “cheat days,” and what I’ve eaten this week. In doing so, I realized there were a lot of sweets, more than my moderate amount. I made lots of cookies, and well, when there’s things around the house, they usually get eaten pretty quickly.

But isn’t that the point of making delicious food? To eat it and share it on an as needed basis – not on just one day of the week?

Why You Shouldn't Have Cheat Days

The Idea of Cheat Days

If you follow me on Instagram or Snapchat (@hurdbird), you may have seen that I took a quick weekend trip to spend some time with my parent’s and celebrate my dad’s birthday! With birthdays come more sweets, at least in my family. And I’m completely okay with that. I was listening to a podcast where a caller talked about not being able to control her cravings during the week, and was trying to save them all for her “cheat day.” And it really sparked this fire in me.

To put it simply, I do not support cheat days, or anything of that idea. I do not think you should “save” your calories or indulgences for a pristine time of the week. See the thing is, we want our bodies to know that we can have something when we want it, rather than punishing ourselves and making ourselves wait – that only makes us crave it more, which can then lead to overeating or bingeing. Our bodies always deserve what we want to feed them when we want it, and we shouldn’t feel we have to restrict it under false pretenses that indulging on one day only will create better habits for us in the long run.

black bean brownies on white plate

There is no such thing as a cheat day. Again, there is no such thing as a cheat day. There is no such thing as a cheat day.

Our bodies work the same every single day, no matter what we put in them. We have kidneys that work tirelessly to balance our fluids and electrolytes. Our livers will continue to be involved in natural detox mechanisms, and our pancreas will be pumping out insulin when our blood glucose is high (if everything is working properly). Our digestion system is still going to work, day in and day out. Why should our minds work separately from our bodies? We want them to work together because they are better that way.

Every day is an opportunity to live life and fuel ourselves to do so. There is no such thing as “being good” or “cheating” on our diets – we are not one or the other. However, there are such things as choosing less nutrient dense foods and choosing foods that fit our moods and needs at that current time – nothing more, nothing less. Listen to what you need when you’re hungry, make a choice about food, and move on from it. Let’s not put food on a pedestal where we fear it.

Panera soba noodles bowl

How Our Bodies Self-Regulate

I’ve talked about this before in previous posts (here and here) but it’s worth mentioning again – Our bodies are smart, if we let them do their thing.

When we eat a higher quantity of sweeter things than normal, our bodies will scream for more nutrients and fiber to get to homeostasis and make sure we’re getting the nutrients we need. If we try to regulate this by forcing ourselves to eat a certain way on certain days (i.e. – “non-cheat” days), we are disrupting our bodies’ natural regulation system, and messing up our internal cues for appetite and hunger.

And we’re setting ourselves up for failure by creating these restrictions. What happens when friends want to go out and celebrate a new engagement, or cheers to a new job and we’re all splitting fried pickles and champagne? Or, what happens when your neighbor drops by with a cake as a thank you for watching the dog? What happens when you’re stuck at work super late and your coworkers ordered pizza to make the later hours more enjoyable and you told yourself you couldn’t have pizza during the week?

Now, we’re in a position where if we have it and “give in,” we’ve failed. If we tell ourselves that these choices are only available on cheat days, we’re making it really hard to live a life of “non-cheat” days without coloring outside the lines. Why spend the whole week looking forward to a certain meal or treat when you can give yourself permission to have it any day, any time you want.

stack of oatmeal cookies

Your body will tell you what it needs, if you let it. For me, after a day of cookies, it was protein and more veggies.

And splitting a dessert with dad…because it was his birthday…and because it’s good for the soul. This delicious brown sugar coconut slice of pie was a real winner.

birthday cake celebration

Cut yourself a little bit of slack. Eating is not something we should ever feel guilty about. We need to give our bodies what they need, which may vary day to day. Heck, it may even vary hour to hour.

And you may need these any time, any day, not on just one day of the week. So please, please, don’t engage in a “cheat” day mentality. Every day can be a cheat day once we give our bodies permission to eat what we want when we want it.

How do you celebrate birthdays with your friends/families? Do you prefer to make a treat or buy one out?

 

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70 responses to “Why You Shouldn’t Have Cheat Days

  1. You couldn’t have said it better! Boy did I struggle to let go of those cheat days. I don’t know how people manage to survive living like that. I was obsessed with food and craving everything on “good” days and then I ate so much crap and felt terrible on “cheat” days. That’s no way to live!

  2. We eat out for my husband’s birthday and mine. My son’s birthday falls around Thanksgiving so we don’t go out to eat but I bake him a cake in whatever design he chooses that year.

