If you’ve read up on any modern diet plans, or follow any fitspo Instagram celebrities, no doubt you’ve heard the words “cheat day” or “cheat meal” thrown around. You follow your nutrition plan solidly for a time and then, planned or unplanned, it all goes out the window. Sometimes it’s just a meal; other times it’s a whole day of forbidden foods. Sometimes that day evolves into a week and the next thing you know you’re back to where you started. And then of course, sometimes it’s just hanging out with a friend and having a beer and that’s all. What people consider cheating is pretty subjective, but the connotation is the same: It’s a bad, bad thing.
The biggest problem with the cheating mentality, however, is how negatively it can impact your relationship with food. Most would probably say having an occasional cookie or drink a cheat, but thinking this way can lead to feeling like a failure and giving up altogether. If you can’t do it right, then why even try? You’re just going to fail again. It becomes a vicious cycle of hard work followed by a slip-up or little accident or even a brazen binge-filled rebellion, because that’s how life works.
Perfection is not what we’re after, though. What we’re after is focus and responsibility. It’s that simple. Focus on your end goals (why you do what you do), and accept responsibility for the decisions you make without guilt. Sure, some food choices have less nutritional value than others, and social events pop up and you want to partake of the edible offerings. Even if you decide to take that slice of cake or spend a night in with some pizza, know why you’re doing it; don’t let it be a mindless choice and instead, own it.
One way you can set yourself up for success to use a “How Much Do I Gotta Have It?” scale (not its real name). On a day when you’re not feeling particularly lacking in self-discipline, write out a scale from 1 to 10 and take some time to think about how you feel when faced with tempting food-related decisions that may not line up with your goals. A 1 on the scale may indicate that you don’t really feel any sort of temptation (perhaps you’re not even hungry a all); a 10 might be that you will physically die if you don’t have it (perhaps you’re in a desert and need water to survive); a 5 might mean you’re pretty ambivalent (the table at your restaurant orders an appetizer and you could take it or leave it). Most of your food-desires should fall somewhere in-between; they don’t even have to be as extreme as the examples given. Be sure to think this through as logically as possible before any compromising situations arise.
After thoroughly considering your scale, decide on a tipping point. At what number will you realistically be miserable? Is it a 4? An 8? It should probably be pretty high, and definitely above a 5. This number is the point at which you will make a decision that you probably wouldn’t normally make, but you can be at peace with it and take responsibility for it. The next time you open your fridge and that leftover pizza is in there, close the door and take a moment to figure out where on the scale your desire for that pizza falls. Be honest with yourself. If it doesn’t hit your tipping point, you can walk away feeling guilt-free and not too disappointed. If it does hit your tipping point, you know you’ve thought about it and can accept how it will affect your long-term goals.
If your training or work outs are going well, but you still aren’t where you want to be (better performance, weight loss, healthier eating habits, etc.), let us know! Our coaches are available to get you on the right track. In the end, we’ll never tell you it’s okay to cheat because we want to see you succeed, but you define your success and if we can reframe how you think of nutrition in relation to your goals, we can get you that much closer.