I hear a lot about cheat days when I’m talking to people that are trying to lose weight.
Many people say one cheat day a week keeps them motivated to stay on the diet on the other six days. If you’re truly seeking long-term weight loss, being on a deprivation diet where the reward is one day when you can eat anything and everything is a bad idea.
Cheat days are a sign that your relationship with food needs some work and keeps you stuck on that wheel of using food as a form of punishment and reward.
If you are someone that is engaged in a lifelong battle with your weight I’m willing to bet you follow a pattern that goes something like this.
1. Is That Really Me? – Something happens in your life and you decide you have to lose weight right now. Maybe the decision was brought on by a trip to the doctor where you get some not-so-good news about a health condition related to your weight, or you see a picture of yourself and can’t believe that’s how you look. Maybe there’s an event like a wedding or high school class reunion coming up that you want to look great for. You’re ready to get started and your motivation is high.
2. It Worked For My Cousin’s Mother – You share your plans to lose weight with a friend or co-worker. They tell you about a diet their sister-in-law is on. She’s lost 20 pounds in three weeks. You say “sign me up”.
3. Game On – You start out on the top of the wave. You’re losing weight, maybe drop a pants size or two, and are having no trouble adhering to the diet. It doesn’t bother you that you can’t join your friends once a week for lunch or meet your co-workers for a cocktail after work on Friday because the slightest digression could blow everything. There is no temptation strong enough to come between you and your goal.
4. Victory – After several months of weekly – maybe even daily – weigh-ins and the highs and lows that come from that practice, you reach your goal weight. You. Win! No one really knows or understands how much you’ve had to sacrifice to get that scale to display the arbitrary number that you selected six months ago.
You look great. You feel even better. Three or four weeks go by and you decide an occasional splurge will be okay. You shouldn’t have to deprive yourself forever. That would just be wrong.
You go to lunch with your friends and order the creamy shrimp alfredo that you’ve so missed and join your co-workers for the Friday happy hour drink specials once again. You begin to slip back into living your life the way you did before that moment in time when you vowed that things were going to change.
The pounds creep back on, and, as disappointing as that is, you can’t find the motivation you need to go back to ‘the diet’.
What Does This Have To Do With Cheat Days?
Cheat days are a sign that you are participating in a process that is unsustainable. Having a cheat day means that you feel that you’re giving up so much on days one through six that on day seven you deserve a treat so you’ll be able to keep doing the deprivation thing on the other days. You’ve made a deal with yourself.
Rather than trying to keep your promise to be good six days out of seven, why not put some work into figuring out how important it is to be at that oh so coveted weight and what you’re going to have to do different from now on to stay there? Getting there is easy. Staying there is much trickier because, over the years, you’ve developed habits and eating patterns that make gaining weight inevitable.
Although you may not recognize it, you’ve also developed this internal belief that having to eat right every day and exercise at least a few times a week to stay healthy and look good in your black dress isn’t fair.
It’s Not Your Fault (but it’s up to you to fix it).
Dr. Phil says that you are not to blame for what happened to you as a child. But, as an adult, despite whatever took place back then, you have to take responsibility for your life now.
The same is true of your battle with food. We live in a society that is obsessed with high calorie, overly processed, yet highly satiable foods. These tempting foods are on every street corner. Super market rows are stocked full of them. Indulgent foods are at the center of every social event.
We ignore that the purpose of food is to provide fuel to our bodies. Most of the foods that are consumed today don’t fulfill this primary objective.
You’re not to blame for the obsession our society has with food that has led to obesity for 35% of American adults. There is nothing you can do about the endless deluge of foods that test your willpower each day. That’s all way bigger than you.
You’re also not to blame for the prevelance of the idea that healthy, nutritious whole foods that provide vitamins and fiber along with a bunch of ther nutrients that our bodies actually need are tasteless. Or that ‘clean’ eating (forgive me for using that buzzword) is nearly impossible to do for any length of time. Neither are true.
I hope you will begin to re-think your truths about food, what you’re eating, why you’re eating it and whether or not you should be on a diet where the incentive is a day of eating ‘bad’ foods. The reward for even the most heroic of acts should never be a cookie.
What do you think? Do cheat days work for you?
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