Why Treat Days are Good For You

Kimberly Daly Farrell
by Kimberly Daly Farrell
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Why Treat Days are Good For You

Have you ever noticed that when you create a “bad foods” list those items suddenly become irresistible? Ice cream was at the top of my list for a long time, and yet I found myself binging on a pint of Ben & Jerry’s at least once a week. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be doing it, but being bad just felt so good.

Creating a calorie deficit is important if you’re trying to lose weight, and an ice cream binge doesn’t exactly help you take in fewer calories than you’re burning. Still, when you’re putting pressure on yourself to eat perfectly all day, everyday, you risk snapping. And it’s always important to remember: A virtuous diet does not make you a virtuous person. Which is where learning how to work treats into your eating plan comes into play.

Some eaters prefer to have a full-on treat day each week, keeping things clean and healthy the other 6 days. While others do best with a small, treat snack or meal daily. Here’s why you should consider incorporating a treat day or treat snacks into your routine.

Easing restrictions gives your mind a break No one likes to be good all the time. (When was the last time you drove exactly the speed limit?) And your willpower can only handle so much. Having a treat snack or a full-on treat day to look forward to will make it easier to opt for the healthy items the rest of the time. Plus, too much deprivation and restriction can lead to more cravings that could potentially cause you to fall off the healthy-eating wagon in a more serious way—like giving up completely, for example.

Treats could potentially boost your metabolism Many experts encourage dieters to reduce calories by cutting back on carbohydrates to increase your energy deficit and help control insulin, the hormone responsible for stimulating hunger and fat. It’s believed that lower insulin levels encourage fat loss. However, the body adapts to the deficit and often attempts to hold on to its fat stores by burning fewer calories—essentially, your body thinks there’s a famine. Introducing a treat every now and then could prevent that calorie-burn slowdown.Still, it’s important not to go overboard.

You’ll be more mindful of why you’re craving a treat When I sat back and analyzed when I was making those pint-buying pit stops, I realized it was always on my commute home after a rough day at work. For some reason, putting up with all the demands of a stressful job made me feel entitled to a sugar fest. (When I left that position, my ice cream cravings eased up.) Had I not removed it from the “bad foods” list, I might not have made that connection.

When you treat yourself, you are in control—not the food Understanding the difference between “cheating” and “treating” puts you in control of your cravings. Let’s get clear about what those two words mean…

Cheat (verb): to break a rule or law usually to gain an advantage at something

Treat (transitive verb): to provide with enjoyment or gratification

Once you’ve tossed out that “bad foods” list, what you’re doing when you have a slice of pizza or birthday cake is no longer breaking the rules. You get to decide when you have a treat, and you can clearly see in your diary where you’ll need to cut back later to fit that treat into your healthy eating plan.

These days, my go-to treat is still ice cream—Trader Joe’s Ultimate Chocolate Ice Cream, to be exact. But my relationship with it has changed dramatically. I always keep a carton in the fridge, and when I want ice cream I portion out a ½-cup serving, sit down, and allow myself to really enjoy it. I no longer see my treat as a reward for getting through a rough day or a stressful situation. It’s now exactly what it should be: a tasty treat that I can choose to have—or not have—at will.

Do you incorporate treats into your weight-loss or weight-maintenance plan? Share your strategies in the comments!

About the Author

Kimberly Daly Farrell
Kimberly Daly Farrell

Kimberly Daly Farrell is a contributor at MyFitnessPal. A certified health coach and self-proclaimed running addict, Kimberly studied integrative nutrition and has completed three marathons. She has previously held editorial positions at Shape, Glamour, Fitness, and Good Housekeeping magazines. You can follow Kimberly’s running adventures on her personal blog, Some Kind Of Runderful.


