4 Tips to Improve Your Relationship with Food and Get Rid of the Cheat Day Mentality

NYC Registered Nutritionist Explains How a Cheat Day Damages Your Relationship With Food

I often ask my clients if they have “cheat days” with their partners or spouses. Or, do they have “cheat days” at school. Do my professional clients have “cheat days” at work, dipping into those enticing funds? Do the athletes I train have “cheat days” on the basketball court? They look at me like what I’ve suggested is crazy.

So, how, then, is our relationship with food less important than the relationships we have with our loved ones, our studies, our work, our sports? How is it okay to treat the way we eat and nourish ourselves with a concept of guilt and pleasure?

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As I discussed in an earlier blog, Americans are hard-wired to see food as the enemy. Dr. Linda Bacon writes in Health at Every Size, “When asked what came to mind upon hearing the words ‘chocolate cake’, Americans were most likely to connect it with ‘guilt’ while the French connected it with ‘celebration.’”

I had the opportunity to discuss cheat days with journalist Jennifer Still from Bon Appetit  and the way “cheat days” drive a market of food shame. Dieting is a billion dollar market, and much of this market is driven by guilt. Cheat days effectively categorize foods into good and bad categories, deprivation and indulgence. Food, then, becomes our reward and/or punishment instead of what it really is – our sustenance, health, and nourishment. 

“Cheat days” feed into the guilt mentality. ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) writes that over 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. That’s almost 10% of the population. We’re doing something wrong.

I’ve written this before, but it deserves to be repeated: oftentimes it’s not so much what we eat but, instead, how we eat and how we view food that are the major problems. No nutrition plan will work without addressing our feelings about food itself.

So here are 4 tips to improve your relationship with food and get rid of the “cheat day” mentality:

  1. Make meals matter: Whether you have a family, eat out with friends or eat alone, make mealtime, mealtime. Be mindful of the food you put in your mouth. Stop. Take three seconds. Observe. And proceed. Each bite allows you to do what you do every single day. 
  2. Pay attention: How do you talk about bodies? How do you talk about your own body? This can be a huge hurdle to healthy eating. When we talk about weight, we’re falling into the same trap of what we see on the media. Shift the conversation to health – health at every size. 

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  1. Build your body self esteem: Body shaming is a huge part of our culture. When you realize how you talk about your body, your weight, you can start to change that negative voice. Write down three things you love about your body (eg. Your hands, so you can hold your children’s hands. Your smile. Your eyes.) Add a new body part each week. Put down the fashion magazines, turn off the TV, and start paying attention to “real bodies” when you go to the park, the supermarket. See the beauty in diversity, not one shoved down our throats by the media.
  2. Listen to your body: You’ve had years abusing your internal system, so it’s time to listen to when you’re full, to the subtle cravings. As I said in the Bon Appetit article, our bodies are hard-wired to crave food as a way of survival. It’s the body’s way of telling us what nutrients it needs. So craving a wide-variety of foods is healthy and preferable!

This is just a start to re-adjusting your relationship with food, making smart choices based on nourishment and health, not guilt and punishment. So, get rid of the “cheat day” mentality and commence a healthy relationship with food. Not only will you start to enjoy mealtime more, but you’ll also begin to enjoy a variety of flavors and opportunities to connect with food in a different way!