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Are Cheat Days Right or Wrong?

By Amanda Turner MS, RD, CSSD | May 31, 2016

A segment on Good Morning America recently discussed the concept of “cheat days”. They state, when they are done right, they can actually help you stay on your diet by potentially increasing leptin production, increasing metabolism and decreasing hunger. From a psychological standpoint, they state that having what you want on occasion can help you better stick with your diet.

As we go into this topic, I want to first clarify my use of the term “diet”. A diet is simply what we eat on a regular basis. All of us diet in very different ways: whether we are athletic, sedentary, gaining weight, losing weight, vacationing, or living our normal routine. We all diet.

While I whole-heartedly agree with having foods you love on ANY diet, the term “cheating” makes absolutely no sense. Dr. Jennifer Ashton states on GMA that the term “cheat day” is not in any medical literature, but was coined by our society. I don’t know about you, but the term has a huge negative connotation. While discussing the topic, even Michael Strahan says “I cheat . . . I don’t feel so good about it”. The goal of eating foods that you love should not be viewed with negativity, so how do we remedy this? Consider the following to achieve your goals and have a positive outlook on all food:

1. You are NOT cheating. There is nowhere that I’ve ever seen that this diet is right for everyone and another diet is wrong. You are living life, and yeah, you eat broccoli sometimes and doughnuts other times. There is no “cheating” when there are no blanket rules. If you have a nutrition plan to help you meet your goals, I like to call favorite foods “off plan” rather than cheating.

2. Plan in your favorite foods when trying to achieve specific goals. If someone tells me they absolutely LOVE chocolate or fast-food, we work that into their plan. If I told you that you could ONLY eat chocolate and nothing else for the next two weeks, how would you feel about that? At first, you may be excited because you’ve never been allowed to have a food like that as much as you want. Eventually, you might get tired of being restricted to only eating chocolate. . . And more so, you may want some fiber in your diet to help move things along . . . if you know what I mean! Restriction of any food will cause an increased desire for that food. Working all foods into your diet will help create sustainable changes and a healthy relationship with food.

3. You can probably achieve your goals eating the foods you are right now! With summer fast-approaching, many people are looking to lose weight. Do you eat fast food every day? Are you eating dessert or drinking alcohol nightly? You can still lose weight while maintaining these behaviors (in a smaller sense). By making different choices when dining out, cutting back on alcohol intake, or having your favorite foods WITH more satiating foods, you can still enjoy the foods you love while also achieving a weight loss goal.

I really appreciate GMA bringing this topic to the table as well as the fantastic input from Dr. Jennifer Ashton. Each individual has different dietary needs and preferences, and we need to cater to that rather than the notion of one diet fits all. Thus we live in a world where there is no cheating, only choices!

GMA article and video below: