An Intuitive Eating RD’s Thoughts on the “Cheat Meal”

The diet world comes up with many different things to make you feel guilty and then quickly make you not feel guilty by labeling something else. It is a very weird relationship!

One of the concepts that comes out of diet culture is a cheat meal or a cheat day. Either way you slice you, I don’t like it! So the cheat meal/day when googled is:

Cheat meals are scheduled meals that include indulgent foods that wouldn’t ordinarily be permitted on your diet. A cheat day is when you allow yourself to consume any foods you want over an entire day.

So let me go through and explain a few reasons why I am not a fan.

  1. Many individuals I see that use a cheat meal it usually turns into a cheat weekend with a restart on Monday. Does this sound familiar. This pattern sets you up for some major guilt and restriction throughout the week, causing the pattern to be re-started again on Saturday.
  2. It is a reward system. “Eat healthy all week and you have this reward of a cheat meal!” Reward systems are okay for short term, but not long-term.
  3. Cheating : act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination. This should not be related to food. We need to stop labeling food in a moral way!

Okay, so I hope at this point you are starting to see how much I distaste these terms whether it is cheat meal/day/food.

When I speak with clients who have done this in the past, I always ask, what would happen if you had this restricted food during the week? What would happen if you would not hold this food in such high regard?

Usually I hear the client state: ” I would just binge on the food.” I typically respond with, “This could be true, or by not placing moral judgement on it you might just eat it and move on!” Now typically this takes a bit of convincing and some other back and forth conversation but I always recommend trying this food outside of your comfort zone.

This is part of intuitive eating. This part is hard, I am not going to lie, but it is so possible to break this habit. This is the amazing part of intuitive eating, it allows you to heal your relationship with food and does not place the food in such high regard.

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