The Underlying Problems Beneath Our Beloved ‘Cheat Days’

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Cheat day? More like cheat-yay.

In the fitness world, the “cheat meal” is the ultimate happy meal. Cheat days are more anticipated than Christmas, Hanukkah, your birthday and every other national holiday combined. If you’re in a committed, long-term relationship with a healthy, clean-eating lifestyle, what’s the harm in “cheating” once or twice a week? Actually, nothing at all. Food is meant to be pleasurable, as well as provide sustenance. That’s why we have taste buds!

But.. everything that glitters isn’t always gold. Nope, not even McDonalds fries. As much as we love our guilty days, here are a few reasons you might want to reconsider being a cheater.

PSYCHOLOGICAL BAGGAGE

The problem isn’t the fact that you’re indulging in fun foods, the problem is that the word “cheat” is loaded with all kinds of psychological baggage, when it’s actually just, you know, food. Delicious food has long been unfairly labeled all sorts of morally judgmental adjectives like “sinful” and “tempting” and “decadent.” Yet when you abstain from eating those foods, you get to be morally superior and say you’re “being good.”

FORBIDDEN FRUIT REALLY DOES TASTE SWEETER

And you know what they say about forbidden fruit. Psychologists have long known about the “forbidden fruit” hypothesis: people find things more desirable when they are off-limits or forbidden. And scientific research suggests that there’s just something in human nature that wants what it can’t have.

CHEAT MEALS DON’T REALLY REPLENISH GLYCOGEN STORES

Many bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts justify their indulgences by citing the necessity to replenish glycogen stores and kickstart your metabolism. Winnie Liong, a L.A. health, diet and nutrition student weighs in: “As far as replenishing glycogen stores, that is obtained by eating adequate carbohydrates following vigorous or endurance activities. Ideally, this consumption of carbohydrates must happen two-hours post exercise.” Therefore, if a body builder or endurance athlete is eating restrictively during the week, and then has a ‘cheat meal’ on the weekends, this will be of no benefit as far as glycogen repletion. Furthermore, carbohydrates come from a wide range of food, that can include fruits, beans, and whole grains – items that fit into a very healthy everyday eating plan.

NOT-SO-GUILTY-PLEASURES

“The issue with ‘cheat meals’ is that there is a negative connotation with cheating, indicating that certain foods fall into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories,” say Winnie. This results in guilt associated with certain foods, and potential for overeating, which is common in restrictive diets and diets in general.

Listen to your body, feed yourself healthy foods that are nourishing, but know there is no harm in enjoying less healthy foods in small quantities.

So does a cheat meal by any other name taste just as sweet? What do you think? Are you Team Cheat or Team Treat?