We’ve all been tempted to ‘cheat’ by indulging in less nutritious foods from time to time. After all, we’re only human. But is the idea of focusing on a cheat day or meal really beneficial to long-term health and weight management? The truth may surprise you: It’s really all about your mindset.
HAVING THE WRONG MINDSET
Just the word ‘cheat’ conjures up the negative idea you’re doing something wrong or that you should feel guilty for your choice, and that can be a slippery slope. “It’s like opening a door to permission to eat foods you crave but with such a narrow window of opportunity that the urge to get as much in as you can is very high,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, author of “Body Kindness.”
As a result, cheat foods might be consumed hurriedly — without time to really savor the food. After a cheat meal or day, it’s normal to feel shame or guilt, negatively impacting future food choices.
These negative impacts may result in going down the slippery slope of eating more “bad” foods. Or it could go the other extreme of shunning cheat food, which can actually increase cravings and a desire to binge down the line.
FINDING THE RIGHT APPROACH
However, since healthy eating is about balance, no food should ever be off limits. Allowing yourself to indulge in favorite foods helps prevent boredom and deprivation, which can spark cravings and a desire to binge. No matter what your health goals are, incorporating indulgences is the key to maintaining balance.
To indulge without hurting your health and weight-loss goals, shift your mindset from negative to positive. “Stop calling it ‘cheating’ and call it a flex meal. Not every meal has to be ‘nutrition first,’” points out Scritchfield. For this reason it’s important to allow yourself permission to eat all of the foods you love — and having a strategy is fundamental. Planning out your indulgence by portioning them in advance is a tip Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, authors of “The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure” and and co-founders of 21-Day Body Reboot suggest. This approach allows you to indulge without completely straying from your goals.
When you plan an indulgence, pay attention to what you want, then embrace the splurge. Enjoy it by eating slowly and take time to taste the food and really savor it. By eating intentionally, you’ll feel much more satisfied, even with a smaller portion of the indulgent food. Over time, you’ll notice allowing yourself permission to mindfully eat these foods results in fewer cravings, potential binges and an improved relationship with food.