Why I Hate The “Cheat Meal”

The “Cheat Meal” is often a term used when someone dieting rewards themselves with the occasional indulgent meal. The word “cheat”, by definition, means to act dishonestly or unfairly to gain an advantage. Usually the feelings around the “cheat meal” begin with excitement and anticipation and end sadly with guilt and dissatisfaction. Food should not be referred to as something dishonest or shameful but should be transparent and celebratory.

I love food. I am an athlete, bikini competitor, and body builder; and therefore thought I would have to break up with my second love, (my first being my family) food. I was warned by fellow athletes that I would have to give up all my favorite foods and then only “cheat” once in a while. Honestly, the thought of this delayed my training….for seven years. Now I have to add that I am also a Nutritionist and thought that there must be a way to enjoy my favorite foods, have a healthy relationship with food, and STILL meet my body building goals on a competitive level. HALLELUJAH, I have found a way!!

I STOPPED having cheat meals.

I recognized this self defeating cycle of dieting hard and then celebrating with my favorite foods one meal out of the week. I would wait with anticipation and excitement (just like Christmas morning) for my four slices of meat lovers pizza, lots of beer, and a bowl of ice cream. It was glorious! Then I would weigh myself the following morning with this gut wrenching feeling. I would loathe myself for the three pounds I had gained and start the week all over again…playing catch up. I do believe the cheat meal is why leaning out can be so emotional and physically painful. I decided, as a nutritionist and food lover, I had to find another way.

I pronounced that I would eat what I wanted in moderation to fit my dietary needs. EUREKA!

What an original idea! The problem with “The Diet” is the mentality that it is an all or nothing life style. We have been taught to look at all calories as equal and they are not. We have put “cheat foods” on this pedestal and treat healthy foods as something to just sustain life. There must be a way that I can truly enjoy foods on the healthier spectrum and not feel guilty when I did consume foods on the opposite side of that spectrum. This would involve the reversal of some hard wiring. I would have to learn how to approach food choices in a whole new way.

Every snack and meal should be consumed with the question, “What is this choice doing FOR my body?” If the answer is obvious then consume happily and stop when full. If you can’t answer that question then consume consciously, enjoy the indulgence and move on to your next healthy choice. I truly live by this method and to make it work you have to be honest with yourself.

I am eight weeks out from my next bikini competition. In the past, my diet would have normally looked very different then it currently does. I would be constantly living on the edge of hunger, planning out my next cheat meal, and then holding myself in contempt for any weight gain. It has been a long life journey to come to this place of food appreciation. To truly respect all food, I stopped over indulging in unhealthy food choices, living guilt free when enjoying food, and appreciating what healthy foods are doing for my body. This diet approach, that you can “have your cake and eat it too”, can be difficult to accept and practice because there are no objective guidelines. This mentality takes practice and discipline but I promise that you will not only have a new respect for food, but for yourself.