I had a great face to face meeting with Jacy on Monday. And as expected, I got that much needed booster shot. We talked about my week of celebrating and overindulging with my family. And we talked about cheat days in general and agreed that they don't really work. The trouble with cheat days starts with the name. The very phrase sets up enjoying a meal or a snack as something forbidden. Separating food into good and bad categories encourages you to associate eating with guilt and shame.
Jacy cautioned that when a food is off limits except for on a cheat day, it can develop a specific, emotional charge and you can actually begin obsessing about it, fantasizing about it, and looking forward to that cheat day all week. Then, when you finally have access to the food, you overeat. Research shows that people who hold themselves back on all days except their cheat day are actually less likely to reach their dietary goals. They are more likely to consume a greater number of calories, not only on their cheat day, but on the days following it. Restricting yourself throughout the week and then slamming your body with sugar and fat once the cheat day rolls around can have a massive impact on blood sugar and insulin levels. Personally, I think there's a pretty fine line between a cheat day and a free-fall into food binging - especially if you're white-knuckling it during the other six days a week.
So...if cheat days don't work, am I better off eating whatever I want, whenever I want? Nice try, right? I've learned from Jacy that following a healthy diet means including a number of different kinds of foods - all of which are to be consumed in moderation. And for me specifically - that means three square meals a day with planned snacks, incorporating treats - but in smaller portion. Sprinkling reasonably sized treats into my daily diet encourages me to find pleasure in meal time and that pleasure will help ensure that I don't feel the need to go overboard when birthday cake is served every day for an entire week.
Instead of confining my treats to a single day, I'm gong to drop them into places throughout the week. I am incorporating a few pieces of chocolate after dinner on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I'm going to enjoy a Cashew Cluster (from Costco - to die for) in the afternoon to satisfy my salty/sweet need. I'm also going to concentrate on savoring every bite. Instead of inhaling my food, I'm going to concentrate on how it tastes and smells and I'm going to enjoy the experience as a whole.
So what's the takeaway?
Denying myself most of the week and then indulging like crazy on a day "off" or when my family is in town celebrating a birthday just promotes guilt, anxiety and shame around eating. Instead, I am going to make every day a great day by listening to my appetite, periodically adding in some of my favorite foods in small portions, and savoring each and every bite I eat. This sustainable approach will enable me to think of all of my eating as enjoyable and that's what will get me down the road to where I want to be.