Even those most dedicated to their health have days when they stray from their healthy eating plan or workout routine. These are often deemed “cheat” days, but this word has always bothered me. It implies that we have done something sneaky or wrong — and that’s never a productive emotion to infuse into our health routine.
That’s why instead of “cheating” on a diet or workout plan, I like to think about it as enjoying or indulging intentionally and responsibly.
It’s natural to have food cravings and days when we just don’t have the motivation or energy to exercise. So how should we handle them? I encourage my clients to shift their mindset. Instead of viewing something as “cheating,” which makes us feel like we have lost control, let’s reframe these situations as consciously making a choice.
In this way, you aren’t letting these things happen to you, but doing them intentionally. This takes all of the guilt out of it, allows you to identify the root need you are addressing, and prevents one choice from spiraling into days or weeks of unhealthy choices.
Here are two examples of situations where we can use this reframing.
Scenario 1: I’m craving a burger and fries.
You could consider a trip to the drive-thru “cheating” on your diet. This means you’re doing something “bad” by going to a fast-food joint. But you don’t have to treat this craving as a secret or something forbidden that you should feel ashamed about.
Instead, try asking yourself how you can eat that burger and fries and still feel good physically in your body and mentally about eating it. Maybe that means cooking your own burger and sweet potato fries at home or going on an extra long walk that day. Or maybe it simply means eating the burger slowly and mindfully and enjoying every bite of it. By taking time to intentionally plan your indulgence, your craving doesn’t control you. You may even start to find that your cravings become less frequent when you schedule indulgences into your weekly routine. You won’t feel deprived without them or guilty enjoying them.
Scenario 2: I’m tired and want to skip my workout.
You could view a skipped workout as “cheating” on your fitness routine. For many people this leads to tossing in the towel for the day, sitting on the couch and snacking instead. In this scenario, you know you’re not sticking to your plans and you’re punishing yourself for it.
Instead consciously choose to take the day off and get to the bottom of why your body is craving rest. Ask yourself: Why don’t I want to exercise? Perhaps you had a long day at work or didn’t get enough sleep the night before. There are plenty of reasonable explanations for this feeling that can be addressed, sans guilt. If you’re going to skip your workout, replace it with another activity that will address your need. Try heading to bed an hour earlier, practicing some self-care with a face mask and cup of tea, or doing some light stretching or meditation. Suddenly skipping your workout becomes an intentional and much-needed rest day.