What does the word "Cheat" mean to you? What five words come to mind when you sit and think of the word and its true meaning? I think of words along the lines of hide, dishonesty, lie, deceit/deception, and stray. Upon searching for other representations of the meaning of "Cheating", I came across a variety of concepts:
"Violating a person's expectation about what is appropriate."
"A feeling of betrayal."
"A physical affair where two people engage in sexual activity outside of their primary relationship."
"Emotional cheating, where a person shares intimate details about their life or marriage with someone they're attracted to, or have some attachment to."
"E-cheating, when a person (in a relationship) seeks a connection from people they meet or reconnect with over social networks, dating sites, e-mail, or texting."
What do all of these examples have in common? They all have some sort of negative connotation attached to the tail-end of their true meaning. Take a moment and try to remember a time in your life when you were told cheating was okay. How did you feel? Now take that idea and flip the formula and plug some new details into the equation. What if I substituted bits and pieces of the first example: "Violating a person's expectations about what is appropriate."
Let's say, for the sake of the example, that I'm currently in the process of creating a new lifestyle change. I frequent a gym, pay for a personal fitness coach/trainer, and follow strict guidelines in order to truly begin my transition. I've been working extremely hard at losing weight and keeping my mind and bodily health in alignment with one another. All of a sudden, my fitness coach/trainer suggests I have one "Cheat-Day" a week to "maintain my sanity". Basically, he is suggesting that since I have been following such strict and rigorous rules, I need to let loose one day a week in order to stick to my diet. He is suggesting the diet is producing some sort of negative effect, therefore, offering me one "out" a week.
Okay, let's pause here--- how utterly insane does all of this sound? When a person makes the conscious effort and decision to stay away from toxic, high-fat, sugar-filled food for the sole purpose of bettering their health, what makes a "cheat-day" necessary?
Did you know just one day of binge-eating can impair your body's glycemic index and reduce insulin sensitivity? This impairment will take place once a week for however long a person allows their body to have "cheat-days" consisting of harmful, indulgent foods.
A study conducted by Dr. Carl Hulston at Loughborough University states, "Sustained over-production of insulin --by the pancreas-- can lead to pancreatic dysfunction and inability to produce insulin when it is needed." (2)
Our brain is one of the most complex muscles in the human body and is dependent on glucose as it's main fuel source. However, too much glucose can be toxic. Diabetes is a perfect example of high blood glucose levels over a prolonged period of time. (3) Type 1 Diabetes is a disease in which the immune system destroys cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, a hormone used to keep blood glucose levels in check. (4)
So now that you're beginning to understand how excess amounts of sugar/high-fat consumption in short and long periods of time effect your organs, let's discuss why some fitness coaches and personal trainers suggest their clients go against their fitness goals every week. Here are two popular misconceptions for this widespread epidemic:
"Cheat-days help boost metabolism and leptin production which slow down your restricting calories."
"Having a 'cheat-day' helps dieters stick to their weight-loss goals."
The general concept: When you eat less, your metabolism slows down to “conserve” energy. When you eat more, it speeds up to digest and use that fuel. This, in theory, should allow you to stick to your strict diet for the remainder of your week. (5)
But does this concept really allow a person to truly stick to their diet while going against it at the same time? The idea that eating shitty food is going to trick your body into thinking you're helping yourself, is the same idea behind cheating on a test in high hopes you will somehow pass the next test.
You're not cramming your body with nourishing food, you are instead, deceiving your body in numerous ways. It's not going to last. At some point your organs are going to vent to one another about how badly you've been treating them behind their backs, and as a result, you're going to deplete the optimum function of the only organs you were born with. Your brain is not going to catch your fall when you fail your next test because you chose not to study. A smoker who has finally kicked their nasty habit is not giving themselves any benefit from taking just one last drag. Most people justify this behavior by saying, "Just live a little!!", as if the effects of one cheat-day are going to somehow seamlessly fly under the body's radar.
Are you catching my drift here? Cheating on yourself and your beliefs in hopes of maintaining your physical and mental health is the opposite of a proactive approach toward personal growth. You're hurting yourself more than you realize.
When a person chooses to incorporate one day a week to completely neglect their beliefs, passions, and the habits they have worked so hard to change, they are telling themselves this approach is acceptable. Our brains are wired to make logical and illogical decisions; loss aversion refers to our tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses over acquiring gains. Therefore, upon making health choices, sometimes we forget about how easy it is to turn the bad habits off and how easy it is to turn good habits on.
Upon a typical day of cheating, one may go through feelings of strict deprivation, over indulgence, and then guilt, maybe not in that exact order but those feelings are felt at some point in the process. According to the specific details plugged into the cheating formula, these feelings are the baseline when it comes to deceiving yourself---the formula is universal.
When a person cheats on their spouse, they usually feel deprived of love or attention. They then justify this feeling of absence and deprivation by over-indulging in explicit behavior with someone outside of their relationship. Afterward, they may be overwhelmed with feelings of extreme guilt and play it all out in a handful of ways. Some may try to cover their tracks, attempt to hide the truth, or ultimately break down and do something else unexpected. In the end, did they help their situation by cheating? Probably not. The likelihood of a destroyed relationship is genuinely high.
A similar reaction happens when a person cheats on their diet or fitness plan. They feel deprived of certain foods all week and when the weekend circles back around they overindulge themselves in trash-food, waking up the next day feeling guilty for having gone against the progress they have made.
"Many people think that to benefit from something they have to go all in. The problem with this is for most people, the opposite if going all in is going all out. Going all out is about much more than the extra calories consumed. Going all out can lead to some pretty destructive eating behaviors and habits. Behaviors and habits that can be really hard to break, like eating until you are absolutely stuffed, or eating anything in front of you simply because its there. It's akin to losing $1.00 out of your wallet and throwing the entire thing in the garbage." (6)
The trick to avoiding "Cheat-Day" disasters is to force yourself to become aware of the types of food you consume and take note of how your body processes those food choices. Sure, you might not see any immediate weight gain but you're slowly training your brain to notice these habit-forming behaviors as positive, resulting in a self-destructive, vicious cycle of confusion.
The takeaway is simply to refrain from dieting at all costs. You should not have to justify ignoring your goals and going against your progress to lose weight. The key to keeping the weight off is to incorporate a permanent, healthy lifestyle change that way you won't need to have a "Cheat-Day".
You will never again have to worry about restrictions because you will be nourishing your body with positive reinforcement, self-improvement, and a healthy relationship with food. Every day can feel like "food-freedom" when you learn what your body is truly asking for. Fad diets, crash diets, and fitness trends fade away; don't make your eating habits trendy, make them unique to your own preferences.
Take special effort in creating a lasting lifestyle change that will benefit your growing mind and body by finding the middle ground surrounding your own energy. Balance. It doesn't have to be strict and rigorous, it can be spontaneous and really exciting. I will leave you with my all-time favorite cookbook co-written by Alaena Haber, it's called, "The Healing Kitchen". But before I go, can you do me a solid and always believe in your yourself with the highest affirmations? Will you follow your passions and the stick to the belief behind your decisions? Kick those feelings of guilt to the curb and begin eating with a purpose---eat to nourish your mind, your body, and your soul and you will never go hungry.