I hear it all the time. I’ll be working out or talking to someone about nutrition, and they will say, “On Saturdays I have a cheat meal/day.” It drives me crazy. Not because I don’t think having a treat is important, but because I dislike the implications that come with “cheat.”
“Cheat Meal” implies that your current diet doesn’t satisfy you
If all week you think about what you’re going to eat on Saturday, that tells me you aren’t enjoying what you eat every other day of the week. This implies that whole healthy food is something you feel you have to eat rather than choose to eat. This also implies that while you’ll force yourself to down vegetables and fruit during the week, when Saturday night comes you can finally eat something “yummy.” Slowly over time, this is going to cause a mindset shift that many people have trouble changing. I used to be one of these people. I used to live for the weekend when I could have whatever I wanted. Often this led to binge eating multiple treats that my body had not had all week. This led to a huge rise in blood sugar followed by a sugar crash that took me a couple of days to get over, and was followed by increased cravings for more sugar. This usually meant that 3-4 days out of the week were spent waiting for my body to recover from the stress I had caused it. I then had 3 days where I felt great, and then I did it all over again.
People frequently do this with alcohol. They won’t have any during the week, but they will get smashed on the weekend. Sadly, our society sees this as normal, and we often joke about how much we drank. We all know that more than one glass of alcohol often does more damage than good, but rather than have a drink on Wednesday when we are offered a glass at a birthday dinner, we will wait until Saturday and drink a whole bottle of wine. When people tell me they want to lose weight/lower blood pressure/feel healthier, one of the first things I want to know is how much alcohol they drink. Often if I lower their alcohol intake, they see a big difference before making any other changes to diet or exercise routine.
Why can’t you enjoy what you eat during the week?
Why isn’t a dinner of salmon, sweet potatoes, and mixed veggies enough? Why when you’re having a mixed berry protein smoothie do you feel the need to dream about Saturday’s cheat meal? While there are varying reasons for this, I think one of the main reasons is that we have convinced ourselves we cannot live without these foods we call “cheats.” We believe we cannot be satisfied by fruit, veggies, and meat. We have convinced ourselves that in order to consistently eat well we need to have these “cheat meals.”
You can’t cheat health
People have been trying to cheat health for years. They’ve invented diet pills, shakes, fat loss machines, etc,… and none of them have had results superior to living a healthy life. Your body is smart, and it will do its best to keep you healthy, but it can’t do it without your help. Your body is the ONLY body you get on this earth. You have to live in it until the day you die. How you treat it will determine your quality of life.
So when can I have treats?
Guess what? No one is telling you what you can or cannot eat. I can tell you what I think you should eat, but I can’t force you to do it. Start by acknowledging the fact that you get to decide what you eat. Second, when considering eating something you don’t normally eat ask yourself if you have given your body all the nutrients it needs that day. If you think back and realize you haven’t had enough protein, go eat the protein, and then ask yourself if you still want the other food. Often our cravings are a signal of an imbalance in the body. The more you listen to what your body is really saying, the healthier you will be. When I don’t get enough sleep I crave sugar. If I just take a nap I wake up feeling better than if I eat a whole bag of fuzzy peaches for fast energy. Choose the best option. Rather than jumping right to a Hershey chocolate bar make up some delicious dark chocolate peanut butter balls (recipe coming soon). At the end of the day there is nothing wrong with having a treat every once in a while if you know your body can handle it. Often life presents us with these treats without us looking for them. I find it best to just stock my fridge and cupboard with food that fuels my body for the better. This way if I’m at a birthday party and am offered a treat, I will have one guilt-free knowing my body has everything it needs. Stop living for the weekend and enjoy giving your body what it needs every day.
Eat your veggies!