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Why I Don’t Believe in Cheat Days

Search “cheat day” on Instagram and you’re met with close to 3 million photos of delectable, “naughty” (read: high calorie) foods including heaping mounds of ice cream to bread bowls filled with mac & cheese. The variety of cheat foods on the most popular photo-sharing platform proves there is no one, true definition to what a cheat day is, but the general consensus is the same – cheat days are a day dedicated to breaking your “diet” and eating anything, and everything in sight.

The concept goes back to the idea that you can be “good” six-days of the week, following a strict diet and then use one day each week to be “bad” – breaking all the rules of your diet and throwing caution to the wind – which, in theory, sounds great, but not to me – I don’t believe in cheat days. 

As a registered dietitian, I spend a lot a time thinking about and talking about food and our relationship to it. It is my job to know about the latest diet trends and the subsequent health impacts of following those trends. So, when the popularity of cheat days took root in the wellness culture, I cringed. The basic concept just feels wrong to me.

Cheating in any other part of our lives is a major red flag. You don’t cheat in sports, in relationships, or at work without a fear of consequence. Why then do we accept this practice when it comes to food?

Repeatedly, we hear that diets are failing and individuals are falling off the bandwagon. While trendy diets may result in weight loss in the short-term, they’re often not sustainable in the long term. Plus, simply defining a day of eating as “good” or “bad” leads to feelings of guilt or regret – two words that shouldn’t be associated with foods we eat.

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Which leads me to the recommendations that rarely make headlines – eat plenty of plants including vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, focus on consistency and balance as the key to your overall health and wellness, and keep in mind that no single diet works for everyone. The ultimate goal of a healthy diet is to find a way of eating that is sustainable over the long term. This means eating in a way you enjoy and in a way that makes you feel your best, while also meeting your nutritional needs.

When you restrict for days at a time then you’re more likely to binge on the one day you’re allowed to let loose. If your diet doesn’t feel sustainable or it feels like you’re depriving yourself of the foods you love then it’s time to make a change.

As a registered dietitian, my ultimate goal is for my customers to have a healthy relationship with food that doesn’t require “cheating.” 

By Allison Knott, MS, RDN, CSSD, FLIK Hospitality


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