Cheat meals used to be the highlight of my week. I did them for a long time, especially when I was competing and modeling a lot more. I even made a video of my weekly Reese’s Pieces ritual!
But then I used to dread the rest of the week. Because if I wasn’t eating clean as a whistle and feeling miserable doing it, then I couldn’t justify my cheat come the weekend.
And so, in the last 18 months, I’ve changed my tune on cheat meals. There are several reasons, but the bottom line is that eating massive amounts of sugar in one sitting, I believe, does us a disservice long-term.
Even though many competitors, coaches and models advocate them. They say, you earn them through tight dieting all week! Or, you build them into your macros! Or, they are a psychological reward!
All fine explanations, except above all, they do one thing that I just can’t get on board with:
Cheat meals keep us in the dieting mindset, where we are either “on” a tight diet (during the week) or “off” the diet (binging on a cheat meal or day). This ultimately does us a disservice.
Cheat meals reinforce the idea that we need to “earn” our cheats. That cheats are a reward for “good dieting” and staying “on point.” And when we reach a certain weight or body fat percentage, we are NOW worthy of eating thousands of calories of straight-up sugar in a sitting.
How is that healthy?? Physically or mentally?
In other words, cheat meals hold us hostage in the deprive-then-binge cycle. Don’t they? They reinforce that we need to do penance for indulging. Sorry, I just can’t get on board with that mindset anymore.
But the idea that you have to wait until a special night or special day of the week to feel satisfied with your food is myopic.
Now you might be asking, “But Jill, I know so-and-so fitness model or competitor who looks amazing and does cheat meals.”
Fine, but I guarantee years from now, he or she is going to be advocating moderation365 too. Because “on” and “off” times are not only unsustainable long-term but they keep us obsessed with food and dieting.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of obsessing about food.
I want to eat the same today as every other day. I don’t want to be a “good little dieter,” and have to earn my cheats. I want to eat healthy and do my best every single day and never feel deprived and never feel like I have to do penance and never feel as though my eating is dictated by rules and numbers.
This is a tough thing to wrap your head around. And if it doesn’t feel true for you, then fine. Some people feel like cheat meals do them right. Great. Do them and enjoy the hell out of them. But stay mindful too. Ask, Could I throw myself a little bone earlier in the week, so that by the time I reach Saturday night I’m not ready to dive headfirst into Ben & Jerry’s?
Because I don’t care what fits into your macros, eating copious amounts of straight-up sugar in a single sitting will never be healthy. And yes, sometimes it can’t be avoided–we’ve all had those moments when the binge-bug takes over and we’re helpless to resist. Of course. I get that. And the last thing I want to do is make you feel badly for giving in at times. I did it plenty.
And ultimately, I don’t want to dread my eating any day. I don’t want to do the “Sunday night roundup” where I eat everything in sight in anticipation of all my sweets and treats being “off limits” come Monday.
This way of thinking establishes a “lack mindset” around food. And the more we put sweets and treats up on a pedestal where they are forbidden, the more we’ll want and crave them. So much so that some Saturday, cheat meal (or day) time, we literally have no control over our response when they are reintroduced.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to be around any food, any time, and STILL be in control of my response. And when I establish cheat meals as a “special time for treats,” then I’m giving credence to the illicitness of those foods. When you realize that any food you want is available whenever you want it, the urgency of needing to EAT IT ALL RIGHT NOW falls away.
You can always find ways for your eating to satisfy you TODAY. And when you do that, there’s no urgency about a balls-out cheat. You just eat. No dieting. No deprivation. No “earning” your sugar. Just eating. And it goes on forever!
You guys know that I’m a proponent of moderation, and I use preemptive cheats to stay satisfied and satiated. With that being said, I can’t remember the last time I went to the movies and killed a bag of candy or demolished an entire dessert after a dinner out.
I simply don’t ever get to the point of complete deprivation anymore. And when I don’t feel deprived, I don’t need to binge on sugar. This took time.
People ask me all the time how to curtail cravings. Or how to curb their sweet tooth.
I totally get that. I had a major sweet tooth. Heck, I used to schedule my day around my sweets (e.g. midmorning Sprees or a Tootsie Roll, and mid-afternoon yogurt-covered pretzels or Reese’s Pieces). WTF? Yes. But at the time, it was the highlight of my day!
So how do you move from eating sugar daily to not feeling compelled?
The solution for me was 3-fold:
- I ate things that satisfied me BEFORE I reached that point (preemptive cheats).
- I found workarounds. When I wanted the taste of sweet, I’d find something that gave me that experience without going all-in on sugar, like a few bites of sugar-free chocolate or a protein pancake made with chocolate protein powder, or almond bread.
- I LET UP ON THE CARDIO. I did 2+ hours a day of cardio FOR YEARS. And my sugar intake was the reason. It was a cycle: I binged on sugar, which meant I needed more cardio to “burn it off” and then the more cardio I did led to more cravings for sugar. #idienow
Awareness and then practice of these tools took time and patience, and THREE YEARS LATER, I’m out of the cycle.
If you find yourself needing and wanting to binge, either every night after dinner or come Friday or Saturday, you are depriving too much earlier in the day/week. So ask yourself how you can feel MORE satisfied earlier? Think of it as a binge-precaution. Yes, I want you to eat something to satisfy you BEFORE you get the point of deprivation and to the point of needing a cheat meal.
You’re probably thinking: “But Jill, I don’t want to have something earlier in the week since I don’t *really* feel like I NEED anything then, only to reach the weekend and STILL pig out then!!”
Ha, I get it! I was scared shitless to try something different even in the face of my misery and obsession!
But honestly, you can always adjust and the old deprive-then-binge cycle will always be there. The whole starve-then-cheat protocol is still alive and well and there if you need it. So WHY NOT TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT? Because the old way? That’s not working. White-knuckling our way through the week only to blow it all Friday thru Sunday does. Not. Work long-term. Even this recent study shows that progress is made during the weekdays (thank you, Sasa, for the link).
What do you think? Could you try the #moderation365 approach? I teach exactly how to stop following a million rules and start thinking for yourself to create a sustainable eating routine that does not suck in my 4-Week Food Obsession Boot Camp. If you’re ready to commit, enroll here