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Are Cheat Days a Helpful Diet Strategy?

Giving yourself permission to cheat when on a diet can result in emotional sabotage

HEALTH GOES STRONG
ROBYN FLIPSE

Cheating has been a hot topic in the diet world lately. Discussions about whether it's okay to have a "cheat day," "cheat meal," or even a "cheat food' when trying to lose weight or follow a healthy eating plan have been taking place throughout all my social networks.

Now I'm ready to add my two cents. And the arrival of both Easter and Passover this weekend - both challenging food holidays for everyone - suggest there couldn't be a better time to address this moral dilemma.

The Power of Words

If you have followed the pink slime stories in the news over the past few months then you have witnessed first-hand the power of words. Public outrage over those two words have put a meat company out of business, thousands of people out of work, and left stories and consumers scrambling to find an alternate source of ground beef.

Do you think the reaction would have been the same if the product in question had been referred to in all those news stores as "boneless lean beef trimmings," its technically correct name? I don't.

Cheating is also a powerful word. It immediately brings to mind something bad, like marital infidelity, or a sports scandal, or a kid taking answers off another kid's test. There is simply no right way to cheat.

Anyone on the path towards self-improvement cannot be helped by this word. Even if you give yourself permission to cheat as part of your weight control strategy, you increase the likelihood you will be emotionally sabotaged by it and fall off the wagon completely. Here's how:

  • Cheating implies a failure of moral judgment, so you will feel you are not worthy of reaching your goal.
  • Cheating means you broke the rules, so you can never win.
  • Cheating suggests a weakness of character, so it is your fate to be fat (or have clogged arteries or whatever other health issue you're trying to fix).

Practice Being Normal

Since you cannot be perfect in this life, it helps to have a back-up plan. That's why I recommend to people that they "practice being normal" as an alternative to the whole idea of needing to cheat on a diet.

Being normal means you'll make some mistakes along the way towards your better self (and size), but you can learn from them and move on. For example, you might realize you don't make careless food choices when you've gotten enough sleep or you don't over eat when you don't skip meals. You may even discover you can eat a handful of jelly beans just because you want to.

The good news is it doesn't mean you've cheated, it just means you're normal.