Cheat-Day Like You Mean It

Tasty delicious pancakes

Holidays and parties, birthdays and brewery tours, lunch dates and brunches. How do you manage a social calendar without blowing your diet? How do you indulge without falling completely off the wagon?

These are the questions I asked myself when I started to take my physical wellness seriously (read: wanting to look good in my wedding dress). I knew there would be parties and I knew there would be cravings but I was determined to reach my goal.

Now I don’t claim to be a nutritionist, dietician, or doctor here. I’m not advocating for cheat days themselves. What I’m saying is that you can recover from them when they happen. I’m saying you can be prepared. 

The following is how I manage my “cheats” and make sure I’m getting every last ounce of satisfying goodness out of them so I can stay in control and guilt free.

Set the Rules

It’s important to set some guidelines for yourself before the cheat day happens. This will help you to recognize it and keep it from turning into a week-long binge. What kinds of rules should you set? That’s up to you. But I do suggest you do your rule-setting after a healthy meal while you’re feeling good about yourself.

As an example, here are my own rules:

  • I still have to work out in the morning 
  • I only have a cheat meal not a cheat day (I lose control more easily if I do a whole day)
  • I still pay attention to caloric intake, even if I intake a LOT
  • I have to eat my meal at the table. No shame and no hiding.
Sitting at the table, enjoying a meal

Make it a Big Deal

One of the ways to ensure you get maximum satisfaction out of your cheat day is to make it a huge deal. Think about it the day (or days) before. Imagine the foods you’ll be eating and obsess over how amazing they will be. Get excited about the indulgence. Again, this is not going to be shame food.

Making it a big deal is one of the reasons I have the workout rule for myself. It’s not that I think somehow I’m burning off my cheat meal by doing a workout. It’s more like I’m training for it. Like my cheat meal is such a big deal that I need to get pumped up and physically fit for it.

I’ll also let you in on a secret. Obsessing over a future cheat meal is a great way to politely decline other foods during the week. Office candy bowl? “No thanks, I’m looking forward to pizza later this week.” Brisket mac and cheese at lunch? “It’s one of my favorite foods, but I’m actually having it for dinner on Friday.”

Pizza cravings are an everyday occurrence

Listen to Your Cravings

The only way you’ll be satisfied by your cheat day, is if you make sure to include the foods you’re craving. Listen to yourself. Are you craving something fatty? Something sugary? Something fried? Something baked? Satisfying those cravings as part of a planned cheat will help keep them quieter during the week. And don’t be surprised if your craving changes over a few days. I usually fall into a pizza habit, but that’s only because it’s what I crave all the time. Check in with yourself and make sure your plan still matches your cravings.

You may have noticed, pizza, mac and cheese . . . pretty much anything with cheese is a cheat meal theme for me. Maybe it’s because I live in Wisconsin. Maybe it’s because it tastes good.

Eliminate Distractions

Enjoy your cheat to its maximum potential by eliminating all distractions. Turn off the tv. Put your phone away. Clear your calendar if you have to! You’re making time and space for some serious food loving. By focusing on your eating, you’re committing this moment to memory.

Mindful eating and enjoying every bite

Practice Mindfulness

Once distractions are eliminated, really concentrate on the experience of eating. Savor every morsel and satisfy all your senses. 

Think about:

  • The flavor – the way it tastes on different parts of your tongue, the way you anticipate the flavor and the way your body reacts to the flavor
  • The texture – softness or crunch, smoothness or chewiness, the feel in your hands, on your fork/spoon, on your tongue and against your teeth
  • The color – the vibrancy of the ingredients and the contrast, the way the texture creates highlights and shadows and the translucency of liquids
  • The sound – the crunches and the swallows and the number of chews it takes to eat 
  • The smell – breathe in and let the smells bring back memories of other meals, other times, and what this food means to you

If you can truly satisfy your mind and your body with this meal, you won’t still be craving it tomorrow. You can get back to your routine without the guilt of having fallen off the wagon. 

Enjoying a sweet dessert, guilt free

The point is, if you’re going to have a cheat day, do it like you mean it. Don’t pile on the guilt and regret. Make the most of it, and satisfy the part of you that really needed it. Then move on. You’re still strong. You’re still on track. You’ve still got this.

—Written by Nina Ottman

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