Cheat days are a popular strategy within the legacy fitness and dieting industry. The advice to have a cheat day plays to the idea that getting a body and life you love requires a super strict approach. The good news, as the story goes, is that you get to “break all the rules” every so often.
This is appealing to many people. It helps them work up the willingness to deal with all the rules and restrictions. They’re able to tell themselves, “I can do that as long as I get a break every now and again.”
The problem is that cheat days, and the strategies that surround them, leads to failure and frustration for most people. Even the people who “win” this game of Restrict & Cheat, end up with a body they love and a life they hate.
Here’s 5 reasons you should stay far away from cheat days and the fitness and dieting model they’re attached to.
Reason #1: Cheat days create a psychological “fracturing” in your mindset.
If you want lifelong results, you must embrace a core set of principles. You have to be “all in.” You have to embody the lifestyle and achieve a “this is who I am” mindset.
Having a cheat day creates two versions of you. The first version is the “healthy” version. The second version is the “bad” version – the one that engages in “off limits” behavior. That’s why they call it, “cheating.”
Not only does this block you from embodying a healthy lifestyle, but it creates tons of friction. The cheat day stays at the top of your mind. It serves as a constant reminder of “the rules and regulations” you must follow. This embroils your Inner Rebel.
Mindset disintegration in this capacity is a recipe for failure.
Reason #2: Cheat days are a form of emotional eating.
Cheat days are an ode to your former self. They’re a crutch. An admission that says, “Most of what I’m doing is not sustainable. The only way to make it sustainable is to abandon it once a week.”
This is the same type of emotional attachment to certain foods and behaviors that is common in men and women who have an unhealthy relationship with food, body, and Self.
Even though many people who follow a cheat day strategy pride themselves on their willpower and discipline and consistency on non-cheat days, they’re ultimately engaging in a form of emotional eating.
Reason #3: Cheat days are based on the flawed strategies of willpower and discipline.
When it comes to habits that you need to engage in for the rest of your life, using willpower is a horrible strategy. In fact, you shouldn’t need willpower OR discipline to be successful in this game at all!
Willpower and discipline are failure triggers in health and wellness. Both of these things represent the forcing of certain behaviors and the leveraging of extrinsic motivation.
They’re based on a “means to an end” philosophy, which runs counter to the mindset successful people have.
Successful people engage in habits that are intrinsically motivated. And habits that have immediate payoffs. They don’t need willpower or discipline.
If you want to know more about an intrinsically motivated approach to fitness, you can get our free guide at DailyFitnessPractice.com. You can use the same approach for all the other self-care habits that need to happen for you to be successful.
Reason #4: Cheat days are not intuitive.
There’s immense power in learning how to tune in and listen to your body. An intuitive approach to health and wellness frees you from obsessive dieting strategies. It’s how you’ll finally be able to let go of things like MyFitnessPal.
Cheat days are a slap in the face to intuition. They ignore what your *body* wants and needs. They ignore what you want and need *as a person.*
Let’s say your cheat day rolls around and you’re not feeling it. You have no desire to “cheat.” In theory, you can wait until next week’s cheat day. Or, you can postpone and wait for the desire to come and then have a random cheat day.
That’s not how it works in practice, though. Most people say, “screw how I feel, I earned this.” They go crazy on “cheat day” because that’s what’s scheduled to happen. In their mind, that’s what’s “supposed” to happen.
A healthy relationship with food, body, and Self is necessary for lifelong success. This behavior pattern is not representative of that. Especially if you want lifelong success to feel effortless.
Reason #5: Cheat days are a statistical failure.
Cheat days are a classic part of the legacy fitness and dieting approach. You know, the traditional approach that offers a 5% (or less) long-term success rate?
Almost everyone who is trying to change their health and their body is dieting (even if they say they aren’t). A very large percentage of those people are following the advice to have a cheat day.
So, the numbers should be positive, right? I mean, if so many are doing it, it must be due to its great statistical success, right?
Wrong. The success rate is dismal.
Why are cheat days so popular?
The reason cheat days are such a popular strategy is because of point #1 and point #2 above. Cheat days give people permission to cling to their old self and to eat emotionally.
That’s it. It has nothing to do with long-term success. It’s all about promising people something in exchange for getting them to buy into a destructive, painful, antagonistic dieting program.
There are three ways the dieting industry “charms and harms” people:
- The “moderation” approach. This is what Weight Watchers uses. It promises people that they can eat whatever they want (just less of it). In effect, you’re “cheating” all the time and trying to control it with a magical points formula.
- The “abstinence” approach. This is what restrictive dieting approaches use. The cheat day gets people to agree to it (because they recognize it’s unsustainable otherwise).
- The “magic pill / magic formula” approach. This is what programs like Ideal Protein use.
These approaches are often combined as well. For example, people on Weight Watchers will plan a cheat day. That’s not uncommon.
Don’t you want to be free from this madness? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a body and life you love without all these crazy tactics and unhealthy strategies? It’s possible. It’s what we’re doing for men and women all over the world in programs like Total Body Reboot & Decode Your Cravings.
Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s worked with thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and programs like Shut Down Your Sugar Cravings.