  3. I totally used to do the “cheat” thing, but I dont anymore. I eat pretty well, so if my husband decides he wants nachos for dinner one night from the greay mexican food place we love, Im not going to say no because it isnt my “cheat” day and Im not going to eat only vegetables for the next two days either!

  4. Couldn’t agree more! I eat something sweet and dessert-y almost every day (some days I genuinely don’t feel like it), and not only does it keep me feeling balanced and satisfied, but it also prevents me from going buck wild on the sugar. Been there, done that, no thank you. Maybe it’s different for everyone, but my brain operates under the mentality that if it can’t have something, it wants it even more… possibly from all those years of restriction and disordered eating. I try to keep my diet mostly healthy, but there’s always room for a sweet treat too.

    1. I need something sweet every day too, and it doesn’t have to be a calorie-laden, super sugary option. I do think it’s different for everyone, but I’ve also found that restriction definitely increases my cravings, so I just honor them now!

  5. Hmmm interesting post! I don’t believe in “cheat days” either, but I also have learned that I cannot give in to every single “craving or want” that comes my way…I would eat cookies and unhealthy foods way too often then! And like an above commenter said – if I have something big coming up on the weekend, like a big dinner our for example, where I want to order whatever I want regardless of “calories/is it healthy”, I try to make better choices leading up to it. I’m also trying to practice eating treats when they are “worth it”…if I want a cookie, then it better be a delicious cookie, one that really satisfies that craving. There are way too many crap cookies out there! Haha.

    1. I agree that you can’t give in to every single craving, but I’ve found that the more I honor certain cravings, the less often they will appear. That’s what I’ve found works for me. And you’re right – sometimes treats are just not worth it!

  6. I like to think that I have cheat days everyday haha, but you’re totally right on this one.
    Our bodies are smart, it’s all about fine tuning our capacity to LISTEN to it and what it wants!

  7. Cheat days to me only prolong bad habits. It is like saying “I only get drunk/smoke/do rugs once a week.” Well, more people die from heart disease than drug overdose… just saying.
    Also, if the diet that you are on is so unsustainable that you have to go crazy once a week, that doesn’t sound like the right solution!

  8. This post is awesome! I never really consciously had cheat days but I know I restricted a lot to the point that I would turn down something even though I really wanted it. I am learning more and more to eat intuitively. Your body knows you better than you think it does. So just trust your cravings!

    PS Please send me those almond butter cookies!!!!

  9. I disagree sort of & agree sort of…

    While I don’t make myself a slave to a particular day each week, based on my schedule, I usually have a day that I know in advance will be a “cheat” so to speak. A step back from my standard habits really. Whether it’s because I know I’m headed out for dinner & plan to order something super rich & decadent or because I know I’ll be busy celebrating things. I try to eat mindfully the rest of the week with this day in mind. Balancing myself in advance so to speak. Does this mean I may say no to a cookie earlier in the week when I want the cookie? Yes. Why? Because chances are the random cookie someone brought into the office isn’t really worth it. Some days it’s worth it to me to test that theory. But other days it isn’t.

    1. Totally get what you are saying – if I know I’ll be eating a greasy meal out or something later in the day, my choices earlier in the day may shift. I do think we have to be conscious of this a little bit. Sometimes that cookie at the office won’t be worth it – but sometimes it might be 🙂

  10. I agree with so much of this post (and the commenters!!) I’ve never really been one for cheat days, but there have been times in my life when I was a little too rigid everyday.
    Life is too short to just not enjoy a few cookies, or cake or chocolate everyday.

  11. those cookies look fab – perfectly soft – & I love that they use almond butter! Will you share the recipe? thanks!

  12. I love this! I think we forget how smart our bodies are and that we need to take care of them. I agree with you 110% and I love your perspective.

  13. I am so with you! I totally don’t understand cheat days/meals as the mentality just isn’t right. I’m all for balance – I love my vegetables but I also love chocolate and so I enjoy chocolate or treats in some shape or form every day. I don’t go overboard and I don’t feel the need to stuff myself silly – I just eat what I want.

    I have one friend who bans herself from chocolate and all the things she loves, only to repeatedly find herself devouring an entire jar of nutella or multiple blocks of chocolate if they’re left within her reach.

  14. I agree with this so much! I’ve never been a huge fan of the cheat day mentality for pretty much all the reasons you said. I know that if I ever did follow “cheat days” I would probably get sick with how much treats and sugar I’d have. Having a little bit each day, or nothing some days, has been working for me!

  15. Love this! Whenever I give myself a total “cheat day” I spend the next few days feeling like crap…there’s no point to do that to your body. Now I try to just listen to my body and if I want a cookie on a Tuesday you bet I’m eating that cookie haha.

  16. I could not agree more, I don’t believe in cheat days and I do feel that we need to fuel our bodies properly however I definitely let myself indulge without guilt!!

