I am a member of a lot of fitness groups, some with VERY fit people, it’s often nice to get out of the Eat To Perform infrastructure but one thing that isn’t nice is the change in perspective. There are a few things that are common themes that come up and in my view it’s like seeing a smoker. While I realize people still smoke (I am referring to cigarette smoking) I don’t personally know anyone that smokes that I interact with on a daily basis. I feel like the memo is out there on smoking and whether it’s price or the message sinking in smoking has decreased quite a bit. The diet equivalent is Cheat Meals. Think about it, what are you cheating on, your diet and let’s not play the game where diet is what you eat, we all know “diet” in this instance means eating less, otherwise why would you feel a need to “cheat”.
In almost every other instance, the word cheat has a bad connotation; if you cheat on your wife or cheat on your taxes we all view that negatively. Yet somehow people aren’t making the connection that “cheating” on their normal habit of under eating is bad. While it might seem like I am picking nits I am not, this is a real problem.
Here are some statistics that shed some light on the problem we are talking about:
While that article does a great job of describing the problem, there is one form of eating disorder that is being over looked, Orthorexia Nervosa or Orthorexia for short. Orthorexia is defined as “an obsession with foods one considers healthy” by that broad definition you could include diets like the Ketogenic Diet or even Intermittent Fasting as symptoms of a bigger problem.
Now I know that sounds a bit over the top but it isn’t. To give you an example of what I mean, people often use those diets to simplify things so they can under eat using a truncated list of foods or a time window. That approach can be helpful, but the idea is similar to Orthorexia in that the user becomes obsessed with under eating, or restrictively eating, in a way that becomes unhealthy. Sometimes this behavior leads to binge eating cycles in some people.
This brings me back to the idea of cheat meals which is rife in most of the scenarios mentioned above. One recent trend I am seeing is super clean Keto or Intermittent Fasting (I just want to say that I am mentioning those but macros or calories does not get a pass here, the less is more idea is pervasive); The idea being of course is that if you are under eating and not seeing results there is one answer: just eat less chicken and kale and track better (if you are Keto with a side of Avocado), because you are probably not really eating that little. Often that ends up making the problem a lot worse. So now when you enter in the idea of cheat meals, much like when you are cheating on your wife, you are “cheating” on the way you feel is healthy or the “right” way. This is the problem with creating super rigid ideas related to food. The simple fact of the matter is that if you are making lists of foods you want to eat during your “cheat meals” THAT’S THE WAY YOU REALLY WANT TO EAT. The reason you want to eat that way is because the way you are currently eating is unsatisfying and I would argue harmful overall.
Finding a way that works for you WITHOUT the negative connotation is the goal
Let me highlight that point, even if you took away the potential harm from eating disorders that doesn’t absolve you from the other potential harms that are well documented in scientific studies like depression, sexual dysfunction or thyroid issues (and that’s the short list). In every day life this can show itself in hair loss, brittle nails and fatigue (potentially leading to chronic fatigue).
Let me summarize the point here: cheat become the temporary relief from a bad, often self-imposed situation.
Look, if you want to eat less on occasion to manage your weight you should do that. I have literally built a company on this idea. BUT you can do that eating flexibly and eating an adequate amount of food most of the time. You do not need to try and exist on 1200 calories a day of green juices, chicken breast, and 5 almonds.
If you want to operate under a structure most of the time and have some more flexibility other days, then do that too. In fact we call that SUPER days, it’s built into the program. Super days are not similar to cheat meals because SUPER days happen when you are in a deficit cycle and when you are eating normally. On a scientific level spiking up your calorie intake periodically is know to have advantages for your metabolism (even more so when you are in a deficit cycle or dieting).
The real point is losing the idea that rigidity is the answer
My point is that “cheat meals” is something that needs to be retired, it’s literally like playing with fire and the consequences are extreme as I have illustrated above. Similar to smoking I am sure that there will be some people that dismiss what I am saying and continue using the term “cheat meals” almost in defiance of some guy on the internet saying it’s a bad idea. Consequences be damned.
I just wanted everyone to know the list of consequences so that if they find they are experiencing symptoms they realize there are options out there for them.
I mean we have all heard stories of people that defied the odds by smoking and lived to be 100 years old, so it can happen. Just the odds aren’t in your favor and I present this body of evidence on why you should consider making this relatively small change to the way you view food.