It’s no secret that cheat meals are a popular strategy when attempting to lose weight.
For most, the cheat meal feels like a much-needed break from one’s restrictive diet.
But, what does it take for a cheat meal to no longer be necessary?
Where you’re able to eat healthy naturally in a way that allows you to eat foods you love – always.
In today’s episode, I’m sharing exactly how the concept of a cheat meal will affect your relationship with food.
And what you can do instead to create the results with your body that you desire.
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Hello there. I hope you’re having a wonderful week so far. And I hope you’re enjoying this first week of the New Year. It’s a really inspiring time, especially in my coaching practice. This is the time of year when women generally find themselves super ready to approach their eating habits with a clean slate. And they’re ready to really start doing the more in-depth work to change the way they eat for life. So, that’s a really beautiful thing. And it always makes me super full of joy and gratitude to see that. And speaking of which, if you’re in a place where you’re ready and committed to doing the deeper work with food to get those results you want, I highly recommend signing up for a consultation with me. This is how you apply to my 1:1 coaching program and we’ll talk about what hasn’t been working for you, what I would recommend if we were to work together, and the details of my program. So, if you’re interested in that head on over to katrentas.com/coaching to learn more.. But, moving on. I’m pretty pumped to get into today’s episode. Because today we’re talking all about cheat meals. And as you will soon find out, I have a lot to say about this topic. Oh, do I ever. I find there’s certain topics I talk about on this podcast where I get really, really excited beforehand. And I realize before these types of episodes, “Well this may end up being more of a rant than an actual structured episode. But, you know what? That’s perfect. Because I really want you to know my honest thoughts and experience and expertise around these subjects and that’s what I’m going to give you here.
For me, I was a queen of the cheat meal. And to clarify, when we’re talking about cheat meals we’re referring to the one day a week, or maybe a month, that you give yourself to eat anything you want. It’s the one day you can basically go off whatever food plan you’re on. And for me, whenever I would try and eat healthy in the past, it was usually this concept of a cheat meal that would keep me hanging on to the diet. Where I would suffer my way through another week of restrictive eating and food rules, only to end the week in a binge eating episode. And this is what I personally referred to as my cheat meal. There was no real intention or structure around it. It was just a week of restrictive eating. Where I had to follow all of these food rules that weren’t satisfying or enjoyable. And then, Sunday would roll around. It was always Sunday for me. And that would mean I could eat whatever I wanted. And this usually meant I would eat as many quote unquote junk foods as I could find. Because I spent the week feeling totally restricted and dissatisfied, I would fulfill that need by overeating once a week. And It wasn’t uncommon after my cheat days that I would feel totally sick. Like, I could feel the negative effect that it had on my body. Because they did end up being somewhat of a binge eating episode. And then the next week would start all over again where I did the same thing. Eventually, I would quit the strict food plans and diets altogether. Because, despite having one cheat meal per week, it wasn’t enough. I found myself having “cheat meals” every other day. Because it was just too restrictive. In fact, I no longer had cheat days. I would have cheat weeks and cheat months. Where I would just totally fall off track. Now, your experience with cheat meals, if you do have experience with them, may look different from mine. I know from coaching you all that some of you had the exact same experience and some of you had different experiences. But, the main theme I see with all cheat meals is that they never create a positive, loving, and nourishing relationship with food and body. And they don’t work long-term for most.
Now, before I go further, I want to make something clear. I am referring to your average woman when I say this. I’m referring to women like me and most likely women like you. I’m not referring to professional athletes who commit to a strict food schedule. I’m not referring to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who eats an entire pizza weekly as his cheat meal. Obviously, those tactics work for them. But most of you listening here will not be a professional athlete or a pro wrestler. Right? I’m just guessing here. I’m guessing your profession doesn’t require you to eat a very specific meal plan. Most likely you are like me. And you’re just a normal woman who’s trying to live your life and have healthy eating not feel so damn difficult. You want it to feel natural for you. And for women like us, there is nothing more unnatural than scheduling yourself a “cheat meal” every week. Or every month. And I’m going to explain why.
