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Does calling it a "cheat" or "cheat day" do more harm than good?

by (24538)
Updated about 19 hours ago
Created July 18, 2011 at 11:25 PM

I've been doing a lot of soul searching lately about to what degree the terminology I use in my own thoughts about eating have an impact on my actions. The word "cheat" seems so emotionally loaded, and likely to bring up shame or guilt, and inspire rebellion against my own best interest. In my own experience I've found it difficult to make good food choices on a long term basis if I get tripped up by thinking in terms of "good", "bad", "should", shouldn't", "success", "failure", etc.

The way I'm wording my current goal is "To fit in as many biologically appropriate and pleasurable meals as possible between now and when I die." I've only been tossing this around in my head for about a week now, but I feel like it is making a difference in upping my compliance percentages without "trying".

Has anyone else toyed around with this?

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1127 · October 13, 2012 at 1:48 AM

I've been calling my Paleo diet a "nutritional strategy," because it is. I eat mindfully with a certain goal in mind. If I veer off course, there are consequences. To I beat myself up and call myself names, no... Punishment doesn't work on me. ONLY rewards.

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20353 · December 31, 2011 at 9:47 AM

I like your question HN!

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606 · July 20, 2011 at 4:28 AM

Ok you get a +1 but "feasting" sorta sounds like "overeating" and also implies you can't feast on healthy paleo stuff. But much better than "cheating".

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3789 · July 19, 2011 at 2:21 PM

I don't eat that supermarket junk either. Usually when I have ice cream, I make it myself.

Medium avatar
3014 · July 19, 2011 at 10:31 AM

I occasionally have ice cream made from an ice cream place that uses all natural ingredients and call it yummy. I had a look at the list of ingredients in the ice cream in the supermarket. That isn't a cheat - it's simply garbage I don't want to put in my body any more. And sure it has sugar, but that's why it's occasional. But the sugar cone is a cheat :)

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6433 · July 19, 2011 at 8:46 AM

Because not having one would stress some people out? ;)

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24538 · July 19, 2011 at 1:59 AM

I like the idea of calling it a 'feasting day", very positive family/community connotations. Good company, good food. I can't imagine life getting sweeter than that.

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8979 · July 19, 2011 at 1:44 AM

+1 (hey, why don't we have cortisol badges?)

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15976 · July 19, 2011 at 1:36 AM

Your question is a reflection of our increasingly unhealthy view of food. It shouldn't ever be a cheat. Things have plain old gotten too tasty. Food should be first and foremost fuel, then you can make it tasty, sure. But first it is utilitarian. No, the two ideas are not mutually exlusive. We are simply too inundated with things that taste too good. That's it. If you stop eating things that taste too good then the whole reward part of it goes away, with it goes the idea of cheating/guilt/etc. Eat and be proud of what you eat.

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5796 · July 19, 2011 at 12:37 AM

Call it "I'm an adult and take responsibility for my actions" day. It's the truth and it sounds more positive.

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12407 · July 19, 2011 at 12:30 AM

u have my sympathy, sir

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25467 · July 19, 2011 at 12:24 AM

I'm at Britney spears now with my kids. Not fun!

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13692 · July 19, 2011 at 12:20 AM

Maybe he was implying it was "oops I did it again" day. Actually you're probably right, straight to the SAD whorehouse is what he probably meant. He may as well have called you a smelly pirate hooker and told you to go back to Whore Island :-)

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12407 · July 19, 2011 at 12:09 AM

he thinks im steppin out on paleo... sneaking over to the SAD whorehouse

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13692 · July 18, 2011 at 11:55 PM

@LuckyB - I think Quilt just called you a dirty little skank. Just sayin'....

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12407 · July 18, 2011 at 11:45 PM

As in, this haagen daaz is positively going down my gullet?

Medium avatar
12369 · July 18, 2011 at 11:43 PM

great question - i asked a question a while ago re: treats and it quickly went to cheats which really wasn't what i meant - all a matter of how you view eating!

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2246 · July 18, 2011 at 11:42 PM

Hrm I guess wouldn't it only be harm if you someone felt bad about a cheat day? I never really have them but I generally look forward to them.

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25467 · July 18, 2011 at 11:39 PM

Id rather think about calling a Britney Spears day.

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19220 · July 18, 2011 at 11:28 PM

Eatin' ain't cheatin' :)

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19220 · July 18, 2011 at 11:27 PM

Eating aint cheating :)

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4276 · July 19, 2011 at 1:34 AM

When talking about paleo I always start by reminding people that the word diet has two meanings. One is a weight loss plan, the other being the make up of what you ingest to thrive and survive. Paleo being the latter.

With that in mind, I dont think that you can cheat on a way of life or on your subsistence, since it is all your diet after all. Therefore I like to call them occasional indulgences.

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1127 · October 13, 2012 at 1:48 AM

I've been calling my Paleo diet a "nutritional strategy," because it is. I eat mindfully with a certain goal in mind. If I veer off course, there are consequences. To I beat myself up and call myself names, no... Punishment doesn't work on me. ONLY rewards.

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12407 · July 18, 2011 at 11:33 PM

call it "leptin sensitivity maintenance" day.

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12407 · July 19, 2011 at 12:30 AM

u have my sympathy, sir

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25467 · July 19, 2011 at 12:24 AM

I'm at Britney spears now with my kids. Not fun!

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117
25467 · July 18, 2011 at 11:39 PM

Id rather think about calling a Britney Spears day.

