Nutrition

Cheat Days: Food Freedom or Binge Eating?

 

What is a “cheat day” in the health, fitness and nutrition realm?

Cheat Day: a day you take off during the week to consume the types of calories that you’ve been avoiding through the rest of your healthy diet. This will typically occur on a weekend as a reward for staying on point Monday through Friday. What’s the purpose? To enjoy a mostly regimented diet and fitness routine, then eat anything your heart desires on a scheduled day.

This approach is meant to provide balance and allow you the enjoyment of life’s hedonistic pleasures while still maintaining a predominantly healthy nutrition program. I’ve never been the biggest fan of cheat days, but Dr. Josh Axe, a doctor of chiropractic, a certified doctor of natural medicine and clinical nutritionist has definitely made me see things a little differently. Below are some points in favor of and against cheat days – the most important point being that everyone is different and each person’s diet will have to reflect their own relationship with food.

In the article and video found on his website www.draxe.com he, along with writer Kissairis Munoz, shed light on the science and statistical data behind cheat days as we know them.

First of all, pros Dr. Axe provides behind cheat days:

  • Helps in sticking to goals in the long-term
  • Boosts metabolism, avoiding plateau from the same consistent diet
  • Satisfies cravings, to allow for better choices at a given time during the week

Secondly, the cons provided by Dr. Axe’s team:

  • Gorging or overeating because it’s allowed
  • Making food an enemy and developing an unhealthy relationship
  • We’re allowing ourselves a cheat day when we aren’t really that healthy otherwise

One of the problems associated with cheat days from my perspective is viewing our standard, normal diet (the one eaten throughout the week) in a place of lack. A lot of people who have been restricting themselves too heavily only over-consume when they allow this cheating mentality into one day or meal. [It’s like allowing for a Thanksgiving meal every week.] It brings to focus to those things that can’t be eaten more than celebrating all those wonderful foods we can enjoy on a healthful diet. It further puts food into two categories: good versus bad.

By having days in which we’re committing adultery and “cheating” on our typical diets automatically labels foods we feel good about eating and foods we instinctively feel bad about eating. Dr. Axe and company suggest thinking of these as “treat” or “vacation” meals or days by contrast. Even still, by dividing foods up into this camp we’re signaling to our bodies that this green food is healthful, nutritious, and going to, therefore, be well-received; and that cake, cookies, french toast or milkshakes are bad. However, we’re eating them anyway and subconsciously feeding our bodies negative information about the food it’s about to consume.

What can that mean for the body?!

When we experience a sense of guilt or stress with our food, we physiologically experience a heightened nervous system, releasing stress hormones that encourage a desire for unhealthy foods. This can lead to overeating or binging on cheat day items. Ask yourself: do I tend to overconsume calories of certain types of foods during a cheat meal or over the entire cheat day that I shouldn’t?

We tend to binge on items we’ve been purposefully keeping out of our diets, because psychologically that item is prohibited, off limits or taboo. Dr. Axe warns against allowing yourself to binge eat on cheat days and rather enjoy the whole foods-based items that are homemade or responsibly sourced. However, not many people are following those high standards. He relates that this type of dieting is seen used by professional athletes, bodybuilders or models, all those strictly concerned with their bodies for performance or aesthetics above and beyond healthy lifestyle choices for most people. The dialogue we have with our bodies about food is the basis of those relationships and can be just as important as the actual nutritional value of the food being consumed.

A significant concern I have with Cheat Days is the idea of punishment that goes along with them. Based on what took place during your cheat day, what I see happening frequently in language and by fitness professionals is punishing oneself following the day off. That may mean a really grueling workout or restricting calories to “make up” for the delicious food you’ve enjoyed, signaling again that you are bad, your body is bad and it must pay as you exact revenge on it. Dr. Axe also warns against making food the enemy, which this idea of punishment seems to be when we must rectify our wrongs through exercise.

All in all, cheat days are not for everyone. Studies show that they may be positive for some in reaching long-term goals and weight loss overall. However, keep in mind each of us is different and determine why you are motivated to incorporate a cheat day. Read the full article by Dr. Axe’s Team and watch the video for more insight.

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