Health Scoop

Treat Yourself: Enjoy Diet Cheat Day

Diet cheat day donut in hands with bites

A MONTH AGO the Twinkies were tossed and the pantry cleared of the transfatty carbs. The combination of daily treadmill time, healthy salads for lunch, and salmon for dinner has proven to be an effective prescription to trim inches off your waist. Yet the idea of diving into an ice cream sundae becomes harder and harder to repress. Do you keep going or do you give in?

Cheat days, or days when you let loose and free yourself from your dietary restraints, may improve motivation to get back on track and stick to long term lifestyle changes. According to psychologists, human beings – even those who are gung-ho about their new healthy meal plan – harbor “hedonic deviations”. This means that we all have subconscious desires to indulge,  and the denial of these may lead to yo-yo patterns of dieting that eventually lead to weight gain.

If the possibility of caving in to cravings is denied when embarking on a lifestyle modification from the start, it is more likely for the freshly minted junk-food-addict-turned-health-nut to give up, or overshoot the calorie intake when instinctual old habits trump willpower (and with deeply ingrained behavior patterns, they eventually will). These deviations lead to feelings of guilt, which then lead to something called the “failure cascade”. Small lapses lead to an all-or-nothing pattern and many abandon their goals for weeks at a time before restarting the same cycle.

The key is to outsmart instincts through strategic planning for these ‘hedonistic tendencies’.

What sends most into yo-yo patterns of dieting is the lack of ability to address realistic expectations. Most believe that the willpower will persist once they are committed and pounds are shed. While that will to succeed certainly gets stronger with new habit formation, the beginning of the road is rocky for those who have indulged in a daily pint of Rocky Road for years.

Beginners should expect to have cravings and plan for them, researchers say, but then plan to return to a scheduled pattern of healthy eating thereafter. This does not mean a burger and fries every other day, but scheduling a treat day every week or so has been shown to beat feelings of self-deprivation and lead to long term weight loss. Controlled indulgence in goal-deviation helps regain self-regulatory ability, maintain motivation to persist pursuit of the goal, and contributes to the experience of staying positive about the whole process.

Ref:  Coelho do Vale, et al. The benefits of behaving badly on occasion: Successful regulation by planned hedonic deviations. Journal of Consumer Psychology

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  • Reply
    March 22, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    Discipline is the most important and hardest component of any diet plan. If you think of your diet plan as a restriction to your favorite food, then you will fail. You will feel miserable and resentful towards the “rules” of your diet. Eventually you will rebel and will easily give in to temptation.

  • Reply
    March 22, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    I can so relate to this. When I see desserts, my mind goes blank and I totally forget my diet. I can’t help it, I often give in to cravings especially on stressful days.

  • Reply
    March 22, 2017 at 11:33 pm

    For me there is nothing wrong with cheat days. I think cheat days are very important to any diet. What’s wrong is depriving yourself on things that will make you happy. It’s all about balance.

  • Reply
    Danny Luei
    March 23, 2017 at 4:05 pm

    Nice post about diet. It seems this is not an issue for me. Since I seem to be difficult for obese despite eating a lot. lol… But anyway I enjoyed this article and thanks for sharing…

  • Reply
    Lisa Nataliany
    March 23, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    Thank you for sharing this article, I always enjoy reading articles like this. Because the diet is an important issue for almost all women. Thumbs up.

  • Reply
    March 24, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    I don’t call it a cheat day, but a reward day. If I’ve earned the extra treat, then it’s not cheating to me.

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