First, we need to talk about even just the concept of a cheat meal. The definition of “cheating”, according to the Googles, is to act dishonestly in order to gain an advantage. Generally, we associate the term cheating with something negative. Or something that’s morally unsound. Something that’s forbidden, that we may actually want to take part of. Even just the term “cheat meal” feels very heavy and icky. It feels loaded with shame and regret. And there’s a lot that comes with the term. And I know this seems maybe a little nitpicky and specific, but the words we use, not just with food but with anything in life, matter. Because the words we use, become the thoughts we think, and those become your beliefs over time. And the beliefs you have about “cheat meals” will affect your thinking around food. Because the concept of a cheat meal will further perpetuate a belief for you that you can’t trust yourself to eat healthy. That you can’t trust yourself with food. Because the concept of a cheat meal is saying that you can’t trust yourself to eat foods that serve you nutritionally and eat foods you love. It’s saying you need to schedule one day a week to eat foods you love, because you can’t trust yourself to not eat those foods, or moderately eat those foods, other times of the week. Nothing about the concept of cheat meals feels effortless or freeing. At first it may feel that way. Because it’s the one day you get to eat whatever you want. But, here’s the thing. People who naturally eat healthy, who have those results you want, do not schedule cheat meals. Because in their mind, they don’t need to schedule cheat meals. Why would they? It’s easy for them to balance foods they love with foods that get them the results they want. Those are the thoughts they have about food. And those thoughts are why they have those desirable results with food and body. The words you use and the thoughts you think matter. And if you tell yourself you are someone who schedules cheat meals every week, you are telling yourself that you are someone who can’t be trusted to eat healthy otherwise. You are creating a belief system when you do this. And, whether you’re just a podcast listener or my client, you’re here because you want to become a naturally healthy eater. And that starts with the beliefs you create about food and body that allow you to do that. To eat healthy with ease, and to make empowered food decisions that feel easy to you, you’ll have to develop an unconditional trust with food and yourself. This means you’re not relying on strict food rules or a strict diet to tell you what to eat. It means that when you go off plan you’re not beating yourself up. And you just continue to make progress. And it means that instead of setting cheat meals, you allow yourself to intentionally plan for eating foods you love. On your terms. Because here’s another thing that I think we tend to forget. We’re adults. We get to decide our own food rules that work for us and how we eat. So, that means you can give yourself full permission to eat foods you love at any time. But with this, you probably also want to start parenting yourself. And taking responsibility for your food actions. Setting a cheat day isn’t parenting yourself. It’s trying to desperately control yourself because you think you can’t be held responsible to make the right decisions with food the rest of the week. In most cases, this is how it is. Parenting yourself with food means you’re always taking responsibility for what you eat. Where everything you eat is an intentional decision. And you’re being kind and curious with yourself when it comes to food. Because you know you’re always in control.
On top of all of this, there’s also the fact that your brain and body absolutely hate following rules with food. And with the concept of a cheat meal, you’re setting the rule that play foods can only be eaten one day a week. Or one day a month. Whatever that is for you. And this doesn’t work out well for your brain. Because what you’re doing is you’re making the concept of those “restricted foods” even more alluring. You’re going to desire those foods even more. And you’re increasing your dependence and attachment to them. Because in your mind, they’re forbidden. And they’re not allowed. And what does our brain do when things aren’t allowed? It wants them even more. Your desire for them will increase ten-fold. Because there will always be top-of-mind awareness on the things you’re not allowed to have. For example, I currently love chocolate. It’s one of my favorite things in the world. But in no way do I feel dependent on it. Sometimes I go weeks without eating a piece of chocolate and I don’t even realize it. And I’m in this place because I know I can always have it. From a place of knowing I’m in control. But, what would happen if tomorrow chocolate became forbidden? And I knew I was only allowed to have it once a month? Or once a year? My brain would immediately want chocolate. But, if I know I can always have the chocolate, I’m not constantly thinking about it. In fact, I’m never thinking about it. And I’m not constantly over desiring it.
This may be a weird example, but I always like to compare this to the legal drinking age in different countries, right? Just stay with me here it makes sense.. So, here in America, the legal drinking age is 21 years old. And back when I was younger, before I was 21, It was no secret that binge drinking alcohol was a common practice. Whether that’s with teenagers or college students.. And it’s really interesting because our drinking age is relatively high compared to most countries. You think we’d have a better handle on our drinking with the drinking age being that high. But it’s the opposite. People want to drink more at that young age in our culture. Because the concept of drinking alcohol becomes super alluring to us. Like we want it because we cannot have it. And if you go to other countries, where the drinking age is 18 or even 16, that’s not really the culture around alcohol at all. People tend to drink in moderation. And there’s not this novelty around it. So, when looking at this example, we can kind of see how the concept of a cheat meal, is creating novelty around unhealthy foods. You’re always drawing attention to those foods. And we can see how this concept makes those forbidden foods more alluring to us. And this makes total sense, right? You could tell me that the most obscure food that I don’t even eat that often is forbidden. And I will immediately feel the need to have it. It’s just the way it works.