21 responses to “Why Treat Days are Good For You”

  1. Avatar essence says:

    I have only recently started to seriously be organized about my weight loss due to gastric bypass procedure I will be having. I treat myself in small ways. For example one tsp of Ice Cream after a healthy meal (I make sure I eat all my veggies). Also, If I have not missed any exercise days in a week, at the end I will treat myself by ordering out. I try to order things that are one-meal, for example a sub, or one sushi roll, etc. In the past if I would order a pizza, I would end up eating the whole pie. Its all about portions and making sure the things you are treating yourself with are filling, if not you could end up stacking on the calories then regretting it later.

    • Avatar Betty says:

      Limiting desert to one tsp of ice cream sounds more like torture than treat! How do you stop at one teaspoon??

  2. Avatar ThatOtherOne says:

    I have found that I do best when I have treats a few times a week. I try to keep my carbs below 120g a day and have greatly reduced my intake of refined sugar. That’s tough for me because I love chocolate, so I compromised with myself and have one square of a dark chocolate/almond candy bar (Ghirardelli Sea Salt Soiree – oh dear, so tasty!) every once in a while (no more than 1x each week) and I also have protein bars in chocolate and peanut butter flavors for a more substantive treat. I went through the Popsicle section at my grocery and found some fudge bars with fairly low calories/carbs and some fruit-flavored bars, too. If I’m going to have a treat, I do it in a way that doesn’t blow my whole day/week out of the water. I work too hard for my losses to give them up for chocolate or anything else! I’m going to have to have some pizza soon, though, I can feel the craving…

  3. Avatar stephsother83 says:

    When I started MFP, just a few weeks ago, I decided it would just be about portion control. I’m so glad I did! Four pounds off the first two weeks, before I even started trying to move more. And now that I’m feeling successful, I’m choosing to make more healthy food choices. Well, actually looking to feel fuller on the calories I’ve alotted myself. But anyway, I save some calories and still have my favorite bedtime snack, just less of it.

  4. Avatar area says:

    I am completely a fan of treat meals or treat days! As others have mentioned, I try to buy individual servings of things (single bags of potato chips, single-serve ice cream cups, one croissant or one cupcake at a bakery). I try not to go over my goal calories more than once a week, but that’s easier to work in with single-serve treats. (Plus I have a little bit of something special every day- a single square of high-quality chocolate, for instance. Mmm.) And every few months or so I’ll plan a big bountiful meal of something I haven’t had in a while- fancy mac and cheese, baked Brie en croute, tons of garlic bread and lasagna, multiple slices of pizza. I find anticipating those big treat meals is almost as much fun as eating them.

    • Avatar Hiptobesquare says:

      I love that idea of the big, yummy meal every few months! Mac and cheese is so off my list, but imagining making and eating it in November makes me so happy! Thanks for the great tip!

  5. Avatar erica says:

    I do have a treat day and I use it for wine (2 whole glasses) and a food I love but rarely eat like ribs or chicken wings. Wine & fatty food is a luxury and a treat when you are serious about fitness. I love knowing I CAN eat whatever I want on that day, but since I started really tracking my food and exercise I have been eating less than I did before anyway. I work out so I can have more in one day and still be under my chosen number of calories. Its working for me! I recently added more calories because weight was falling off too quickly (6 pounds in the last 2 weeks – too fast to be healthy) and I wanted to be healthy about weight loss. That way I can have a little cookie or a piece of chocolate when I’m under my daily calorie goal. I’m using MyFitnessPal to track what I’m doing and love it.

  6. Avatar Shelley says:

    Yes, I have a sensible treat every week. I mean, I’m not going to go hog-wild and eat whatever I desire. For instance, what sounds really good is a breakfast I used to eat: 4 slices of French Toast slathered in butter and maple syrup. Along with that, a pint of cold milk. Sheesh- that it well over 1000 calories in one meal! Some would say, well, just have one piece instead. THAT would make me feel deprived. So, I just avoid super high calorie meals. Instead, I have a full bowl of chocolate frozen yogurt or a candy bar. Much satisfaction, fewer overall calories.

