The Case for Cheating on Your Diet
Some athletes swear by a once-a-week indulgence. Are they right?
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Mathematical arguments just don’t cut it – it’s not about calories in minus calories out.
The real advantage of cheating on your diet is much more psychological than physiological. This makes sense because hunger is more of a mood than a physiological process subject to chemical and mathematical analysis.
There are 3 huge benefits of giving yourself a cheat day, cheat meal or even just a cheat dessert:
- You enjoy it more
- You miss it less
- You Learn hunger management
Every time you turn down junk food snacks and drive-thru meals in favor of healthier options, remind yourself of your cheat day and how you can plan and choose your favorite indulgences for that day. Those mediocre alternatives which are only tempting because they happen to be convenient or quick, will start seeming less gratifying when you compare them to the future pleasure of planning to eat as much as you want of your favorite foods.
You will notice motivational rewards to sticking to your diet that perhaps you weren’t expecting, like a feeling of control, mastery of your appetite and purpose in reaching your goals. As you feel yourself getting lighter, more agile, and more mobile, that powerful motivational feedback will reinforce your willpower, allowing you to stick to your diet and miss those indulgent foods less. You will start realizing identity-based goals, like being the kind of person who when tempted by a donut, eats an apple, or one who exercises every morning on first awakening. Once you start feeling these motivational forces kick in, they will be a powerful substitute for the short-term reward of junk food.
When you condense your indulgences to a single day or meal, you will quickly get a powerful lesson in hunger management. Your first impulse might be to stuff your face, but after a while you will get much more selective not only about the foods you indulge in on your cheat day but also the manner in which you consume them. You will find it far more enjoyable to eat until your are no longer hungry rather than eating until you are full. This lesson in hunger management will then benefit you on your non-cheat days as well.
Building a cheat day or meal into your diet is the best way to learn that successful dieting is not about starvation or calorie counting but rather hunger management. Planning your indulgences will make you much more mindful of your cravings and how to manage them. The new habits you establish on your diet will be much more likely to stick with you for the long term.