Cheat Meals and Why They Suck

One of the most common questions I get asked is “do you have cheat meals? If so, how often?” Now I don’t want to shame anyone for asking that, but I have some thoughts about this concept and they ain’t pretty.

Let’s dissect it a little and look at the implications behind the word cheat. The very definition is to act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination. I can’t readily think of a time when the word is used with any positive connotation, except when one “cheats” death or misfortune.

What kind of message are we sending ourselves when we eat something, which is what we need to do to live, and call it a cheat meal? We’re inadvertently telling ourselves and others that we are doing something bad. Sure, so called “cheat meals” are usually more indulgent than what we consume on a daily basis – or may not be considered healthy – so I understand where the term derives from. It also implies that we are deviating from something we are stringently supposed to adhere to which by now you probably know is not how I roll.

All of that said, yes I treat myself often. Framing it this way is much more appealing to me because I don’t feel like I’m doing something deceitful or bad. I’m being human. I’m being realistic in my actions and expectations. I’m being kind to myself.  I have learned from experience that for me with rigidity comes bingeing, so if I am trying to eat really clean but crave something random, I have it.

Back when I first started on my wellness journey I allowed myself an entire cheat day during which I went nuts and felt so awful come Monday, it kept my cravings at bay for the week. This clearly wasn’t a healthy approach so as time went on I just decided I’d eat the thing I wanted when I wanted and be done with it. When I treated myself in a balanced way, the forbidden -insert food here- became less alluring.

Now, I simply recreate the things I’m craving in a healthy way. I eat plenty of gluten free or chickpea pasta, make healthier pizzas, quesadillas, sandwiches, burgers, chips and dips, desserts galore. Or I just eat the thing I’m craving; it’s not the end of the world. My approach to tracking macros also lends itself to this, as I generally stick to planned meals during the week and then am adventurous on weekends. Again though, I don’t consider tracking macros to be a constant lifestyle – rather a tool to pick up when I want to use it.

All of this comes back to the idea that to be truly healthy we need to achieve balance. Balance looks different for everybody but in my experience I can tell you it’s not counting every calorie or macronutrient that goes in my mouth, obsessing over how many steps I’ve taken in a day, working out six days a week, or telling myself I’m cheating when I eat something. If you’ve made it through my rant I hope you can remember this next time you want to eat the thing that doesn’t fit into #healthylifestyle standards! xo