Cheat Days Don't Work for Me

Every Tuesday I go out to my brother's house for dinner. It started as Taco Tuesdays, but then morphed into Pizza Tuesdays. The appeal of this particular change was that throwing a take-and-bake pizza in the oven was way quicker and cheaper than putting together a full-on taco bar every week. 

At some point we decided it was silly not to have some dessert too, so it became pizza followed by ice cream sundaes. After dinner we streamed episodes of some of our favorite shows for a while, and usually felt the need for popcorn and candy at some point mid-stream. 

So, Taco Tuesdays became Pizza-Sundaes-Popcorn-Candy-and-Soda Tuesdays. My brother called it his "cheat" day. 

But one problem for me in thinking of it that way, was that it created a dynamic in which there were good foods and bad foods. One where my "diet"  became something to rebel against on that one day every week. And rebel I did. 

The other problem is that I never felt good after. I like eating pretty cleanly most of the time. So, having one day every week that was on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, left me feeling kind of hungover, for lack of a better description. Every Tuesday I shocked my system with a large quantity of food and chemicals it wasn't used to eating, and then on Wednesdays I'd essentially have to detox from it. I felt gross.

The "cheat" day paradigm just isn't my jam. Maybe there's a way people do it that doesn't feel as disordered. But physically, emotionally and mentally, it's just not healthy for me

Instead, I...

Focus on making my healthy, clean food taste amazing. I wrote a post last week about how healthy and delicious should not be mutually exclusive. Check it out here. There is absolutely no reason that eating nutritious food should feel like a punishment.

Remember that it's not all or nothing. Pizza Tuesdays are not over. But, if I have pizza I'm almost always going to bring a green salad and some fresh fruit too. I look for healthier dessert options (apple nachos and chickpea chocolate clusters are two of my current favorites) and mostly choose those when I want something sweet. If, on balance, my diet is 80-percent clean, whole foods and 20-percent not-so-clean and not-so-whole, than I'm happy with that. It's just that having that 20-percent spread out over seven days is a better approach for me than saving that 20-percent for one or two meals. And if I have a week or a day when that 80:20 ratio feels reversed (and I do), I just try to regain my balance the next day or the next week. 

Words matter, so I choose them carefully. Words are powerful. "Cheat" is not a good word for me to use when it comes to food. It drives me to behave in unhealthy and extreme ways with eating. I don't label foods as "good" or "bad" either, for the same reason. 

I wanted to write this post because sometimes we hear other people talk about food in ways that don't ring true for us. And when it's pervasive enough, we can start to feel like there's something wrong with us if we can't make that approach work. If a "cheat" day  knocks you off-kilter and you struggle the rest of the week to get back to a balanced place, then it probably isn't right for you. That's totally okay. We all just try different approaches until we find what works for us.