The term “cheat meal” is used fairly commonly in health and fitness circles. It is a meal in which you forget your diet and indulge yourself with something you don’t usually eat when you are trying to be healthy. I have always used the idea of a “cheat” meal to reward myself for working hard and keeping to my plan – workout and nutrition-wise. Cheat meals can be a slippery slope. One cheat meal can lead to a cheat day or even a cheat week. For some of us, it is too easy to throw in the towel on healthy eating once we’ve had a taste of a sugary or fatty treat. Have you ever thought to yourself, “Oh well, now that I’ve cheated I may as well enjoy it. I’ll start again on Monday!”?
Recently I have been trying to re-adjust my thinking based on book I read last summer called “It Starts with Food” (written by the couple behind the Whole 30 movement). They see food as a choice, and to call it a “cheat” makes it sound like something bad. Nobody can eat perfectly 100% of the time, and when you have an indulgence, you aren’t doing anything wrong. To quote Melissa Hartwig,
“Even if you haven’t read everything we’ve ever written (we’ve written a lot), it would be hard for you to miss the parts where we encourage you to take your Whole30 lessons out into the real world and create your own healthy, happy, sustainable lifestyle. That’s right–we think you should indulge from time to time! Constantly passing up Mom’s Christmas chocolate chip cookies, your own wedding cake, or a fresh, hand-made corn tortilla in Mexico because you’re trying to eat perfectly doesn’t sound very happy, balanced, or sustainable to us. On the other hand, hoover-ing every sweet treat you come across doesn’t sound very healthy, either. We believe there is a perfect middle ground, which leans way to the side of healthy while still allowing you to enjoy the foods you really, truly love.”
So when you decide to indulge (and the power is all yours to make a conscious, deliberate decision — not pushed on you by well-meaning friends and relatives), make it worth it. How many times have you ate something that looked great, but was only mediocre? Not worth the calories? Rather, when something comes along that looks AND tastes fantastic, enjoy it with no guilt or shame. You made the choice to do it so savour it. Then go right back to following your clean, healthy lifestyle.
How often should you include indulgence meals? I personally try to aim for an 80/20 rule — that is, if I stick to clean, healthy eating 80% of the time it is ok to have something that is considered an indulgence 20% of the time. Hartwig doesn’t use the 80/20 rule. Instead, she simply wants to think hard before every off-plan food:
“Sometimes, those indulgences happen once a month. Some weeks, I may indulge three times a day (like when I’m on vacation in Napa). But as long as I am making an educated, conscious, deliberate decision about what to eat, when to eat it, and how much to enjoy, my life is totally balanced, totally healthy, and totally delicious.”
This is something I struggle with but am getting better at. Where are you mentally when it comes to “cheating”. I’d like to hear your take on this!
For more information on the Whole 30 movement, check out their website.