Cheat Days: The Downfall of the Diet Empire
At the outset, I know I’m a month and a half late to the ‘new year, new me’ party and sure it might be because I didn’t cop an invite to begin with, but really it’s because I was too busy feeling myself at the ‘new year, same me making slow and steady progress without having to subscribe to overly restrictive diet plans’ party. Don’t get me wrong, I love a fresh start as much as the next person. But the more I learn about myself and the fluidity of my being, the more I start to question if spending my entire week dreaming about the low-fat queso I can eat on Friday night is the most efficient way of achieving everything my body, mind and soul is capable of. If you, like me, don’t want to wait till Friday to eat your queso; i. Just eat the f**king queso already and ii. Keep reading.
Cheat days are currently the holy grail of diet schemes and in a perfect, parallel universe where unicorns swim around in the lost city of Atlantis, there’s a reasonable amount of evidence as to why they should be. Cheat days can keep you sane. They can balance out the restrictive nature of a week filled with no more than 200 calorie meals. They can inspire you to run a few extra miles because you know you’re one day away from ingesting all the food that Freelee the Banana Girl says is ‘bad’ for you. They can give you something to look forward to in a world that is sugarless, low carb and probably gluten free – go figure! So why would that be problematic? Let’s deviate.
Many experts would and do contend that the best way to train pets (bold move - but stay with me) and incentivize them to stay on a disciplined track that suits their owner’s lifestyle (i.e. those who do not like paw prints on their sofas) is to use treats in the learning process. Positive reinforcement, cognitive association, you know – all that good stuff. Now, contrary to popular belief, dogs would rather not have to wait till someone lets them out of the house to allow for the peaceful movement of their bowels, but they do, because they have associated not pooping on the carpet with getting treats/being a good doggie – revolutionary stuff really.
If you haven’t already drawn parallels from the animal anecdote, let me deconstruct this further – You. Are. Not. Your. Dog. You do not need to be restricted, tamed and domesticated by the masters of weight loss whom you look to for treats every time you drop a pound. You do not deserve to seek a kind of happiness reserved only for Sunday nights when you get to eat the slice of pizza you know damn well your body deserved just for getting through Monday. Your life does not have to be a continuous cycle of mindless restriction and insufficient reward!
The psychology of cheat days are so unmistakably synonymous with poor mental health that it is a wonder dieticians and weight loss gurus recommend them to begin with. On a similar note, the psychology of comprehensive eating habits are so synonymous with positive mental health that it is a wonder dieticians and weight loss gurus don’t recommend them enough if at all.
Many would argue that the point of making peace with one’s body is to also make peace with one’s mind – unfortunate news for those wanting to get their bodies bikini ready (also a thing only existent in a world where pigs fly) in under 2 weeks. The fact of the matter is; exercise, healthy eating and healthy lifestyle choices - like sometimes eating a burger and other times eating a salad - is about celebrating what your body can do, not being punished for wanting to live good and more importantly, EAT GOOD!
It might be worthwhile also noting that in the larger scheme of things, 795 million people in the world do not have the option of turning away from a burger in the name of restriction because they are too busy LIVING IN STARVATION. Consider your right to live a healthy, happy balanced life as a privilege that does not entitle you to being neither ungrateful nor glutinous.
Wonderful things happen when we stop seeing our bodies as machines, but instead as dynamic centers of excellence that can enjoy eating and exercising in a beautifully diverse manner. Our bodies deserve love, respect and adoration – and whilst that will never come from justifying the disadvantages that come with eating donuts every day, it will also never come from attempting to justify the advantages that come with eating donuts only when you “deserve” to – because guess what? YOU ALWAYS DESERVE TO.