What’s the Real Value of ‘Cheat Days’?

Kimberly Maloomian, RD, LDN

May 6 is known as No Diet Day. Dieters have long insisted that you need a “cheat day” each week in order to keep your resolve to eat healthy foods the rest of the week. But is there real value in this?

You should either want to properly care for your body every day or not -- rationalizing that it is OK to do so only part of the time is like telling an alcoholic it won’t hurt them to have one or two drinks. If you’re on the cheat day bandwagon, consider these reasons why you should jump off.

Your body should be in control -- not your brain. Yes, your body can signal that it might need certain nutrients like salt, water, magnesium, or iron.  Don’t leave it up to your brain to decide which foods are okay to have. For example, if your body needs salt, is it because you are dehydrated or is it because your blood sodium levels are low? Drinking plenty of water will eliminate dehydration and if you still need salt, salt your food rather than diving into a bag of greasy potato chips. In most cases, your brain tells you to eat something because it looks good, smells good or is a comfort food.  These are not appropriate reasons for eating. Remember that food is for survival, and eating is not an activity.

Introduction of foods can have side effects. If you have been diligent about eating only “real” foods (i.e. foods you can find outside in nature), the foods you would eat on a cheat day can actually throw your body out of whack and disrupt its function and blood sugar regulation as well as electrolyte balance. This can leave you feeling sluggish, bloated, nauseated and it can constipate a person for days.

Your body might need a rest from intense exercise, but on that day off it is even more necessary that you take in proper nutrients. Your body will need to rebuild and repair cells and muscles damaged by exercise and you need to have the proper building blocks on board for it to do so. If you overload your body with salt, sugar, and fat on a cheat day, it spends most of the day trying to process those items and store or excrete them, leaving no time and energy to actually repair cells which is why you took the day off from exercising.

Feeling good should be your top priority. Eating real foods helps your body to more effectively function and perform your daily activities. If you have more energy, are happier, and feel less bloated from healthy eating, why would you do something that jeopardizes how you feel just because it tastes good?

Just like the lesson many adults learn from a hangover from drinking too much, the agony usually isn’t worth it! The same goes for food. If your stomach feels terrible and you are nauseated and sluggish due to what you have eaten it is isn’t worth it. You will spend two or three days recovering from your cheat day. Then you’ll only have two or three “good days” of high function before you go and wreck it again.

Do your body and your mind some good, and forget the cheat days.

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