We all have them. Days that we don't necessarily eat as clean as we hope to. Days where we "treat" ourselves a little more than we're used to. Days when having that extra dessert is payoff for a week of hard work. These are what we call "cheat days" or "cheat meals."
While I'm totally guilty of them, more often than I like to admit, here's why I don't recommend them to my clients. For some people, having this "day off" of clean eating is something they look forward to. A reward for a week of hard work. It's a goal they strive for. And for some people, that simply does not work.
For me, it definitely does not work.
As I become more in tune with my body, and how it reacts to food, I have become more and more aware of how I feel after I have a "cheat day." Not only the next day, but for 2, and sometimes even 3 days later. To be honest, for me, it takes about 3 days of 100% clean eating (real foods that grow or have a mother) in order to feel better. What does feeling better mean for me? It means that I don't feel bloated every time I eat. It means that I am not craving sugar as much (I'm a sugar-a-holic, so I have to be super careful of my cravings and when I have a cheat day or meal, my cravings are so much more intense afterwards!) It means that my energy levels increase, and my motivation to accomplish my goals improves.
Post "cheat day," I feel sluggish for 3 days. Is it really worth 3 whole days of feeling crappy for 1 cheat meal? I'm sure not every body is as sensitive to foods as I am, but I am sure that many of you are. When you do become aware of how food affects you, you have two choices. Ignore it. Or do something about it.
For me, if I have a cheat meal, knowing it takes 3 full days of clean eating to finally feel better, I am basically spending half of my week or more just getting back on track... every week! Is it worth it? Imagine having a cheat meal every 3 days? I would be in a vicious cycle that never ends of feeling crappy, and then trying to feel better, and just as I began to feel better, I'd feel crappy again.
Way too many Americans are living in this vicious cycle, and it's time to break free. So, for me, my "cheat days" have to be well thought out. And I need to know that if and when I do eat meals that aren't "clean," that I make up for them by eating clean for the rest of the week. I have to understand that I won't be feeling my best for 3 full days, and that I have to be OK with that. Sometimes, just knowing that is enough to help me make better decisions in the kitchen. I mean, who doesn't want to feel their best all the time?
So, I hope my words make sense to you. I hope you can start getting more in tune with your body and how it feels post cheat days. And notice how long it takes (with total clean eating) to help you feel your best again.
Are cheat days worth it?
Abby Malmstrom M.S. is an exercise physiologist, certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, wellness coach, and "real food" nutritionist. Her life as an active duty military spouse takes her all over the world, allowing her to influence, teach, and connect with folks in communities she never even dreamed of reaching. Life's an adventure, so stay tuned for the ride! It's time to "Eat Well, Move Well, Think Well, Be Well."