Don’t cheat on your healthy lifestyle

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How do you feel about the idea of a “cheat day”?

It was a recent blog post by Paleo f(x) co-founder Keith Norris that reminded me of a response I had once given when someone questioned me about this common diet phenomenon.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a cheat day, here’s a quick explanation: Essentially you eat “clean”, train hard six days a week and allow yourself a “cheat day” when you can eat ever you want, while othe choose only to allow themselves one “cheat meal” a week. Similar idea, but in the latter case, the overindulgence is restricted to one meal only, rather than allowing yourself to binge throughout the day.

Understanding your relationship with food

From the start of my journey to health, I had consciously decided not to include cheat days in my regimen because I knew that fundamentally my problem was not merely a physically one. The core of my struggle was my relationship with and attitude toward food, and I knew that until I healed that, so-called cheat days would only stand in the way of me developing a healthier attitude toward food.

I was in Austin, Texas last year, to attend the annual Paleo f(x) gathering of the international Paleo community when I received a list of questions from Sleekgeek founder Elan Lohmann who had asked to feature me in the community’s weekly Transformation Tuesday post.

One of the questions was about cheat days. Reflecting on it, my answer may have seemed smug, but I stand by it: “I try not to think in terms of having to cheat on my healthy lifestyle. Right now, our relationship is in a good space.”

Surviving from one cheat day to the next

However. This does not mean that I do not allow myself the occasional treat or that I don’t enjoy a burger or drink every now and then… I just don’t plan for it so that I’m only surviving from one cheat day to the next.

I felt encouraged to read that this was also the crux of Keith’s commentary, in which he wrote:

… the problem with the ‘cheat day’ as a motivator is that every other day is NOT a ‘cheat day’.

Keith Norris

In other words, could you/would you enjoy ‘the now’ if the thought of something better – or in this case, insanely more delicious – lay just on the horizon? If you establish *any* lifestyle factor as good/bad, work/reward, sacrifice/return dichotomy, you’re relying on willpower to get you from one “cheat day” to the next. And we know that willpower is a finite resource.”

It is my opinion that until we all finally understand how our bodies and food interact with each other, and how to implement moderation into our lives – particularly when it comes to eating if you’re trying to control your body weight – then cheat days will only prove to be a destructive force in our efforts to live healthily.

And I’m prepared for those who are going to argue that cheat days allow for balance and enjoyment. Rubbish. I say we need to find enjoyment in what we’re eating every day. Every one of us is able to learn to cook healthy meals that are enjoyable – and nutritious.

And when you do find yourself treating yourself or overindulging, please resist the urge to kill yourself in the gym or on the road the next day.

Rather, remember this:

Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do; not a punishment for what you ate.


Chantel Erfort

I'm a yoga teacher and health advocate who runs and enjoys the outdoors. Having previously lived a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle, nothing makes me happier than being able to share the benefits of including some movement, mindfulness and healthy eating into one's life.