Cheat days

January 29, 2016

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A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy

Many of us look forward to the weekends as a time to rest, relax and have fun.  Or it might be a time to get things done in areas of your life outside of weekday commitments.  This means that for most people their eating looks different on the weekend than it does during the week.  There's nothing wrong with this, as eating is a natural part of daily living and will certainly vary based on circumstances. 

What's been bugging me lately is this notion of using the weekend as "cheat days."  I wrote a post recently on this type of language we use around food and the detrimental effect.  By telling yourself that you're cheating with food on the weekend you're giving food more power than it deserves. 

Sure, food can add pleasure and fun to our lives.  It's exciting to try new restaurants around the city or the local fare when we're traveling.  Gathering for a meal is often a way we socialize with friends or family.  But when somebody is in cheat mode the brain is saying, "You need to eat all of this delicious food now because come Monday you can't have it."  Thus overeating almost certainly occurs.  Followed by the guilt – because you broke the dietary rules you follow (hence the term "cheat"). 

Guilt is a cognitive or emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes – accurately or not – that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard and hears significant responsibility for that violation. 1

Regardless of what you did or didn't eat you haven't done anything morally wrong (with the exception of cannibalism…I think I've been watching too many episodes of Criminal Minds…).  But as you can see in the definition of guilt, we can experience it even if we aren't accurately perceiving what we've done, or if we've broken our own self-imposed moral standards with food.

The beauty of guilt as an emotion is that it signals us to make amends, and then the guilt goes away.  If I feel guilty for yelling at my friend, the guilt diminishes when I apologize.  But if you're feeling guilty for breaking a food rule, what's the amend?  If the punishment must fit the crime it might be restricting your eating to make up for the food you ate, exercising to burn the calories off, purging – all disordered eating behaviors.  Or you might find yourself in the "what the heck response" where you throw your hands in the air and give up on trying to control your eating and end up in the throws of compulsively overeating.

If you're finding yourself needing cheat days you're basically on a diet, whether you realize it or not.  Implied in the term cheat is that there are rules to be broken. 

Normal eating doesn't have rules.  It's flexible and varies based on your hunger, emotions, availability of food, and many other factors. 

The foods you're wanting to eat on cheat days are likely the foods you're depriving yourself of on regular days.  Start including these foods throughout the week to neutralize them.  Food doesn't have to be the only fun part of your weekend.  By taking food off the pedestal it allows for you to experience joy from other things such as the time spent with family or friends or a fun activity like going to the park or a movie.  Food has it's place in pleasure and entertainment, but let's not make it the focus of an entire day or weekend. 


1. "Guilt". Encyclopedia of Psychology. 2nd ed. Ed. Bonnie R. Strickland. Gale Group, Inc., 2001. eNotes.com. 2006. 31 December 2007

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