D1c02d4fc5125a670cf419dbb3e18ba7
13692 · July 18, 2011 at 11:55 PM

@LuckyB - I think Quilt just called you a dirty little skank. Just sayin'....

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12407 · July 19, 2011 at 12:09 AM

he thinks im steppin out on paleo... sneaking over to the SAD whorehouse

D1c02d4fc5125a670cf419dbb3e18ba7
13692 · July 19, 2011 at 12:20 AM

Maybe he was implying it was "oops I did it again" day. Actually you're probably right, straight to the SAD whorehouse is what he probably meant. He may as well have called you a smelly pirate hooker and told you to go back to Whore Island :-)

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3789 · July 19, 2011 at 12:13 AM

I had some ice cream today (I'm on vacation). It was delicious. It wasn't a cheat as I don't have any reason to cheat. It was just something best done only occasionally. My body tolerates a load of sugar every once in a great while just fine--just as my ancestors might gorge on fruit or honey from time to time.

I agree that calling it a "cheat" can be counterproductive.

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3789 · July 19, 2011 at 2:21 PM

I don't eat that supermarket junk either. Usually when I have ice cream, I make it myself.

Medium avatar
3014 · July 19, 2011 at 10:31 AM

I occasionally have ice cream made from an ice cream place that uses all natural ingredients and call it yummy. I had a look at the list of ingredients in the ice cream in the supermarket. That isn't a cheat - it's simply garbage I don't want to put in my body any more. And sure it has sugar, but that's why it's occasional. But the sugar cone is a cheat :)

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2178 · July 18, 2011 at 11:49 PM

I prefer to think of cheats or treats as "indulgences." To me that word connotes something worthwhile, not impulsive, and less 'bad.' For some reason, it's harder to find something worth indulging in than something to cheat with.

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11478 · July 19, 2011 at 2:12 AM

You're referring to concept in psychology called "self-talk," which is intimately involved in areas as diverse as depression, sports performance, placebo and nocebo effects.

Negative self-talk is found in depressed people, who may tell themselves that they're worthless, stupid and ugly, and their life is hopeless. Cognitive therapy seeks to improve depression, in part, by improving the way patients talk to themselves.

Sports acumen may be enhanced by positive self-talk.

Placebo and nocebo effects have been discussed extensively in previous PH threads (here, here and here, for example).

I agree that words can have emotional effects, and negative words can have negative (ie. nocebo) effects. So it may be helpful to call "cheating" something more benign, such as "snacking", "carb-loading", "tasting", etc.

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8979 · July 19, 2011 at 1:48 AM

I don't cheat. I go off-plan sometimes, and then I get back on-plan. Think of it like changing the bag in your vacuum cleaner, or even better, tripping on the cord. You just go over and plug it back in.

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20519 · July 19, 2011 at 2:00 PM

I used the term cheat and recently trash canned it. I think it has too many negative connotations and I just didn't like that what made me happy was being categorized as something that would be considered scandalous. For example, I don't crave sugar or grains.. I just don't. But a few days ago I was walking in the Village by a place that makes my favourite Yaki Onigiri, filled with sour plum. Did I pop in and order one? Yes. Why? Because I knew how good it was going to be. How often do I do this? First time in months. Will I do it again if I'm walking by? Yes.

For me: Food is fuel. Food is sustenance. Food keeps us going. Why not take pleasure in it as well?

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831 · July 19, 2011 at 10:07 AM

Why think about it as a cheat at all?

All using the word cheat does is induce stress/anxiety (if you're that way inclined) because you believe you've done something that is considered wrong. Whether that is what you believe to be wrong or whether it is implied peer/community pressure is irrelevant.

It's just a word that could be substituted by lots of other words or phrases according to your view - treat, reward, deviation, error of judgement, oversight, and so on.

Besides, what one person views as a cheat is normal practise to another. As long as the main tenets of avoiding grains, legumes and sugar are maintained to the best of your ability most of the time, who cares whether you have the occasional bit of chocolate, dairy or other 'bad' item as long as it doesn't cause you serious health issues?

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25467 · July 18, 2011 at 11:30 PM

Harm......negative connotation brings up cortisol. We need to think positively all the time.

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2246 · July 18, 2011 at 11:42 PM

Hrm I guess wouldn't it only be harm if you someone felt bad about a cheat day? I never really have them but I generally look forward to them.

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8979 · July 19, 2011 at 1:44 AM

+1 (hey, why don't we have cortisol badges?)

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12407 · July 18, 2011 at 11:45 PM

As in, this haagen daaz is positively going down my gullet?

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6433 · July 19, 2011 at 8:46 AM

Because not having one would stress some people out? ;)

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1334 · July 19, 2011 at 2:31 AM

carb reload day, plan it correctly, and it is useful.

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3631 · July 19, 2011 at 2:19 AM

I agree that word-choice is important - in all contexts! I'm always checking myself and re-phrasing things to use more affirming, positive, and less restrictive language. E.g. all "shoulds" become "coulds" - way more empowering.

P.s If our actions are aligned with our values, there is no such thing as "cheating".

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10768 · July 19, 2011 at 1:16 AM

I occasionally have 'feasting' days, but it's only a few times per month... I do it for leptin tweaking.

Hormone manipulation experiments, FTW!

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24538 · July 19, 2011 at 1:59 AM

I like the idea of calling it a 'feasting day", very positive family/community connotations. Good company, good food. I can't imagine life getting sweeter than that.

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606 · July 20, 2011 at 4:28 AM

Ok you get a +1 but "feasting" sorta sounds like "overeating" and also implies you can't feast on healthy paleo stuff. But much better than "cheating".

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