I hate cheat meals.
It’s not the meals themselves I take issue with. To the left is a picture of my husband and one of our kids at Pizza Hut where we stuffed our faces at the lunch buffet. It’s the phrase “cheat meals.” After all, what is a cheat if not something or someone dishonest and untrustworthy? When did a hamburger ever deceive you? When was the last time a piece of fudge swindled your grandma out of her retirement?*
Using phrases like cheat meal is a way we subconsciously villainize food and punish our bodies. We teach ourselves that indulging in things that aren’t organic and harvested with the blessings of a thousand unicorns is sinful and to be done discretely. It reinforces this idea in our brains that we have to “cheat” ourselves because we aren’t strong enough to stay on our diet** or meal plan. I’m guilty of using the phrase. I have terrible habits that reinforce negative behaviors, this one included. Since making the decision to lead a healthier, happier life, I’ve made a conscious effort to not use it. Words mean things, and I want the words I say and think to mean something positive.
Following a diet using the 80/20 rule is one way to avoid this mindset. Eat nutrient-dense foods 80% of the time, and allow yourself to enjoy some less nutritious foods 20% of the time. That doesn’t mean that 20% of the food you eat in a day should fall into this category. Think broader like 20% of the food you eat in a week.
You don’t have to follow this to the percentage, of course, but it’s a good tool to help change the “cheat meal” mindset. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect 100% of the time. In fact, you don’t have to be perfect at all. Just be good to yourself. Use words that encourage good behavior not those that will reinforce a cynical perception of yourself. Avoid cheat meals. Tell yourself, “I hate cheat meals” if that’s what it takes. Instead of focusing on punishments and rewards, embrace a lifestyle that allows you to indulge on occasion without self-flagellation***.