Why I HATE Cheat Days

The New Food Disorder: “Cheat Day”

Eating disorders are a growing problem in America. And it doesn’t just affect teenage girls trying to fit into their prom dresses anymore.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), more than 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder.

In fact, one statistic says that most Americans who have an eating disorder suffer from binge eating disorder, not anorexia or bulimia. I bet if you’ve ever walked into a gym and heard people discussing their “cheat meal,” then you may know a little bit about this.

For those who don’t know, binge eating disorder is eating very little or very healthy then followed by eating large amounts of food or a large amount of unhealthy food, all at once.


You may even know some of these binge eaters. They eat grilled chicken and veggies all week, but come Saturday and Sunday, they’re pigging out on doughnuts, pizza, ice cream, and chips.

Another more common trend is not eating all day and then plopping on the couch with an entire box of doughnuts and not stopping until you’re locked in a sugar coma.

I mention these facts about eating disorders because they represent people who have a negative relationship with what they eat. For most of us, we don’t even consider that we have a relationship with food -- if we do, it’s one of the last things we think about. Perhaps you’re even one of the folks who believe “food is just something I need to survive.”

But let’s take it a step further: most of us consider healthy eating as salads or juice cleanses with no understanding of how our body processes food or uses it for energy.

Thinking you can either eat McDonalds all the time or salads all the time is a HUGE problem.

Let’s get real. Do you really think you can balance your McDonald's habit with hopping on the treadmill?

Do you think you can really be healthy eating just salads?


Food and culture

Food is deeply ingrained in America and many other cultures around the world. In fact, many cultures are defined by their cuisine and music.

Because nothing can bring people together and preserve tradition like food.

A single candy bar can take us back to our childhood and fill us with feelings of joy and nostalgia. Other foods can take us back to a time of our lives that generate feelings of fear, terror, or anxiety.

In other words, food is a huge part of lives.

I’m sure you have heard or said something like this:

  • “Let’s catch up over dinner!”
  • “If you are a good boy (or girl), we can get ice cream later.”
  • “You can’t have dessert until you eat all your vegetables.”
  • “I’m giving up chocolate for Lent.”
  • “I’ve eaten clean and healthy all week. Can’t wait to gorge myself on doughnuts come cheat day!”

Food is a reason to meet.

Food can be used to make us as good or bad.

Food can be a punishment. Or it can be a reward.

The scary thing is, these ideas can be deeply lodged in our brains from the time we’re children. And as we get older, we continue to associate food as a reward or punishment, even when it may not be appropriate.

For example, if our parents gave us chocolate every time we were sad as a child, we may carry that habit as adults. Our brain associates chocolate with love and comfort. And as we get more stressed, we eat more and more and more of it to feel that love and comfort our parents once gave us.

My Bad Relationship with Food

My bad association with food started in the 6th grade. Let me tell you the story:

In 1995, I lost my father after a 10 year battle with 3 types of cancer. I was 11. This was also the moment when my relationship with food turned sour.

Food became a source of comfort amongst the grief. Every time I was sad, I would stuff down something fried or full of sugar to push down the pain.

As I got older, this pattern continued.

When I was clinically depressed in 2013, I would binge hard. I wouldn’t eat all day and then at night, I’d go H.A.M (Hard as a Motherf***cker) on nuggets, crackers, cookies, chips, chocolate, or whatever else would make me feel better.

Nothing says you have to make a change like watching “The Biggest Loser” while finishing a carton of Reese’s Pieces ice cream.

Then it was in 2014 when I decided to turn things around. I instantly lost 20 pounds.

Then put 10 back on.

Then took another 5 off. And you guessed it, put 5 more back on.

This bodyweight rollercoaster makes me cringe and is literally the reason I hate dieting because I have never been able to consistently lose weight. So to get results that would stick, I decided to hire a nutritionist.

My thought: he would tell me what to eat and I would get skinny.

But when I began talking with him, he said something that puzzled me.

He said, “I don’t believe in cheat days.”

I almost hung up the phone right there on his candy ass. “Really?” I asked, “WHY THE HELL NOT??”

He laughed and said this is the number one reason why people fail on a diet: They work for a cheat day.

The cheat day turns to a cheat weekend when you work out really hard. This inevitably builds a bad association between working out and eating. And it’s why people put weight back on after they finish a diet. Well, usually what they lost, plus some.

So this is your fancy high paid solution? No cheat days??

Instead, build your indulgences into your diet weekly and there will be no reason to go off the deep end on Saturday night.

I could not even begin to understand his logic. It made no sense to me.

I mean, you can’t diet unless you are eating “clean.” Low carbs, high protein, healthy fats and minimal processed foods. Do this 5 days a week and you get to eat and drink whatever you want on the weekends. Isn’t that how it works?

If you wanna eat and drink, you work for it in the gym. Right?

Once again, a big fat (no pun intended) Hell NO!

How do you stop binging?

So let’s circle back. Why is this important?

It matters because if you do not have a good relationship with food, you will be on a bodyweight rollercoaster your entire life.

