Back when I first started eating healthy, I thought that cheat days sounded like a really great idea. Eat healthy all week and then eat bad foods on a Saturday or Sunday without feeling guilty! Sounded great. In reality though, it led to an unhealthy relationship with food and this is the problem with cheat days. This is why I no longer recommend cheat days and prefer a balanced diet instead.
When you allow yourself to have “cheat days” this means that you are on some sort of diet and that cheat foods are forbidden. So when your cheat day rolls around, rather than enjoying foods that you don’t eat regularly, you use it as a time to eat as many “bad” foods as you can. This can lead to binge eating and eating WAY too much on these cheat days.
I know because it happened to me. Restricting my food intake just made me want to eat these unhealthy foods and then when I did eat them, I would binge. Restricting these types of foods and only allowing you to have them on certain days can cause you to feel guilty about eating them.
If you allow yourself one designated cheat day, it is easy for this to spill over to the next day (especially if it’s on the weekend). Let’s say you go out for lunch with your friends on Saturday and end up getting pizza. It is hard to then choose to eat healthy for Saturday night dinner because 1) you are going to crave more unhealthy foods, and 2) you feel like you have already ruined your diet and there is no point. To make matters worse, you might feel like you’ve just ruined your diet for the weekend so Sunday also becomes an unhealthy eating day, and you think to yourself that you will just start again on Monday.
I understand that a lot of people use cheat meals as a reward for sticking to their diet and eating healthy all week. Using unhealthy food as a reward will again lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. You shouldn’t only be allowed these foods at certain times. You can still be healthy and eat these types of foods during the week, as long as you’re not having them every single day or bingeing on them.
When you “diet” you tend to crave unhealthy foods. If you are sticking to a balanced diet, no foods are off limits. You shouldn’t think of any food as off limits or that you can’t eat it. Instead I recommend allowing yourself to eat treats 2-3 times per week. If you really feel like having pasta for dinner, eat it! Or if you’re out for dinner with your friends and everyone is having dessert and you want some too, go for it! Don’t restrict yourself too heavily.
I like to stick to the 80:20 rule. Eat healthy 80% of the time and then allow yourself treats 20% of the time. It has honestly been a much better approach for me, and I actually stick to healthy eating better this way, rather than having designated cheat meals.