Is it okay to have a “cheat meal” when you’re dieting?
Joy Bauer, featured nutrition “expert” on NBC’s The Today Show, addressed this question during a recent segment* of “Joy’s Diet SOS”. Shockingly, Joy gives a weekend meal of total indulgence “two thumbs up” for dieters. Her reasons being: preventing feelings of deprivation, providing staying power for continuing to diet and rewarding dieters for putting in “so much HARD work during the week”.
As a medical professional who has worked with eating disorders for over 25 years, I am horrified to hear this advice broadcasted to millions of viewers. Although personally a fan of The Today Show, I must take issue with this particular advice. First of all, diets don’t work. The very word “diet” is a red herring and the term is woefully inappropriate in this day and age. We are a nation of overweight people. If more dieting language or information were all we needed, we would all be fit and healthy. It is time to become mindful and aware of our life styles and choices around food and beverages. Consuming mindless and harmful quantities of food in one “cheat meal” is poor advice. Also, looking at a week’s worth of eating choices as “so much hard work” is a dangerous, defeatist perspective.
Think about it: the implication in advising a “cheat meal” is that the weekdays are comprised of deprivation and restriction. No one has ever, sustainably, kept weight off by restricting and limiting severely what they allow themselves to eat. When a person lacks delight in their nourishment and denies themself permission to eat what their body truly wants, there will be a backlash. This is a set up for failure.
“Cheat meals” encourage mindless indulgence, discourage intuitive, mindful eating and can undo any progress made toward a healthier weight and healthier nourishment choices. “Cheat meals” support on/off behavior and are the enemy of consistent, mindful awareness and wise choice-making on a moment to moment basis.
My biggest objection to “cheat meals” on weekends and dieting during the week days is that a miniature yo-yo pattern is created: restriction and then over-indulging. What is needed instead is to incorporate mindful eating habits in everyday life, at every meal, and learning, as the journey unfolds, why we reach for food other than for nourishment and healthy enjoyment. If the underlying reasons for overeating or mindless choices of food and beverage are not addressed and healed, unhealthy weight will continue to be a problem.
Mindfulness teaches us to become aware of our bodies, our thoughts and our feelings without the habit of making something “good” or “bad”. Food is simply seen as food. It is our relationship with who we are that needs healing. By being more compassionate toward ourselves, more forgiving – responding as a loving friend might rather than a prisoner, already guilty, we become able to make wiser choices. And by being mindfully aware when we approach food, we are able to welcome our thoughts and feelings as simply visitors, here for the moment, to teach us something about ourselves.
In this way, we free ourselves from the tyranny of our thoughts and feelings and become able to wisely choose how to think, feel and act in difficult situations involving our relationship to food. In this way, we are able to eat in a wise and healthy manner every day of the week without ever feeling deprived. I invite my clients, and you, to inquire:
- What is my biggest struggle with food at this time?
- What if I change my story to one of releasing “struggle”?
- What would my story sound like? And can I accept this new perspective?
- If so, what is my new perspective and how will it bless my life.
With mindful living and eating, there is no need to “cheat”. Our bodies are nourished and we feel satisfied with our choices of food and drink. The very essence and enjoyment of life can be our true indulgence.
I give a weekend “cheat meal” two thumbs down. And my fervent hope is that the nutritional advice given on The Today Show be reconsidered, instead giving a “two thumbs up” to eating mindfully and choosing wisely 7 days of the week.
What about you? I welcome your comments and opinions and would like to hear how this idea of restricting and then indulging impacts you.
*You can watch the March 6th clip here, the question is addressed 3 minutes into the clip.