When it comes to diet consistency, I don’t do cheat days or cheat meals. I have in the past, but not currently.
Now, that’s not to say I don’t cheat…because I do. Sort of.
I allow myself to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, knowing that I prefer to stay within a specific calorie range. I also know that if I “cheat” too much, I will have to pay the piper eventually.
So in the context of “cheat days” or “cheat meals,” this means we take time away from our regular dietary regimen and eat some “bad” food. It’s seen as a way to satisfy cravings.
While the body can sometimes induce cravings, they are most often associated with the mind. “Cheat” opportunities are often seen as a way to stay sane, to keep our minds about ourselves.
We get so overwhelmed by the effort and energy required to “stay on track” with the food that sometimes a break can mentally soothe us, at least for a short bit.
But is it really “cheating”?
Diet Consistency Is All Part of the Plan
Cheat meals and days, done correctly, are planned and coordinated into the overall dietary plan. They are scheduled and monitored so that the “cheat” doesn’t turn into an all-out “splurge.”
These are not deviations from the intended. They are not “falling off the rails.” They are, in fact, necessary to the success of the overall plan.
Your food should work in the same way that the stock market goes down from time to time on its way up or that an airplane sometimes descends slightly on its overall path upward.
In other words, what might look to some as going the wrong direction, is an intentional plan unfolding as it should.
God and the Devil Are Raging Inside Me
So why do we need cheat meals?
We need them because they are perceived as “satisfying.” Taking some time to eat foods outside of our dietary plan can give us a brief moment of relaxation from fitness, a moment to breathe. Especially for folks just beginning their fitness journey, these small breaks from the intensity can make them feel normal again. It’s a chance for the brain to let go and the belt to get a little tighter (for a short time).
In short, it gives our brains a break.
But like most indulgences, the joy and gluttony of a day’s worth of slamming pizza, sweets, and booze often leave us with a much different feeling the next day…
What just 12 hours ago gave the feeling of relief and happiness now becomes a mental burden.
Feelings that we have blown all of our progress (you probably didn’t) or that somehow we have lost our fallen off the tracks (you didn’t) become an obstacle to try to tackle.
Along with the physical toll, your body is also trying to deal with processing all that excellent cheat food.
And here is where we need to remember about cheating…despite how it makes you feel after, and however it makes you think about your motivation to go forward, this IS a part of the plan.
It’s Not Cheating; It’s Achieving
Part of the problem here is that we are still calling these “cheats.” The name makes it sound like we are doing something we should not be doing.
But is it cheating if we planned this and followed the plan?
No, it’s not. It turns out we have it all backward. We aren’t taking a break from the plan. This IS the plan.
We didn’t take a step back. We were taking steps, with intention, forward.
We recognized that without these food break opportunities, we would mentally wear down or give in to binging.
So what this is about is routine maintenance and ensuring that we keep our machine in working order for what’s to come.
We aren’t just feeding it food. We are providing it motivation to move forward.
Sometimes it’s the moments when you feel like you are taking steps in the wrong direction that you are taking the most critical steps forward.
Rob is a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Nutrition Coach through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. For the past 10 years, Rob has been navigating the health and fitness landscape in a quest to better himself and those around him focusing on tools such as calorie and macro counting, intermittent fasting, and HIIT training techniques.