In the world of eating clean, eventually you will encounter the “cheat meal”. Basically this is just an opportunity to enjoy some indulgent food that you don’t eat on a regular basis. It’s impossible to be completely perfect with your diet all the time and honestly it’s not necessary either. Occasionally “cheating” on your diet and splurging on some decadent food can be part of a healthy lifestyle.
Some schools of thought disagree and say that allowing yourself to “cheat” just opens the floodgates to an all out binge. While I agree that this can and does happen, I don’t agree that it’s a reason to forgo cheat meals altogether. Just as you learn to cook, prepare meals, and withstand temptation, you have to learn how to manage your cheats. Saying that you can’t have a certain food because it’s a “trigger” food that will lead you to binge is wise when you are beginning this lifestyle, but eventually you need to face it. In the end, food is just food, and it’s really emotional issues you need to deal with in order to heal your relationship with certain foods and regain control. It won’t be easy and you will fail at times, but simply turning your back and saying “I can’t have that food because it makes me overindulge” is not the answer.
What is the answer? A controlled cheat meal. Follow these rules to take the stress out of “cheating” and let it be what it is meant to be – an opportunity to indulge and enjoy food you don’t normally eat.
1. Plan your cheat. Don’t leave it open to negotiation. Eating five cookies in the break room at work and then saying after the fact that you will count it as your cheat works against you. Cheats are not “get out of jail free” cards for lapses in willpower. They should be planned as part of your diet. I like to check out restaurant menus in advance and pick out what I want and then enjoy the anticipation for the entire week! Perhaps you don’t know exactly what you are going to indulge in but you know when. Pick a time. Friday night dinner. Sunday brunch. Lunch with friends. Whatever it is, you will know in advance that it’s your cheat, which is very different from planning to eat healthy at a restaurant and then giving in and ordering what you want and feeling guilty.
2. Don’t overeat. This is very important. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you have to eat it all because it’s your cheat so you need to make it worth it. Remember that there will always be another cheat. More doesn’t taste better. Eat slowly and savour your food. Stop when you are full.
3. Don’t let it turn into a cheat day! Your food for the rest of the day should be the same as it always is. One cheat meal in a week is not enough to undo all your hard work but a full day of cheating is!
4. Really enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty.
5. Don’t use a cheat meal to reward yourself for a week of good eating. It should be worked in as part of your plan. Eating unhealthy food as a way to reward yourself for not eating unhealthy food is counterproductive and won’t work in the long-term.
6. Keep track of your progress to determine how often you can cheat. Once or twice a week is fine for most people, but depending on your goals you may need more or less. If you are trying to lose weight and are having 2 cheat meals a week and stop seeing progress then cut it back to 1 cheat meal.
If the concept of cheat meals is new to you and you are used to be very restrictive with your food then you may be very anxious about working cheat meals into your plan. This is a sign that you really do need to “cheat”. If the very thought of eating “bad” food can give you an emotional reaction then it is something that needs to be dealt with and perhaps not on your own. A counsellor with experience working with people with eating disorders can be a huge help as you tackle your emotional issues surrounding food and take control of your health and well-being.
This article was researched and written by Follow @DaraCoxPT
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