By Christy Baroni
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘cheat’?
Probably a dirty, sneaky, rat-faced liar, right? Or something equally as negative.
And therein lies my problem with the term cheat meal. Any good nutrition plan has opportunities to enjoy foods that are less than healthy. Psychologically speaking, having a little something to look forward to can give you the extra will power to make good choices when you feel tempted. But even bigger picture and longer term, treat meals allow for us to have a wide open food plan that is more focused on eating according to our goals instead of a list of foods to avoid.
Habit vs. Treat First and foremost let’s dial in what is a habit versus what is a treat. If you have Ben & Jerry’s every night before bed, that’s a habit. If you had it at your son’s birthday party last weekend, that’s a treat. A habit is something you rely on regularly. It may often happen without conscience effort, and may actually be taking up space in your mental game. For example, what is the self-talk that surrounds this food choice? If it sounds something like, “I work hard so I deserve a few glasses of wine every night” you may be creating a pattern of negative reinforcement. The food item brings guilt with it, which ends up seeping in to other choices. You can stop that pattern! Identify what you enjoy and plan to treat yourself every once in a while.
Simply changing your shopping pattern can help with that. Don’t buy something in bulk that you are trying to avoid. That sounds way over simplified, but I hear so often that a client was planning to ‘just have one’ which turned in to a binge. If you can’t walk by it in the grocery store, you will not be able to stop at just one in the comfort of your own home.
Guilt vs Enjoyment. Treats are part of the plan, so there is zero guilt. You have dialed in your goals and can enjoy treats because you planned for them. Big picture, this is why the common way the word “diet” is used makes my skin crawl. The word Diet can bring up mental images of bland and boring ½ empty plates, or memories of insatiable hunger and celery sticks. But let’s take a different look at the word. Merriam Webster defines diet this way:
“The kinds of food that a person, animal, or commmunity habitually eats.”
So your diet is simply what you eat. That’s all. It’s not a restrictive food plan with landmines everywhere just waiting to trip you up. It’s just what you eat. If, after carefully and honestly reviewing your habits, your diet includes foods that are keeping you from reaching your goals, then you can address that directly. Taking one item that is currently a habit and transitioning it to an occasional treat can have real and long lasting impact to your goals. Tackle one habit at a time and move on to the next one when you have seen tangible progress.
Now, this is not the fastest way to change your body. If your goal is to wear your high school prom dress again two weeks from now, this approach is going to be highly disappointing. I can say with 100% confidence that any plan that promises fast and easy results, also delivers results that won’t be permanent. Taking a whole life and habit-based approach will garner results that are sustainable. That means you get to live in the body you love forever, not just right now.
Let’s work toward having a healthy relationship with food. Where food is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’, it’s just food. Where cheat meals no longer exist, but rather treat meals are planned and enjoyed