So-Called “Cheat Meals” May Not Be Cheating After All
Why Assigning More Value to Food Is Bad and What to Say Instead
You know the drill, keep your diet as clean as possible throughout the week so you can dive into your cheat meal guilt-free on the weekend. While it may seem like you’re satisfying your cravings, you might be doing yourself a disservice. Here’s why eating foods you’re having a strong craving for shouldn’t necessarily be thought of as “cheating”—and how to change your mindset for a healthier relationship with food.
What is Moral Value or Moral Virtue of Food?
Using the the words “good” or “bad” in reference to food is assigning moral value to food. It’s an insinuation that the food is morally better or worse for you than other foods, or that you’re morally a better person for eating those foods. Often this language is learned from an early age where you’re taught certain foods are good for you and other foods are bad for you. Or you were praised as a “good eater” for cleaning your plate or eating your vegetables or shamed for eating junk food or too many sweets.
Making certain foods “off-limits” or using food as a reward is another way of assigning moral value to food. "If you eat your veggies, you can have dessert,” or “you’ve already had too much candy, sugar is bad for you!”
Why It’s Bad to Assign Moral Value to Food
The way you speak about food will influence your behavior and beliefs. Saying certain foods are bad insinuates that you’re a bad person for loosening up a bit on your diet. When really, it’s just food.
These beliefs also influence your food choices causing you to ignore internal needs. Instead of making food choices based on your wants, you’re picking something you believe to be better for you which can leave you feeling unsatisfied. If you’re not choosing what you really want to eat out of fear or a belief system, you may end up eating more than you need. That’s because restriction leads to overeating, making poor food choices, and binge eating. Leaving carbs off your plate at dinner because you’re trying to “be good,” will likely lead you to straight back to the kitchen later looking for something else.
You may be thinking, “whenever I eat bad foods, I lose control and can’t stop, that’s why I don’t eat them.” Have you ever considered that your belief in food as being good or bad is leading you to lose control? Putting food on a pedestal or off-limits only makes you want it more. When you’re craving cookies, you’re better off simply eating them and reminding yourself you can have more another time. You’ll end up taking in less calories with the cookies and have more control of how much you eat.
What is a Health Halo?
A health halo is when a food or food group is given a label that it’s somehow better than other foods because of certain factors. An example of a health halo is gluten-free foods or keto. People were eating gluten-free because they believed it would make them healthier or thinner, the same can be said about keto foods. Gluten-free foods are no better for your body than foods containing gluten unless you have a medical necessity to avoid gluten. In that case, you need to cut gluten out of your diet to remain healthy and pain-free.
Another example is the belief that organic foods or foods bought at natural food markets are better for you than other foods. Food is food no matter how it was grown or where it was sold. You can still be a healthy person shopping for food at discount stores or eating foods not considered organic.
What to Say Instead?
Changing the way you speak about food and your perspective can make an enormous difference in your relationship with food and the number of calories you take in each day.
Instead of incorporating cheat meals into your diet, here’s another option: Sprinkle in some less healthy foods here and there, or even daily, so you feel more satisfied at the end of the week and less likely to binge on the weekends. Avoid making food choices based on a belief system and instead eat something because you want to. You’ll be surprised at how much better you become at listening to fullness cues and eating only what your body needs.
If you want to eat something sweet or junky, call it what it is – a donut, cookies, cake, ice cream, pizza, burger and fries, you get the picture. It’s well documented that Dr. Jim Stoppani, PhD enjoys these types of foods and eats them periodically, but he does it with full awareness and doesn’t beat himself up over it (even if he may lightheartedly use the term “cheat meal” from time to time).
Remember that there are no “good” or “bad” foods – just healthy and less healthy. Food is for enjoyment – to nourish your body and your mind.
Not one food can make you fat or sick, and not one food can make you thin or healthy. Developing an all foods fit mentality can help you rebuild a healthy relationship with food and enjoy food too.