  7. Avatar Helena Hucklesby says:

    I incorporate a treat within my calories, sometimes I go over my daily intake, sometimes I dont…..but it helps me !! My treats tend to be a cupcake Ive made or an ice cream while watching tv on a night!. I do do alot of exercise so my calorie intake is quite high, so consequently I can have the odd teat!! :))) x

  8. […] Why Treat Days Are Good For You via Hello Healthy. Whether you have a treat day or a treat a day, easing up on restriction can actually work wonders for you. […]

  9. Avatar Hiptobesquare says:

    The meal from my Past Life that I miss the most is breakfast, which now consists of oatmeal with flax seed, blueberries, and a splash of 1% milk (I cannot, I just cannot, get skim milk down). So my cheat meal is Sunday breakfast–a fried egg, a fried tomato, and a croissant. A real croissant. A French croissant. Made with butter (which is also pretty much off my list). When I feel like I might fall off the wagon during the week, I just stop, close my eyes, and picture that breakfast plate, and it gets me through. And, as others have noted, I take my time and savor and appreciate it so much more than I did before, when it was just–you know–food.

    • Avatar sherri says:

      Have you tried unsweetened almond milk? It has more calcium than regular milk, is only 30 cals per cup and tastes really good!

  10. Avatar broadwaylover14 says:

    I would never had guessed. Dieting always seemed eerie to me due to the YOU CANNOT EAT ANY JUNK FOOD EVER rule. Well, today is my Mom’s birthday, and I am going to treat myself to a piece of cake! 😉

  11. Avatar Karlo Garcia says:

    I do incorporate treats on my weight-loss diet. My strategies are simple, only on the weekends preferably Saturday starting from now on. I can eat any foods I want but it has to fit my daily calorie intake from myfitnesspal app which I use.

  12. Avatar Chris says:

    Good article, very interesting but I’d just point out that you should be careful when writing this sort of thing as people will take this as a blanket approach. And in my opinion, suggesting a treat meal once per week is great for someone whose body fat is already low <12% but could be detrimental to someone who is a lot higher.
    Treat meals would still be of benefit, however the frequency should be reduced.
    For anyone reading this, please take the positives from the article but also research further in to how to best apply it to your individual circumstances.

  13. Avatar David says:

    I like to incorporate a daily treat into my routine but I make sure it stays under 200 calories.

  14. Avatar Arkiebell says:

    One of the things I like the most about the MyFitnessPal app is the ability to have a treat at a restaurant for example. It quickly helps mr decide on the healthiest treat menus item and then it easily pops into the lunch or wherever. Then I put in my two other snacks which is a sugar free (dates and coconut oil are the sweetener) brownie bites and my Kombucha.
    How could anyone feel deprived eating these things everyday? The app helps me always to list everything I eat as my phone is always with me. Even if I have a bad day for what ever reason, as long as I enter everything I eat, I keep losing weight or maintain my weight. The main thing for me is to always write it down. I was a yo-yo dieter for 55 years and have maintained my weight now for 10.4 years by writing it down and staying away from sugar. This has also helped me look at what sugar triggers me and what doesn’t trigger me. Honey, dates, coconut oil, coconut butter, etc doesn’t bother me but maple syrup for example does so I substitute next time and give the trigger foods to someone else or put them in the garbage.

  15. Avatar Sherri says:

    I allow myself treats on special occasions and occasionally on the weekends. I usually want frozen yogurt and will get the sugar/fat free version. I also love to splurge on fruit from time to time. I used to be a total carb junkie, but now that my carb intake is much lower and I concentrate on proteins, I don’t find myself missing them.

  16. Avatar cami says:

    My husband decided to lose weight one year and needed my help. We figured out a good calorie count for Monday through Saturday, but Sunday was anything he wanted and as much as he wanted. This plan worked beautifully. He lost 60 pounds.

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