So, with that, I want you to consider how things would be different if you believed wholeheartedly, without guilt or shame, that you were fully free to eat whatever you wanted? On any given day of the week? Where you know that you have total and complete freedom around food? I want you to examine what feelings come up for you when you think to yourself, “I have agency to create whatever decisions I want to around food, always”. For me, this thought creates a feeling of confidence. Or certainty. It kind of feels like an exhale in my body. Like a quiet sense of self trust. As opposed to thinking about a cheat meal. For me, thinking about the concept of a cheat meal, and only being allowed to eat certain foods on those days, brings up feelings of worry and fear. Because in that mindset, I’m thinking that I can’t be trusted to make the right food decisions for myself on any given day. I really, really want you to see the difference in these two approaches. Because one will leave you feeling trapped and restricted with food for life. As mentioned, some people do use cheat meals because maybe it does work for them. Maybe they’re doing it in a way that totally works. But these people probably don’t need to call those meals “cheat meals” per se. Because to them it probably doesn’t feel like cheating. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, for most of us cheat meals will feel like cheating. It’s coming from this very desperate energy. Where we feel out of control. And it will feel very negative and icky. Which just won’t bring you the results with food you want. Take it from me, I know from experience.
So, if you’re on a specific diet where you’re scheduling cheat meals for yourself, I want you to reflect and consider why you even feel the need to cheat? Because here’s the thing. Most of you think that the diet you’re on, that feels hard for you, is what will bring you results. And it’s what’s healthy for you to eat. So, you schedule cheat days so you can eat foods you love while also eating the “good” foods, right? But, if this method of eating was so healthy for you, I want you to consider why you feel the need to cheat on it? Why do you feel the urge to take a day off? Maybe, just maybe, it’s because that method of eating just wasn’t giving you what you needed. Maybe what your body needs is for you to eat sustainably healthy. Where you’re providing foods that your body needs nutritionally while also enjoying foods you love when it feels right for you.
And what I’m really getting to here is that if you feel like a cheat day is necessary, that is usually an indicator that the method of eating that you’re trying to stick to is not sustainable. It’s too restrictive and it wasn’t meant to be sustained for life. And you’re looking for a method of eating that is sustainable for life. Because you’ll always be an eater. There’s no finish line with your eating habits. And we shouldn’t treat it as such. When you’re just someone who eats healthy naturally, you reach your ideal weight naturally, and you enjoy healthy eating, cheat days aren’t even a concept in your brain. Because there’s no need for cheat days when you have full and complete trust in yourself to always make the best food decisions. And this is always an option that is available to you. Why not just intentionally decide to eat foods that give you the nutritional value you need, while also making room for foods you love? In a balance that aligns with your needs, preferences, and goals? This is an option. Now many of you may be thinking, “Well, it’s not that easy, Kat. It feels super hard. It feels hard to eat the right things and not overeat the wrong things”. And yeah, it does at first. I have been there. But solving that doesn’t come from trying to force yourself to eat the right way. It doesn’t come from separating the bad foods from the good when you schedule that cheat meal. It comes from the deeper things. Like processing your emotions before eating through them. Or observing what voids you’re experiencing in life that you’re using food to fill. Or, maybe just learning to honor your body wisdom, right? All of the things we talk about here every week. But this is all to say that not only will the concept of a cheat meal damage your relationship with food, but it will prevent you from being the naturally healthy eater that you’re perfectly capable of becoming. No matter what your eating habits look like right now. You can always love yourself to the eating habits you want. You don’t have to punish yourself to get there. In fact, punishing yourself will not work.
Alright, my dear friend. I hope this was helpful to you. I hope it gave you some insight and awareness. And I’ll talk to you next week.
Hey there! I'm Kat Rentas. I’m a certified life and health coach for women who believes that eating healthy should feel simple and sustainable. I teach hundreds of high-performing women to change their eating habits without the overwhelm. Want to change your eating habits in a way that is aligned with your needs, preferences, and goals? You’re in the right place. You can read my full story here.