Many of today's popular diets share a similar characteristic where you eat from a list of approved foods or food types and when you choose not to, you are cheating. Thankfully, it seems, a few diets are getting away from this notion of cheating such as flexible dieting and IIFYM, however, the practice of eating a cheat meal or having cheat days is still widely followed by those restricting their diets.
If what you eat on the weekend is drastically different from what you eat during the week, you are doing it wrong.
As you know, EM2WL does not endorse any specific diet, but we do make the following basic recommendations:
• Eat sufficient protein
• Eat sufficient fiber
• Eat enough food to meet your level activity
Pretty basic stuff, right? Nothing too scary and probably something most people can get with. Sure, there is more to it like balancing macros, whole vs processed foods, nutrient timing, staying hydrated, etc. but at a basic level, this is what it looks like.
My gripe with having a cheat meal has ZERO to do with the quality of the meal itself, but how the meal is labeled and the potential backlash it can have. The problem with labeling foods as cheats is that we are dangerously close to being right back at the good vs bad food mindset. As we've seen in the past, this often leads to putting foods on a restricted list, which can introduce binge eating and other forms of disordered eating.
Cheat: to practice fraud or trickery – Merriam Webster
Think about this – When has cheating ever been associated with something positive? Cheat on a test? Bad. Cheat on your spouse? Bad. Cheating death? Ok, that is a good one, but even that seemingly good cheat has an ominous feel to it, like the grim reaper might be lurking around every corner to settle the debt.
Labeling a meal as cheating implies some form of deceit and has negative overtones. I am a big believer that framing things positively impacts how you feel about it. Are you really “getting away with” eating a cookie, enjoying some pasta or anything that is not on the sanctioned food list? If so, maybe your diet is too restrictive. The reality is that you are just eating food. Period. There are no food police or other authority that you need to outwit or who is waiting to lock you up.
Food is food. Every food has a nutritional profile and you should gauge its value for YOUR diet and then make a determination if it is something that you want to eat often or in moderation. In general, eating foods that are more nutritionally dense AND that you enjoy is a good idea. Sprinkle in the foods that don't offer as much nutritional value, but you simply enjoy eating. Maybe for you that is a 50/50 balance or an 80/20 balance. Whatever that balance is, it is your call to make, but avoid labeling foods in such a way that it may potentially trigger some guilt about eating it afterward.