There is a popular concept in dieting called the cheat day. The premise is if you behave, cut back, and deprive yourself all week – you can cheat and eat whatever you want on the seventh day. To me, this concept is flawed. Do smokers trying to quit pick one day a week to smoke til they are blue in the face? Is it ok to be a law abiding citizen six days a week and have a cheat day where stealing, jaywalking, and stabbing are ok? Does your body realize that on the seventh day the fat, cholesterol and artery clogging ingredients don’t count?Absolutely not!
Cheating is still cheating. Feeling deprived for six days out of the week just so you can make up for it on the seventh is not creating healthy, lasting habits and is not healthy in general. Think about the shock you are putting on your system one day a week when you overload it with calories and processed foods. And what happens when Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday as it is want to do or your birthday is on a Tuesday which is not your cheat day? Do you have two cheat days that week or move your cheat day? It’s a slippery slope and at the bottom is back to bad eating behaviors.
Behavior Change experts like the Prochaska’s would in my opinion not endorse the idea of a cheat day. It goes against the Transtheorectial Model and the five stages of change. Dr. Prochaska, one of the leading experts on healthy behavior change, believes people move from unaware, to comtemplating change, to actual change and then maintenance. In my opinion, folks who choose to cheat on their diet once a week- are not in the full phase of change. They are not ready to embrace and accept full change. They still want an out- and they want it once a week!
That being said, I don’t endorse a strict – nothing ever tastes good – I never eat what I like – diet. I believe every day should be about moderation and choice. It’s a matter of understanding the consequences of what I am choosing to eat and deciding where my priorities are. If I am visiting a friend and she makes her famous chocolate chip cookies – I’m probably going to have one. At dinner time, I’ll make some modifications because I enjoyed my cookie. The next day when the birthday cake is rolled out for a co-workers celebration – I’ll probably pass. I don’t love cake and this one is not worth it to me. I’m teaching myself to choose healthy choices by knowing the consequences and making sacrifices as needed. I’m committed to a healthy diet seven days a week and realize that sometimes that healthy diet includes a cookie! Does this line of thinking follow the behavior change model? I believe so. I’ve made a commitment to eating healthy every day – there is the change – and I’ve developed a system that works for me to stick to this plan. I don’t feel guilty for ‘cheating’ and I don’t feel deprived. I am sticking to my plan – and have committed to this change of mindset.
One of the main reasons people fail at their diets is because it’s just too hard to adapt to their lifestyle. If you create a diet that is so complex or limiting that eating out is impossible or eating at a friends can’t be done – you will most likely fail or become very lonely! The key to success is knowing what the healthy choices are and how to adapt to what is being offered. It’s ok to have a burger at a cookout- but skip the potato salad and load up on chopped veggies instead. An occasional donut will not ruin your entire ‘diet’ provided the rest of the choices you make the rest of the day are smart. The key is committing to healthy eating and letting the occasional indulgence be just that – occasional. That way you don’t feel deprived, you learn to eat healthy every day, and you never have to feel guilty for being a cheater!