Healthier Approaches to "Cheat Days"

Mar 9, 2023

 by Isabelle Birdsall

The term “cheat day” refers to taking a break from a healthy eating plan and indulging in less heathy food options. This may mean an entire day of overindulging in high caloric foods or simply allowing yourself to eat a meal outside of your diet plan. While cheat days are not necessarily bad, they do need to be approached with mindfulness and intention. Otherwise, they may not work for a few reasons:

  1. Caloric surplus – Cheat days often involve consuming a significant amount of calories outside of weekly range. If this happens too frequently, potential progress made towards weight and health goals could be loss.
  2. Psychological effect – Allowing yourself to indulge in unhealthy foods for an entire day can make it harder to stick to a healthy eating plan in the long run. It may also reinforce the idea of a restrictive diet, leading to feelings of deprivation and making it harder to maintain healthy habits.
  3. Physical discomfort – Eating a large amount of unhealthy food can cause bloating, indigestion, and other gastrointestinal issues.

It is important to note that undereating does not make up for overeating. It is not sustainable or healthy to try to “make up” for cheat days by eating less calories throughout the week. If you find yourself struggling with this mindset, take a moment to focus on these things:

  • Concentrate on overall patterns rather than individual days or meals. If you can maintain a generally healthy diet over the long term, occasional indulgences will have less impact on overall health.
  • Practice moderation in eating habits. Rather than swinging back and forth between extremes of overeating and undereating, eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods in moderate amounts is more sustainable and healthier than extreme dieting.
  • Understand the risks. Undereating to make up for overeating can be harmful to overall health. It can lead to nutritional deficiencies, slowed metabolism, and negative health outcomes. Focus on building healthy habits rather than trying to make up for occasional indulgences.
  • Have self-compassion. Be kind to yourself to avoid feeling guilty or ashamed about occasional indulgences. A healthy relationship with food involves enjoying a variety of food in moderation. The occasional unhealthy meal or treat is part of the human experience and will not diminish progress.