I’m going to issue a warning right from the start – this is not going to be pretty. If you’ve already got this weekend’s “eat like a Pig day” planned out, you may want to reconsider reading, In the event you choose to keep reading – consider yourself warned.

My motivation for writing on the topic of ‘cheat days’ was fueled by a comment I received from a trainer at a well known gym in Cardiff.

Here’s the comment to give you some background:

“As long as you have a cheat day every week, who cares about baking stuff with coconut flour … just be a good Paleo dieter the rest of the week and gorge yourself on Saturday!”

I was so frustrated when I heard this, I cried inside a little bit. Just WHAT?!?!? I think the word gorge is what put me over the edge. I mean, really?? First off, food is meant to be ENJOYED. It is NOT meant to be GORGED on – that is NOT healthy for your body or your mind. This is exactly the reason I HATE 30-day challenges and “Carb Night” plans. It sets up a cycle of deprivation and then over indulgence . In the ‘cheat day’ scenario, food is being used as a ‘reward’ for good behaviour. Um, are we dogs? Have we not learned that eating MINDFULLY and enjoying our food is the goal of all of this? Is it okay to eat pizza, ice cream or a cookie? Hell yes! BUT eating them in mass quantities all at the same time is crazy.

Why? Because, if you start your ‘cheat day’ with a pile of pancakes or toast drenched in jam it’s highly likely you enjoyed the hell out of it. But if you followed that up with a mid-morning snack of a doughnut, lunch at your favourite burger joint (and yes, you did “like fries with that” and a milkshake too) and then polished off a medium pizza and a pint of ice cream at dinner – I’m going to go out on a limb and say that at some point you stopped enjoying your food and kept eating for no other reason than that you ‘could’ or felt you had to get it all in because, well, it was your ‘cheat day’. Go big or go home, am I right??

Reality check: if you ‘pig out’ on that “cheat day” you really CAN undo all or most of the good you did during the week, especially if weight or fat loss is your goal. These ‘gorge fests’ add up FAST – so if you’re not seeing the results you want, think long and hard about polishing off that package of OREOs or paleo cookies. And during this shovel it in session, are you ‘eating on auto-pilot’ or are you eating mindfully – tasting and enjoying EVERY SINGLE BITE? If you’re not truly tasting and enjoying your food – that’s a problem. Your goal shouldn’t be to feel miserable at the end of the day – it should be to feel satisfied and know that tomorrow you’re going to feel good. Food hangovers need not apply.

Now let’s talk about the name itself – “Cheat Day”. It just feels dirty and wrong. Is eating miserable on days that aren’t a glutton-fest? Do you dread your breakfast, lunch and dinner during the week? Are you choking down foods you hate just because some website told you it was healthy? Well, here’s the deal – you should be enjoying every meal that you eat and that includes less than perfect meals. There should be no feeling bad or guilt associated with eating. So, you had a cookie on Tuesday. Does that make you a bad person because your ‘cheat day’ isn’t until Sunday? Um, no. And is ONE cookie going to make you grow a third chin?

Now, eating an entire pack of Cookies with a pint of ice cream, a large deep-dish pizza and chugging a 2-liter bottle of Coke on Sunday – every week and that third chin thing might be more of a possibility. These ‘gorge-fests’ have a MAJOR impact on your blood sugar and insulin levels and not in a good way… Even more importantly – it’s HIGHLY likely you didn’t enjoy all of that food. Sure, it tastes good BUT when you reach a point of being satisfied it’s okay to be done. If you feel like you’re going to explode, you’ve crossed into binge territory and that’s not good for your body or your mind. Seriously, a cookie on Tuesday and a couple slices of pizza and a beer on Saturday will do a LOT LESS damage than an all-out food feast on Sunday and you’ll feel a hell of a lot better on Monday too.

Yeah, you heard me, it’s okay to have a treat and to ENJOY your food. This doesn’t mean eating only lettuce and dry chicken breasts all week so that you can ‘earn’ the right to gorge yourself on the weekend. What it means is that, if you want a damn cookie – it’s OKAY to have a cookie. Not a box of cookies, a tub of ice cream and a litre of coke, if a cookie is what you are craving and cookie may be all it takes to scratch that itch. And guess what? letting yourself enjoy the occasional cookie, slice of pizza, cupcake, etc. is going to go a lot further in satisfying those cravings than is one day of eating insanity. On top of that, in the long run, partaking in what many consider ‘off-limits’ foods on special occasions or when you are truly craving something will do LESS damage to your body and definitely to your mind. It’s HEALTHY to ENJOY food – and that means ALL food – broccoli and brownies!

Eating mindfully and stopping when you are satisfied – not completely miserable – is the key. Sit down when you eat. Turn off the TV, computer, phone, etc. and have a ‘moment’ – focus on the food. How does it taste? Smell? Feel and make you feel? Does it taste absolutely delicious or is just bland? If whatever you’re eating is just okay and you’re not really enjoying it (think stale potato chips, the last few bites of the dessert your kids didn’t finish, warm beer, etc.) then stop eating it – it’s not worth it and it will leave you unsatisfied and wanting more. That is not the goal. Also, remember that food will not fix your problems.

When you are craving something, check in to see if it’s a true craving and not stress, boredom, anger, etc. that’s fueling your need to munch. And for the god’s sake – you don’t have to eat the whole thing if you’re satisfied with two bites AND it is highly likely you will live to enjoy another cookie or whatever your ‘poison’ is. This is not your last supper.

So, morale of the story: Don’t be an idiot. There’s no reason to jump on the restrict/binge “cheat day” or “carb night” train to justify eating foods that you truly enjoy. Eating like a greedy pig only accomplishes a couple of things:

1.) It makes you miserable and often there’s a food hangover the next day too
2.) It sets up the idea that certain foods are good and others are bad (NOT TRUE) and creates feelings of deprivation and guilt (NOT OKAY).
3.) It messes with your body and your mind – and not in positive ways.

Maybe, instead of being a ‘good Paleo dieter’ during the week and ‘gorging’ yourself on Saturday it would be a better idea to listen to your body, eat food that nourishes it and makes you feel your best. ENJOY everything you eat – everyday. If you can’t picture yourself eating the way you are right now 5 years from now – you’re doing it wrong. If you’re truly listening to your body – it will not let you down. The crumbs on the bottom on your third bag of Doritos on gorge-fest Saturday on the other hand…