Are Cheat Days Your Nemesis?

Are Cheat Days Your Nemesis?

Cheat days need no introduction.  Most of us know about them, utilize them, fear them, love them, wonder about them, or all of the above.  This may be a topic that causes many of us to wince.  Sometimes it can feel like, once we cheat, we might as well keep going, giving up on what we set out to do. Sometimes we feel like we deserve to cheat because we have been “good”, towing the line for too long.  The very term, “cheating” implies being bad.  Guilt follows. 

Given all that, it may be helpful to some of you to know that “cheat days” come with a lot of baggage. How we think about them can impact our daily lives (or the lives of someone you know).

Good vs. Bad

Let me explain.  I imagine that most of you could write down a few of your own cheating situations or scenarios.  That’s because so many of us fall into the dichotomy of thinking we are being good around food or not being good around food.  It’s either/or.  Taking it a step further, it can mean you identify as a person who has the potential to cheat at any given moment, kind of like a bomb that is ticking down towards blowing up. Like an inner beast that can show itself and down six chocolate chip cookies without thinking. 

To find out what is going on, we need to scroll back a bit.  Actually, quite a lot.  This kind of thinking had its origins over a century ago, when science started examining food.  Even further back, we can take a look at the Pilgrims. Apparently they were not about bodily pleasures.  Our bodies were meant to be just doing godly things all the time, and pleasure was not on the list.  It could ruin your focus.  So, even though they came from Europe, where food is treated as a pleasure, they put the kybosh on that idea. 

Then came several individuals who were bent on finding out what exactly our bodies need in terms of fuel (aka, nutrition).  Long story short, the calorie was discovered, nutrients were categorized.  It may interest you to know that way back in 1895, there was the first government-sponsored list of the nutritive values of food.  It was published by the United States Department of Agriculture.  Again, the pleasurable aspects of food were dismissed.  Even worse, several of those studying food declared that diet and morality were inextricably linked. Gluttony was abhorred.  Food became the enemy of virtue.  If you ate something “bad”, you were bad. 

Food Became More Scientific

Something else happened.  With all this going on, it was now possible to consider that you could cheat death by eating well.  Science could now link “bad” eating with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.  Some took it a step further and figured that you could mitigate all sorts of other diseases by eating right.  They were on the right track here, even though, clearly, you cannot blame all disease on unhealthy eating habits.  

Cool factoid:  The American Vegetarian Society was founded in 1850!  It started out as an animal-rights group, but morphed later on into part of the movement to eat right, paying attention to nutrition.

Manufacturing Steps In

Then, a bit later, foods designed to get rid of some of the guilt were manufactured.  Probably the first one was a fat substitute.  I don’t have to tell you what happened next.  There has been a veritable explosion of manufactured foods, many of which are supposed to be healthier than the real thing.

And, finally, we have foods manufactured to make you want to eat them and buy more of them.  Most of these are not nutritious at all. 

Taking a look at a bit of history about the consumption of food can give you a new perspective.  Before all this started, food was just eaten, no questions asked. Then, Europe developed a culture of enjoying food. However, once nutritional content became known, Americans sort of struck out on their own and decided to turn food into chemistry.  After that came the guilt.  People in the know declared that it was up to each one of us to educate ourselves about food and do the right thing. 

More Science

Now, we have even more science.  We have piles of research telling us which parts of the brain are attracted to different aspects of food.  We have research about pleasure centers.  We have more and more information about genetics.  We have labs that study eating behavior.  There are studies on the psychological and physiological aspects of food addiction.  And on and on.

Phew.  So, what are some takeaways here?  Are we really cheating when we grab a candy bar?  Or, are we succumbing to some company’s manufacturing genius?  Can we blame the Puritans, or those people back in the 1800’s for calling us out for eating too much, or the advancement of science for ruining it for all of us in so many ways?

Not really.  But it is important for us to recognize what has happened to us and our food.  It is also important not to get into the blame game.  Yes, we can get angry at food manufacturers for creating horrible food-like substances.  Or, for pushing high fat, high salt, high sugar items. 

However, we should not get angry at ourselves when we succumb.  The deck is stacked against us. Just looking back on what little I have written here, is there any wonder why we have such a complicated view of and relationship with food? 

Banning “Cheat Days”

Here’s where it gets tough.  We do indeed need to get educated about what is going on with food and food products.  We need to be savvy about our choices, and do the best we can to nourish our bodies. We can also learn about how our brains are dealing with all this, and do what we can to recognize how we are making our choices, and what is influencing those choices.  Shameless plug:  check out my two books, The End of Try Try Again and The End of Try Try Again Action Workbook for lots more on how to do that.

I think it’s fair to say that most of us enjoy foods that are not good for us.  After all,  we are surrounded by them,  and many of them are heavily marketed. But it is important to remember that when we do that, we are not “cheating.” These actions are not some sort of indication of poor moral fiber.  Most of us careen off the straight and narrow from time to time.  We can remember that there are choices to be made, and lots of things to learn about.  Hold your head high, and keep fighting the good fight.

All the best

© 2023 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: Monkeybusinessimages | iStock

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