I love the health and fitness industry, but that doesn’t mean I love everything about it. This particular blog, ‘The problem with cheat days’ is one of the things I don’t necessarily agree with.
Other than the common fact that food should have no morality cheat days, or even cheat meals 99% of the time create an intrinsic problem. For an industry that strives on improving your health and wellness, over emphasis on cheat days or meals can massively impact your relationship with food.
Let’s take a step back for a moment
The language we use, or hear on a daily basis is so important! I am sure we are all becoming more aware of the rise in mental health (Approximately 1 in 4 will suffer with it in the UK 2019 studies suggest). So we are definitely aware of the importance of exercise and the foods we feed our bodies. But alongside this, we also know the importance of the information and words we feed our minds.
Imagine telling yourself, that you are a crook, dishonest or a fraud. Then imagine telling yourself that it is okay to do this from time to time.
Now of course, it isn’t’t that serious as some of you may be rolling my eyes at my extreme example. But for someone who has worked with 100s of people and suffered myself with eating disorders, the more you get into your health and fitness the more OCDs or other issues you start to experience. Body dysmorphia as an example that springs massively to mind!
So back to the topic
A cheat meal, or cheat day is often given to bodybuilders, preparing for prep or for fitness enthusiasts to maintain sustainability, sanity and dietary adherence. Also, not to get this confused with re-feed days, a cheat day usually allows you “go against” your normal habits. It allows you to indulge on your favourite foods and drinks in what often feels like a gluttonous experience.
But other than telling you that occasional cheating is okay, my problem with cheat days is that this screams a bigger underlying issue. The problem with cheat days, is the way it affects us mentally and the lessons it teaches us.
So as a result of that, I have to ask a question. Why is your normal diet not sustainable enough to keep you sane 24/7 and refrain from these cheat days? Of course when you are contest prepping this doesn’t always apply – I get that. But for the rest of us, shouldn’t we all try to have a diet that suits our lifestyle, our wants and needs?
This brings me back to my initial point. Food has no morality. Some has better nutrient profiles. Others have more calories. The fact is though, none are actually good or bad. They do not have any morality. They are simply a means of energy that we consume to fuel our bodies.
Now common sense must be applied, because a lifestyle of donuts and snickers is only going to get you a regular visit to the dentist and GP, but eating one of these here and there (not just on cheat days), just on a normal day won’t sabotage you or destroy your life. It won’t make you a bad person.
Yet the irony in all of this is, when we avoid pizzas, beers or “fast or bad foods” it is to never feel like a bad person. Yet we then excuse ourselves to indulge in cheat meals. Now I know it may seem a little overboard, my reaction to this whole thing, and I am somewhat nodding in agreement it is a bit extreme. But as a binge eater for many years and advocate for supporting people physical and mental health, I want to ensure people aren’t beating themselves up with things that are poorly labelled fitness rituals. I want people to know that a pizza slice on Tuesday lunchtime does not make you a bad person. It won’t sabotage your goals. This pizza slice will have the same effect as it would on a “cheat day”. Simple calling it a cheat day won’t make the calories exempt – remember that!
The few exceptions…
Now I also accept that for some people, even my wife to be completely honesty they prefer to have a more refined, standard diet for 5/6 days to be able to have flexibility on a weekend or one day. I get that. But I just don’t agree with the term, cheat meal. The more foods we intake on cheat days, the more associations we are making with more foods. Therefore, if they ever come in our path on “non-cheat” days we will often get flustered, overwhelmed and feel bad.
This should never be a thing. We should never allow food choices to affect our mental health and sanity.
So what to do?
I always advocate that health and fitness should add to your life. Not take something away from it. It should enhance your physical and mental wellness. It should be enjoyable too!
If it is not fun, then why are we doing it? Also, if it is not fun how long do you really think you can keep it up? You won’t be consistent, it won’t be sustainable and you are likely not going to work hard at it.
Again this goes back to my 4 pillars of achieving true long term success in health and fitness: Sustainability, consistency, enjoyment & hard work. If one of these crumble, then the whole thing collapses.
So, therefore I recommend you opt for a level of flexible dieting. This does not warrant you to simply eat everything you enjoy in sight, or save your calories your day to indulge in pizza and cookies. At least not everyday.
But what it will teach you and show you over time is that food can be enjoyed at any time. You can eat bread past 6pm, you can have a burger on a Monday afternoon and you will still be okay. It will also show you over time, that certain foods react better for you.
There is a reason I don’t eat fries, or burgers at lunch. I crash post lunchtime. So although I could do it, over time I have just made smarter choices to fit my lifestyle. But, if it was a special occasion or I had the afternoon off work, and wanted one, I would do it. I wouldn’t be cheating, I wouldn’t be deceiving myself. I would be fuelling myself how I wanted at that moment.
Life is already difficult, without adding too many rules and regulations. Find something you enjoy that makes you move, do it. Find foods you enjoy, eat them. Then fill the rest of your day with things you need to do (work, family, extra curriculum activities). Furthermore, then proceed to fill your belly (with nutrients, minerals, foods that sit well with your lifestyle and plenty of water). It isn’t rocket science, but it can certainly seem it with the overwhelm of information.
I hope this blog provided some value. It was a rant, that levelled out as I know some people will swear by cheat meals. But I guess one thing I always try to do is share my honest opinion. I rarely sit on the fence and very much go all in on what I do.
If you ever need a hand with any health and fitness advice, be sure to get in touch. I am always happy to help.
Have an awesome day!
P.s. I have provided free advice for over 8 years and have recently produced my first ever Ultimate Fitness Bible with the assistance of my brother who graduated in 2019 with a Sports Science degree. When science meets practicality, was our tag-line. There is no obligation to check this out, but if you have seen my work, over the past 8 years and taken value then check out this one time purchase that I 100% promise will change your life!