This is an idea I’ve seen gain a lot of traction among diet bloggers and websites. The idea of a cheat day is that you take the occasional day off of your diet in order to curb cravings. Not so much an all out binge day (at least they recognize that bingeing is disordered behavior) but a day to eat your pasta with cream sauce and have a big piece of chocolate cake for dessert. It is an increasingly popular concept touted by many in the online weight loss communites.
I think it is also totally emblematic of the many many reasons I don’t feel like I fit in with the online community of dieters.
Cheat days only make sense in the context of a traditional diet. That is an eating plan where you are forbidden to eat particular foods – or at least ordered to eat them in such tiny and sparse quantities that you may as well not eat them. When eating this way, cravings often become a constant companion and are compounded both by the dieting mindset which demonizes certain foods and the fact that so many diets have people eating too few calories. For those of us who have spent time on traditional commercial diets, we can completely understand the idea of needing that one day a week or a month where we can ‘give in’ and just eat.
This is where I think the actual difference between a diet and a lifestyle change becomes apparent. I know that to a lot of people they look quite similar. I mean, you’re focusing on weight loss and restricting calories right? But really, this is like saying that what I’m doing is the same as HAES because I still listen to my hunger cues and do exercise I enjoy – it’s missing the bigger picture.
The bigger picture here is…the bigger picture. Not just whether someone wants to lose weight, but how they want to live their life. I don’t believe anyone wants to live life avoiding foods they love or feeling like allowing themselves to eat carbs can only happen on special days when they’ve given into their terrible desires for baked goods. Unfortunately, a long string of diet gurus, bad diet plans and general puritanical fear of food has created a situation where many people can’t wrap their mind around enjoying food and losing weight at the same time.
I’ve read things like “I love cheat days because I can skip that birthday cake at work if I know I’ll have some cake on Sunday.” And I can’t help but wonder how it makes sense to eat cake on Sunday instead of eating it when you want it and when it’s in celebration of someone’s birthday? I mean, the Sunday cake doesn’t have less calories, right? But, in the traditional dieting mindset, people have to completely compartmentalize their food so cake can’t happen on diet days lest the whole world implode or something.
Despite having once had the same kind of attitudes toward food and weight loss, I can’t even understand it at this point.