How well do you manage your cheat days? If you’re like many people that I work with, then your cheat days may not be giving you the intended benefit. So, what’s the intended benefit, right?
Well a cheat day is supposed to support you to succeed but how you manage them depends very much on where you are on your path to healthy eating. So, let’s look at that first.
Stage 1: Newbie: You’re Just Getting Started and Creating a New Healthy Lifestyle
There are basically three steps on the path to healthy eating. The first is that you’re new to this and trying to create new lifestyle habits. This is a super challenging time. Making change is hard and when it comes to changing your diet, it can be challenging on many levels. It can be challenging logistically. All that meal prep and food tracking can feel overwhelming.
It can also be difficult in terms of feeling restricted. If you’re really going all in and weighing, measuring, and tracking every bite then you may feel restricted with your foot.
Cheat Day Intention – In this stage the cheat day is supposed to help you experience a meal (or a day) where you can relax. You don’t have to track, and you don’t have to prep. You can go to your favorite restaurant or make your favorite unhealthy meal and enjoy without any internal or external pressure.
Cheat Day Reality – During this phase the cheat day or meal can sometimes be extreme. You may find yourself eating a whole pizza and a banana split for dinner. You might drink a 2 liter of soda or have that fancy coffee drink with a pastry.
Cheat Day Solution – Pull back a bit. Yes, enjoy the day but if you go overboard you’re only hurting your results and you’re making the next day, the one after your cheat day, difficult. Plus, you probably feel like shit the next day. Don’t do that to yourself. Enjoy your food and relax but don’t go crazy.
Stage 2: Intermediate. You’ve Been Doing This For A Little While And You’re Getting The Hang of it.
In this stage, it’s actually really easy to fall back into old habits. You’re getting comfortable. Maybe you’re not tracking as precisely and you’re gaining confidence in your knowledge and habits. During this period, you hopefully don’t feel as restricted, but you wouldn’t mind the occasional meal to enjoy some of your favorite unhealthy foods.
Cheat Day Intention – To allow you to occasionally enjoy some of your favorite foods. You don’t NEED them due to any feelings of restriction or overwhelm, it’s just an occasional treat.
Cheat Day Reality – During this phase it’s easy to become too lax and to let one cheat day roll into two cheat days and then into a cheat weekend. I can’t even count the number of times my cheat meal becomes a cheat weekend.
Cheat Day Solution – Stick to one day or one meal. Hold yourself to it and don’t fall back into old habits.
State 3: Old Pro. You’ve Been Living a Primal Lifestyle for Months, Maybe Years, and It’s Your Norm
This is the stage where you don’t even want a cheat meal. You’re doing fine and rolling along, and you’ve adopted a whole new way of eating that fits nicely into your lifestyle and routine.
Cheat Day Intention – The intention of your cheat day can be twofold. It can prevent rigidity and the obsession with perfection. It can also help you stay aware of what you eat. When primal living becomes your norm, it’s easy to kind of lose track of what you eat. The occasional, planned or unplanned, cheat day or cheat meal helps you stay aware of your nutrition and your health.
Cheat Day Reality – You never have a cheat meal because it doesn’t fit into your dogma or you simply stop paying attention, because you think you’re doing fine, and you end up slowly increasing the carbs and find yourself gaining weight.
Cheat Day Solution – Continue to pay attention to what you eat and occasionally indulge in a French fry or a piece of cake. Perfection isn’t necessary. You’re doing well, you’ve achieved your goals and maintenance is the name of the game here.
Cheat days or off days exist for a reason. Know why you’re taking a cheat day and what your goal is before you start. Allowing yourself some freedom with food is always a good idea, however do so in moderation. Enjoy a meal of your favorite foods and then get back to your healthy eating lifestyle. Don’t go off the rails with your day and don’t extend your day into two or three days. Do enjoy your food. Do enjoy how you’re feeling. And do stay focused on your ultimate goals. You deserve to achieve them.