The notion of a ‘cheat day’ draws a line of morality, and why it’s harmful when it comes to your mindset around food and health. Here’s how you can rethink if you need one at all.


In our diet-obsessed culture, a non-diet approach to health often gets lost in translation. Messages around “honor your hunger” and “eat intuitively” are met with extreme, polarizing responses.

For example, “you have unconditional permission to eat may be interpreted as:

“restrict your food intake… but eat whatever you want on the weekend”, or

“restrict your food intake… but eat whatever you want on special occasions”, or

“eat whatever you want… but exercise excessively”, or

“eat whatever you want… but then ‘get back on track’ and restrict again”, or

“eat whatever you want… in order to lose weight”

We have become so committed to the restrict-binge cycle, that we cannot fathom what life would look like if we truly didn’t have food rules.

That’s why we often hear the term “cheat day”.

Cheating implies there are rules, and you broke them. Cheating implies guilt. Cheating implies shame. Cheating implies the impending doom of the food police.

Cheating sounds naughty.

When you cheat on a test, you’re a bad student. When you cheat on your spouse, you’re a bad partner. And when you cheat on your diet, you’re just plain ol’ “bad”.

But cheating is never just about breaking the rules. There’s always something else bubbling up underneath the desire to rebel.

Perhaps you cheat on your test because you fear failure. Maybe you cheat on your spouse because you want to feel wanted. And you cheat on your diet because you’re just really hungry.

In every instance, cheating is followed up by shame, guilt, stress, anxiety, and diminished self-esteem.

But the problem with cheating is that it’s never about the cheating itself. It’s about what made you cheat in the first place.

In the case of food and your diet, it’s restriction. Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat means that there is no cheating, because there is nothing to cheat on. You can’t break the rules, because there are no rules. You can’t fall off the wagon, because there is no wagon.

I can’t speak much more on academic or romantic cheating; I’ll let you glean your own conclusions on that analogy.

But as far as diet cheating goes, until you can fully embrace this idea of unconditional permission to eat, you will always suffer the physical and emotional consequences of cheating.

So start slow…with one food. Can you enjoy a plate of pasta with a loved one, in the presence of other satisfying and nourishing foods? Can you savor an ice cream cone at your favorite shop on those last warm days of summer?

It’s about making your overall experience count, and remember,

Food is just food.

Adapted from the original article.

Jessi Haggerty, RD is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, and Personal Trainer with a private practice outside of Boston, MA. She is the host of the BodyLove Project podcast and runs an online course for personal trainers on eating disorder screening, nutrition, and body image. Learn more at www.JessiHaggerty.com.

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