    I love the looks of those cookies and black bean brownies!! I need to try that.

  17. Love this! I’ve never been a big cheat day advocate. Some days are healthier than others but it all balances out!

    What recipe do you use for the black bean brownies? I’ve been loving the one from Minimalist Baker!

  18. I completely agree! The idea of “cheating” is so silly, I mean, who are you fooling? Yourself? Your body still knows you’re eating cookies, not a kale salad, so why not accept and embrace it yourself. When you stop putting things “off limits” your cravings really shift too. A little bit becomes satisfying enough because you’re free to get more whenever you want. I think food freedom is something everyone should strive for in order to lead a more positive, balanced life.

  19. I absolutely 100% agree with your thoughts on the whole ‘cheat day’ thinking. I have friends who I’ve watched be so restrictive and have had to sit out on fun things (birthday celebrations, girls nights out, etc.) because they already had their ‘cheat day’ earlier in the week. I eat what I want and never deprive myself, but listen to my body. If I’ve had a night of pizza, booze and sweets then I try and balance it out the next day with lots of water and protein, fruits and veggies. But if I don’t, then that’s okay too. Life is way too short to restrict yourself with cheat days!

    1. Your last line is right on – life is too short to stress about food choices. I think we’ve all been there, but the sooner we realize this, the better, in my opinion 🙂

  20. All those delicious cookies and muffins are making me insanely antsy to get back into the kitchen and bake something! I could not agree with your theme this week more. It makes me so sad to see individuals completely ignoring their bodies, depriving themselves, because they are waiting for the ‘perfect time’ or ‘cheat day’. It upsets me so much. Our bodies need food, they need fuel, and chances are, if someone on a restrictive diet is having continual cravings for sugary foods it’s because they aren’t getting enough food!

  21. ‘There is no such thing as a cheat day. There is no such thing as a cheat day. There is no such thing as a cheat day.’

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I learned this the hard way, and I spent so many years trying to suppress the hunger that God made my body with, and it really hurt my body and the way I saw different foods. Coming from an RD (you), this is SO encouraging to read.

    1. Hi Emily! It is definitely a difficult thing to break once we’ve trained our brains to think we can only eat certain things at certain times, but it can be done. It’s good for our bodies to know they can have what they want/need in the moment.

  22. THANK YOU! SCREW CHEAT DAYS! THEY DO NOTHING FOR YOU but make you feel like CRAP!! My “cheat” is ordering a few extras salmon skin handrolls at a sushi restaurant, But that’s hardly a cheat AT ALL! haha!

  23. Yep yep yep. I used to try to never let myself eat anything “bad.” When I ate a lot of sugar one day, I’d feel so gross. Then something clicked and I realized that if I let myself eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, I actually ate far more balanced and craved the things I used to call “bad” foods far less. It’s funny how the body works! Now I tend to eat relatively healthy during the week with a few treats thrown in and my diet on the weekends is much more fun. It’s not because I only let myself eat sweets on the weekends, but it just tends to work out that way.

    1. What you experienced is so true! Unfortunately, the best way to figure it out is to learn through experience. I’m the same way – it just comes naturally to me to eat healthier during the week because that’s when I have more of the fresh produce and we can have more food adventures on the weekend!

  24. The more I grow and learn to hear what my body is telling me, the more I find how right this post is. If I have been eating a lot of sweets, my body usually stops wanting them. Therefore I’ll have something else. If I want something sweet, I have it not because it may be healthy physically, but it certainly is mentally. I have no problem emotionally eating every once in a while 🙂

  25. Happy birthday dad!! I’m glad you got lots of cookies!
    Great post. I do not participate in cheat days, because if someone offers ice cream I am taking it whatever day it is! Cheat days are far too rigid for me. I can’t plan all my indulgent eating for one day of the week. I’d much prefer to moderate it throughout the week.The closest thing I’ve ever had to a cheat day is when I would only have diet coke on the weekend. I’d end up drinking 2 gallons of the study from friday to sunday. Not exactly helpful, haha.

  26. I’ve never lived off the “cheat day” mentality. How dreadful. I’d rather cheat at monopoly and throw a tantrum when I lose.

  27. I prefer to bake my own treats so I have control of what’s in them, but sometimes its nice to just go out and have someone make dessert for you! I totally agree with this post. I used to have the mindset of allowing myself “cheat days” but it was almost like I felt forced to eat poorly, and then it was harder to eat well again. It makes so much more sense to listen to your body and allow it indulgences but also making sure to nourish it well.

    1. Totally echo that sentiment – forcing ourselves to eat poorly to get the most out of “cheat” days are just not how our bodies are wired. I love having control of what’s in my treats too – although sometimes when I’m out, some are too good to pass up!

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