And no one wants that. While explaining how to stay off the rollercoaster for good is more complicated than what I can share in one blog post, here are five things you can do:

Solution 1: Eliminate cheat days

Cheat days are an abused concept and something you should scratch from your vocabulary forever. Instead, indulgences should be part of any diet and when they’re spread out versus met all at once, cravings disappear.

Why you should do it?
Cheat days can reinforce the flawed idea of “food as reward.” This doesn’t help you build good habits and learning food balance.

Why is this important?
If you don’t get away from this idea, you will continue to associate certain foods with certain feelings from childhood and never gain a grasp on what food balance looks like.

How can you do this?
Build in indulgences every few days in balance. Enjoy a doughnut or a small bag of chips once or twice a week. Just make sure you don’t go overboard. Use common sense.

Solution 2: Do NOT earn your food in the gym

The gym is not the place to earn your food. The gym is where you go to feel good about yourself and your body. I personally do CrossFit and used to be a competitive Olympic weightlifter. I do it because of the way it makes me feel, not so I can crush 6 slices of pizza while drunk at 2am on Saturday night.

Why you should do it?
Again, earning your food in the gym furthers the idea of “food as a reward.” This doesn’t help you build good habits and learning about food balance.

Why is this important?
If you don’t get away from this idea, you might erase all the good you did for your body in the gym if you go overboard (ie., binge).

How can you do this?
Build in indulgences every few days in balance. Enjoy a doughnut or a small bag of chips once or twice a week. Just make sure you don’t go overboard.

Solution 3: Do Not Skip Meals

If you skip meals, you will be hungrier the next time you eat and you will overeat.
Overeating comes from not eating enough at the right time. An easy to avoid this is to think ahead. A few minutes of planning can go a long way.

Why you should do it?
Skipping meals can cause you to go overboard once you actually do eat. Ever feel starved and just go to town on a pizza only to feel like a balloon after dinner? This is what skipping meals will do.

Why is this important?
Energy, focus, mood and performance are are all affected by what we eat and when. Skipping meals can make us feel tired and unfocused, further impacting our performance in the gym and office.

How can I do this?
Eat at regular intervals every day.
For example, I eat at 6am, 10am, 2pm, 6pm, and 10pm every single day. Of course there are days in which this isn’t perfect, but I try to stick to this as best as I can.

Solution 4: Make Small Changes

When trying to lose weight or start a new diet plan, small changes supersede big changes. Even if it's small, the more consistent a change is, the more power it will ultimately have. Not sure what small change to try? If you don’t eat breakfast every day, start there.

Why you should do it?
Small changes are far more sustainable than big ones. One small change after another small change eventually leads to much bigger changes. The small changes will keep your stress down and make progress feel almost effortless.

Why is this important?
Making a big change too quickly can send you back to your old habit real quick. This is what we want to avoid.

How can I do this?
Start with the basics:

  • Eat breakfast every day.
  • Eat vegetables with ½ of your meals.
  • And eat 3-4 times per day.

Solution 5: There is no such thing as “good” and “bad” food 

Intuitively, this may not make sense. We all know that broccoli is more healthy than a Big Mac. That’s undeniable. But If we think about food as good or bad, we are subconsciously tieing an emotion to a particular food. This in turn may cause us to binge on the very food we believe to be “bad.”

Why you should do it?
Eliminating the idea of “good” or “bad” food from your thoughts will reduce your likelihood of abusing food or binging.

Why is this important?
If you don’t get away from this idea, it will be very hard to learn how to balance food and reduce guilt when eating less nutrient dense foods.

How can I do this?
Build in indulgences every few days in balance. Enjoy a doughnut or a small bag of chips once or twice a week. Make these indulgences part of your weekly diet and you'll be less likely to abuse them.

Take Action

I have summarized our suggestions above with exactly how to implement them.

Pick one of these ideas and implement them into your routine now. Not later, not tomorrow, now.

What to Do?

How to Do It?

1) Eliminate cheat days

Build in Indulgences 2x a week (don’t go overboard).

2) Do not earn your food at the gym

Build in Indulgences 2x a week (don’t go overboard).

3) Do not skip meals

Create an eating schedule that includes at 3 meals and 2 small snacks

4) Make small changes

Pick one change that takes less than 20 minutes per day to implement. Make sure to do it for 2 weeks before making a second change (or it might not stick).

5. View food as nutrient dense or non-nutrient dense (not “good” or “bad”)

Read our blog post next week on food labeling. 

If you are interested in controlling your eating, start with my workshop below - where I discuss the process I have used with 200+ clients to help them take control of their eating and lives.

FREE Weight Loss Workshop

  • A step-by-step game plan my busy male clients use to eat the foods they love while dropping unwanted pounds.
  • Why 80% of American Men start and fail on a diet 4 times per year, and the strategy that my busy male client use to avoid dieting all together.
  • And how we do this all without living in the gym 24/7 and spending plenty of time with family and friends.
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