Kristen Yarker

Cheat Days

Posted | 4 comments

Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD brings the JOY of healthy eating to adults and picky kids. And, powers us to LOVE our bodies. Because food is love. A registered dietitian, Kristen has 20+ years of experience in nutrition helping find the sweet spot where eating is healthy for your body without giving up enjoying food’s pleasure. Kristen liberates people from the diet/ guilt cycle so that they adopt healthy eating habits that actually stick.

“Cheat days” are everywhere in the health and nutrition information world. However, I’m completely against cheat days. Let me repeat that because I feel so strongly about it. Completely. Against. Cheat days. Cheat days set us up to have a negative relationship with food. I’ve found that the secret to achieving, and keeping, your happy weight is to first create a healthy relationship with food. Then the weight loss will follow. Cheat days take you further away from your goal of a healthy weight and feeling happy about your body. 

First, let’s look at the term ‘cheat days’. ‘Cheat’ implies that you’ve done something wrong. Cheating on a test is wrong. Cheating on your spouse is wrong. Who, or what, are you cheating on when having a ‘cheat’ day? On your diet? A diet’s purpose is to serve you – not for you be loyal to it.

Most people go on a diet to be healthy. I’ve got some excellent news for you – to be healthy we don’t need to follow a diet where every single morsel of food serves only to supply essential nutrients to your body. True health means having a healthy mind and a healthy body. A truly healthy diet meets your body’s need for nutrients AND you enjoy the pleasure that food can provide AND you feel connected to family and culture. Each of these three factors is equally important. To eat in a way that promotes a healthy mind and body, you need to be able to balance these three factors. That balance will look different from one day to the next. Some days you’ll put more focus on giving your body healthy fuel. Some days you’ll put more focus on enjoying food for pleasure. You could say that this looks like cheat days. What you eat may look the same. But the psychology behind it is completely different.

That psychological difference is really important. True health means having a healthy body and a healthy mind. It’s simply not healthy if you eat in a way that supports your body to be healthy but you’re filled with thoughts about self-deprivation regarding food followed by guilt and shame when you eat something for pleasure. I was very happy when the medical world recognized the extreme end of this as an eating disorder and called it orthorexia. However, research shows that this is a continuum. And, most women in North America are somewhere along the unhealthy end of the continuum. And just because it’s ‘normal’ to have a complicated, negative relationship with food and your body, it doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Nor, that life has to be this way.    

In summary, don’t have cheat days. Instead, on some days, choose food for pleasure and connection to family and culture instead of its nutrients. Ditch the guilt and negativity associated with “cheating”. Heal your relationship with food, and your weight loss will follow.


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  1. Congratulations on the publication Kristen. Such an important and helpful article – thanks for your thoughts and insights. I agree wholeheartedly. Even so, as someone who struggles with my weight and relationship with food – I know how to eat well and usually do…it is my emotional mess that gets me in the crossfire. I try to remember how hard all the mechanisms in my body have to work when I eat food that is not fuel… It seems it is about self awareness/care, self love and self recognition… then a little bit of balance and it is all happy healthy and energetic…for me.

    • Jennifer, yes, our emotions definitely influence our food choice. I lot of the work that I do with clients is to help them break the bonds in emotional that they love their bodies and are free to make healthy choices – long-term.

  2. Nice article Kristen.
    As a younger man, I took the Bill Phillips “Body for Life” training for 90 days. He espoused what I thought of as a “cheat day”, but in retrospect, he was simply telling us to feel the difference in our body when we “let go” one day a week. Guess it’s another example of what was said and how it was interpreted.

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