Why Cheat Days Don’t Work

When people are looking to make changes to their diet, they often pick one of a few different strategies. Some people designate “eat well” days once or twice a week, others introduce good foods into every meal and others yet go cold turkey on undesirable foods (me). Another popular method is “cheat days”, whereby one eats well every day except for one day a week when it is ok to pig out on sugars, fatty foods and junk.

Using sugar as an example, here’s why the cheat day approach never worked for me and may not for you either.

I have always loved sweets and I used to eat sugar by the bucket. I could eat half a cake, a box of cookies, five donuts and then think about having some skittles. Eventually I said enough is enough and accepted it was a silly way to live (see Commitment is a Lot Easier Than You Think). First I tried cutting back, but for me having one cookie meant a huge temptation to have another ten right after. Cheat days were tough because I could gorge on junk and then had to go cold turkey for six days, pining for the next cheat day. That took an immense amount of discipline. I found it was easier to not eat sweets at all and go through the cold turkey just once. Eventually I broke the habit of reaching for the sweets and actually forgot what the deserts and candy taste like (ok, maybe that’s going a bit far, but the habit thing definitely).

Breaking the routine breaks the desire. Now you could pass a plate of deserts in front of me and I wouldn’t even flinch. It doesn’t even require any discipline or self control at all. There is simply habit or interest in them because I haven’t had any in so long.

The same rules will apply whether it is meat, carbs, soda or even negative behaviors you want to cut out of your life. If you want to make a lasting change and not kill yourself in the process, just say “no” to cheat days.



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