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The Right Way to Cheat on a Diet

A Cheat Day is a planned meal or day when the dieter gets to break free from the constraints of the dieting protocol. Low-fat diet? A cheat day is perfect for pizza. Keto? French toast. A simple and sensible, low calorie diet that doesn’t have a name? Chick-Fil-A. The point is, cheat days are used by many dieters as a means to break their diet in order to indulge in good-tasting food. That may sound glorious, but allow me to challenge the norm.

Do I promote the concept of scheduled cheat days? No, I do not, and here’s why. No one should ever plan to fail. We can fail just fine on our own because we have unpredictable schedules and social lives. Imagine you plan a Cheat Day for Friday. One milkshake and an overzealous trip to the sushi bar later, and you’ve had a “successful” cheat day. Now it’s Saturday morning and your friend hits you with a text wanting to bars and booze with you. You’re in a pickle. What choice do you make? You could’ve struck the right balance between dietary adherence and cheating by not planning to fail on Friday. But now, either decision sets you back on some level.

Because I have way too much time on my hands now that Game of Thrones has ended, I’ve been thinking a lot about the psychology behind dieting. Cheat days are meant as a relief from dieting, both psychologically and physiologically. For me, the idea of planned cheating romanticizes a tiny window of the week filled with pizza and beer, which conversely demonizes food that will actually help me lose the fat I want to. And if I’m demonizing what I’m eating 95% of the time, that doesn’t sound like relief.

While I was dieting for a competition earlier this month, I never planned a cheat day. Not one. However, I did spontaneously meet one of my best buddies for a heaping plate of BBQ, crafties, and a rip-roaring good time without feeling guilty. This is because I followed my plan for the other 164 hours of that week. Win-win.

The most successful diets don’t just limit non-nutritive foods; they limit choices. We live in a realistic world with thousands of realistic choices we make each day. A little bit of pizza is fine, but a lot will set you back. Make it easy on yourself and only cheat when there’s a more instrumental reason at play, not just because it’s Thursday. Don’t choose between sticking to your plan and sticking to your life. Choose Both.

Thanks for reading.

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