We've all been there. And since we're two weeks deep into our New Year's resolutions, many of us are there right now (or will be this weekend). You've made a vow to eat better. No sweets. No booze. No fast food. No mac and cheese (a single tear rolls down my cheek). But it's not sustainable. There's that party this weekend, that catered lunch at work, that stressful day that can only be tolerated with the promise of a glass of wine (or three). So we make a deal with ourselves. We'll break our diet, but just this once. We call it a "cheat meal," which makes us feel a little naughty but also like we're allowed this occasional indulgence. I'm not here to argue that we're not, in fact, allowed an occasional indulgence, but I do think it's time to do away with calling it a "cheat meal." Here are five reasons.
1. No one likes a name-caller
If you've ever told someone not to label you, it's time you take your own advice here. When you indulge in some junk food and call it a "cheat meal," you're basically calling yourself a cheater and potentially creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you tell yourself that you're cheating, the more you subconsciously think of yourself as someone who cheats: a cheater. You're not a cheater. Don't call yourself names.
2. You're the boss of your body
The "rules" of healthy eating vary widely depending on who you ask. From vegan to Paleo and everything in between, it's ultimately up to you to choose what works best for you and makes you feel healthiest. And once you take responsibility for owning that, the only person that you can possibly "cheat" is yourself.
3. Honesty is the best policy
So, if you can't call it a "cheat meal," what should you call it? A choice! Ask yourself if you can complete this sentence the next time you're thinking about reaching for a doughnut: I am choosing to eat this because __________________. It's truly the only option available? It sounds so good and I just can't resist it? I'm feeling down/bored/stressed and I think this will solve my problems? When we force ourselves to be honest, we often expose what's behind our choice to indulge. When we understand our decision-making process we are able to make better decisions in the future. Own your choice.
4. Flip the script on entitlement
Do you justify your cheat meal by telling yourself that you "deserve" it? Here's the thing: you actually deserve better. You deserve to feel energised, healthy, and confident. I believe that there's room in any diet for a little bit of indulgence, but I don't believe that it's healthy to use that indulgence as a reward when you feel you deserve it. The next time you're tempted to stuff your face because you "deserve" it, try this instead: "I deserve to feel good about myself. Not just in this moment, but in the long run." What can you reward yourself with that lives up to that version of entitlement? (Hint: Not mac and cheese)
5. Plan your work, work your plan
My general rule of thumb for allowing myself the occasional treat is that I have to look forward to it. That eliminates the fast food burger because I forgot to pack a lunch to work, or the pastries that magically show up in the break room, or the glass of wine that suddenly seems necessary as soon as I get home. Those are impulsive choices that not only derail my diet, but do so in an instant, without much thought or real enjoyment. If I know that I have a party to attend this weekend, though, or a brunch with friends, I'll decide at the beginning of the week that I'm going to enjoy the menu and treat myself to what sounds good. Not only does it make it easier to stay on track all week knowing that pancakes are in my future, but it allows me to enjoy those pancakes without feeling like a cheater. These are planned pancakes. Don't be a cheater; be a planner.
I don't want to live in a world without mac and cheese. Or doughnuts. But I refuse to let my mental and physical well-being suffer because I keep cheating myself out of the chance to enjoy them in a way that honours what I truly deserve: to feel good about myself, inside and out.