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Nutritionist reveals the real issue with cheat days

It's fair to say every one of us has indulged in a cheat meal – or a whole cheat day.

The allure of cheat meals often revolves around their tantalising promise of temporary satisfaction. After days or even weeks of disciplined eating, the idea of indulging in pizza, burgers, or a decadent dessert can be overwhelmingly tempting.

The thinking goes – it's just one unhealthy blip on the radar, then we go back to eating healthy tomorrow.

Although the concept might seem like the perfect solution for a balanced diet, cheat days can be tricky and usually come with unwanted consequences.

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Woman eating hamburger
A cheat meal is sometimes irresistable. (Getty)

To explain this, Rachael Attard, a certified personal and group trainer and nutritionist, told 9Honey Coach about the traps of having cheat days and how they can interfere with your fitness goals, as well as lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.

1. Cheat days lead to binge eating

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Sean Nalewanyj

When you set yourself any type of fitness goal, how and what you eat will have the biggest impact on your result.

Allowing yourself to have cheat days means that you see some foods as forbidden and "bad," so when it's time for a cheat day, rather than enjoying foods that you don't eat regularly, you use it as a time to eat as many "bad" foods as you can.

This often leads to binge eating and generally eating way too much food on these days.

Binge eating results in consuming excess calories, but even worse, it can leave you feeling guilty, and set you back even further from your weight loss and healthy eating goals.

2. Cheat days make it more difficult to 'bounce back'

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Let's say you allow yourself one cheat day or cheat meal per week. It is very easy for this to spill over to the next day, especially if your cheat day is on the weekend (and they usually are).

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girl eats Italian pasta with tomato, meat. Close-up spaghetti Bolognese wind it around a fork with a spoon. Parmesan cheese.
Cheat meals can be a slippery slope. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

If you go out for lunch with your friends on Saturday and end up getting pizza, it's going to be hard to then choose to eat healthy for Saturday night dinner because you will crave more unhealthy foods - you will feel like you have already ruined your diet and there is no point.

Moreover, you might feel like you've ruined your diet for the weekend so Sunday becomes an extra cheat day, and you think to yourself that you will just start again on Monday.

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3. You shouldn't use food as a reward

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It is common for people to use cheat days or cheat meals as a reward for sticking to the plan and eating healthy all week. Using "bad" food as a reward almost always leads to an unhealthy relationship with food.

You shouldn't only be allowed these foods at certain times. You can still be healthy and eat these types of foods during the week, as long as you're not having them every single day or bingeing on them.

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Coworkers reaching for a tasty snack during a brainstorming session
Don't label foods as 'good' and 'bad'. (Getty)

So what's the answer? Balance is key

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When we are "dieting," we tend to crave unhealthy foods. On the other hand, when we are trying to eat a balanced diet, no foods are off-limits.

You shouldn't think of any food as off-limits or that you can't eat it. Instead, I recommend allowing yourself to eat treats a few times per week. If you really feel like having pasta for dinner, eat it! Or if you're out for dinner with your friends and everyone is having dessert and you want some too, go for it! Don't restrict yourself too heavily.

For me, the 80:20 rule is the key to maintaining a sustainable and balanced approach to eating. By focusing on making nutritious choices 80% of the time and allowing for treats and indulgences the remaining 20%, you strike a balance between health-conscious eating and the occasional enjoyment of "bad," or less nutritious foods.

Taking this approach will prevent the feelings of deprivation that often accompany strict diets, but it will also foster a healthier relationship with food, which should be your ultimate goal.


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