Are Cheat Meals and Food Rewards Healthful?

Part of a healthful journey is understanding how we’re programmed or wired.  Our brain commands everything.  It serves as the center of our nervous system and controls how positive we are, if we think we can or can’t and the memories of food and how it makes us feel.  All controlled by those neurons.  It is the primary sensory organ that controls all of our senses.  Incredible, right?  One organ that we simply cannot function without can have the biggest impact on the smallest of things.  And the brain has been programming us since day one.  All those memories, sights, smells, tastes and feelings all making us who we are today.

My brain has been wrapped around a certain topic that I just cannot get out of my head.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Cheat Days and Food Rewards recently.  Day in and out I think about what they are and how they disrupt our energy and time while we try to live a healthful life.  They’ve been weighing on me, nipping at me like a gnat that just won’t go away.  Cheat Days and Reward Foods.  Have you given much thought about them?

My definition is probably pretty similar to yours:

A Cheat Day is a day where all bets are off and you eat anything and everything you want.  No limits.  We’ve all been there:   thinking about the cheat day when you’re on a diet.  Thinking about all the food you typically eat but haven’t eaten just to shed a few pounds.  Even Weight Watchers gives Flex Points for such a thing.  It’s been with us a long as we’ve been dieting.

I’ve dieted for 2 weeks straight.  My cheat day is coming.  I’m getting ice cream.  CHEAT!
Let’s go out for tacos.  It’s my cheat night.  CHEAT!

Now to the Food Rewards.  Food Rewards are cause and effect.  You do something positive or good and your get a Reward; in this case it’s good.  It’s something that is rooted in your brain from when you were a small child.  Think about all the times you were rewarded with food when you were a kid.  An even now, today, all the times that food was the center of some type of celebration or reward.

You got straight A’s on your report card.  Congratulations.  Let’s go get pizza as a celebration.  REWARD!
If you clean up your room, we can go out to Yogurt Land.  REWARD!

I remember this when I was a kid.  Going out was special.  We didn’t do it all the time.  It was around celebrations or rewards.  I’m sure our parents didn’t know the long-term effect.  They learned it from their parents.  And who knew that it would turn into a mental issue with food.

So what’s wrong with thinking like this anyway?  Cheat Days and Food Rewards?  You need to live a little right??

Why have I been thinking about Cheat Days and Food Rewards?  That’s the question and why we’re here.  This occurred during the Clean Eating Challenge that my husband and I were doing.  I recall this so vividly because of what my husband did and the true epiphany I had.  I don’t think he knew what he had done at the time.  Let me explain, as this could be a game changer for many of us!

During the entire first two weeks of the challenge,  all I could think about was having a glass of wine.  We’re not big drinkers in our household, but during the weekend, we have our fair share of wine.  I was so excited because for 14 days I had given everything I had to this challenge and my cheat day was coming and I was going to have a cocktail.  My husband and I were invited to a neighborhood party and I knew I could manage the food…but I just wanted a few glasses of wine.  Wine was swimming through my brain – making me feeling happy and excited.  Those neurons were dancing, ready for a nice glass of pinot noir.  All of my thinking was around my cheat:  You deserve a glass of wine because of how dedicated you’ve been on the challenge.  Today is your cheat day!  

My husband came to me a few nights before the neighborhood party and dropped this on me.  He said, “I have a surprise for you.  You’ve done such a fantastic job on the cleanse and have supported us both on this journey so I have scheduled us with an in-home massage on Sunday.  This is your reward for a job well done.”

Wait, what?  Are you telling me that I can’t have a cheat day?  I’ve been working my butt off for this cheat day for two weeks.  I’ll be honest, those were my initial thoughts.  I was excited about the massage, but was that going to be the reward?  A massage.  What about my cheat day?  We did go to the neighborhood gathering and I did have a few glasses of wine, calling it my cheat day.  But the wine didn’t go down as easily as I had hoped.  Something was nagging at me.  My brain just couldn’t turn off.

Sunday came around and I got my massage.  What a treat!  It was 60 minutes of bliss.  It was exactly what I needed.  During the 60 minutes I shut off my brain and just was in Be Here Now mode.  And I walked away feeling enlightened.

My enlightenment?   Living a Healthful Lifestyle.  Your reward is your health.  You look better.  You feel better.  You have energy.  You have a great attitude.  You’re more interested in LIFE!  That’s the reward.  Why cheat on that?

I’m not saying that I won’t go out, or have wine, or have chocolate cake.  I will.  I know I will.  But now I’m choosing to not call them Cheat Meals any longer.  I’m choosing to reward myself with something other than Food.

Different thinking, I know.  I feel free though.  I gotta tell you, after 10 years of the food battle and being on this fight between health and weight loss and gain, I think I’ve figured it out.  80/20 is really the way to go here.  Incorporating that cupcake or glass of wine is key.  It’s moderation.  Taking out of your vocabulary CHEAT DAY or FOOD REWARD will become a game changer.  Mark my words.

Think off all the other things you can reward yourself with other than food…

  • New hairstyle
  • Pedicure
  • New workout clothes
  • New kitchen gadgets
  • New In-Door Plants
  • Facial
  • New tools or gardening equipment
  • New book

Think of other ways you can describe your cheat day or meal.  It’s not a cheat, it’s just a part of my Healthful Lifestyle and my 80/20 living.  You know you can’t live a Healthful Lifestyle by eating processed foods, sugar and flour all the time.  But once and awhile treat is ok.  80/20.

Have I caught your attention?  Are your neurons bouncing around now?  I hope so.  I hope this supports you’re new thinking.

Say Good-Bye to Cheat Days and Hello to 80/20!
Say Good-Bye to Food Rewards and Hello to Non-Food Rewards!

Here’s to a new way of thinking!

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