Are cheat days ok on a diet?
Updated: Jan 26
Why Christmas should never be a cheat day!
"Is it ok to cheat on my diet at Christmas?” is something I hear often, as a Nutritionist.
My answer to this question is a firm, “No”. However, it’s not for the reason you’re thinking.
My philosophy for maintaining a healthy weight does not involve cheat days or diets. Here's why.
What exactly is a cheat day?
Cheat days, by definition, mean restricting food for several days so that on one particular day, you can eat anything you want. This theory is flawed for several reasons.
Cheat days project moral values onto food
Cheat days cause you to label certain foods as 'bad', resulting in feelings of guilt and shame around these foods.
Guilt and shame negatively impact your mood and self-esteem and cause you to build an unhealthy relationship with your body.
Cheat days promote restrictive eating, deprivation and diets that are unsustainable.
Misery was my constant companion back when I was on the dieting rollercoaster. The days were long and uninspiring. I’d spend most of it craving the ‘bad’ or ‘restricted’ foods then cave in around 5pm due to such unsustainable restriction. I’d inevitably overeat. Then the shame spiral would begin.
Restriction at best, can make you miserable and at worst, can lead to bingeing and disordered eating. Even ‘planned binges’ can cause digestive discomfort and result in lethargy from over-eating.
Dieting impacts your physical and emotional health
Dieting and restricting food may also cause you to miss out on important nutrients your body needs to function optimally. This can negatively impact your gut microbiome, immune function, and mental health.
Diets don't work
We really have to stop and ask ourselves what the point of dieting is? According to research studies, 95-98% of dieters regain the weight. Not only is dieting unsuccessful, but it can leave a range of physical and emotional scars.
I personally didn't achieve a healthy approach to eating until I stopped dieting altogether.
So how did I make this leap? I learnt to listen to my body. To tap into the internal messages it was sending me, such as hunger and satiety cues. Instead of obsessing over a number on the scales, I turned my focus to my health.
Now I see Christmas as a time to experience the joy of a good food experience. To feel the feels, eat the gravy and lick the spoon.
I’m not suggesting you intentionally overindulge on Christmas day however you can still allow yourself a variety of foods without over-eating. Aim to feel satisfied and content. Check in with your body regularly so you can recognise when you’re comfortably full. Consider limiting alcohol and focusing on nutrient dense foods that make your body feel good.
What if you still end up over-eating on Christmas day?
Remind yourself that it is only one day and treat yourself with compassion. It can also be helpful to know that genetics are on your side.
We each have a natural weight range called our ‘set point’ that is determined by our bone structure, metabolism, and amount of lean muscle. Just like it keeps our core temperature and blood pressure within a certain range, it keeps our weight in check. If we overeat, chemical messages are secreted that speed up or slow down our metabolism and influence our hunger and appetite. If you eat excess calories for an extended period of time, you can override your set point and put on weight. However, an extra helping of Chrissy pud is not going to lead to weight gain.
A healthy approach to eating means moving away from an ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality. Cheat days and diet culture are not conducive to your physical, or mental wellbeing. Looking and feeling good is not only about what you eat. Staying present in the moment, treating yourself with compassion and moving your body regularly can also help.