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I’m an Intuitive Eating RD and THIS is Why I Hate Cheat Meals

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It’s time to abolish the notion of cheat meals once and for all. Although it’s become common in the world of diet culture, a cheat meal has no place in anyone’s diet – or vocabulary. 

As a registered dietitian I have seen many clients holding onto the idea of a cheat meal as a way to excuse what they deem to be “unhealthy eating”. But rather than being helpful, cheat meals perpetuate the idea that food is good or bad. 

It makes sense if you’re not yet sold on giving up your cheat meal routine – but after reading this article hopefully you’ll gain some more insight on why cheat meals may do more harm than good. You’ll also learn some tips for how to include your favorite foods regularly for a more sustainable and balanced way of eating.

Why “Cheat Meals” Are Out 

The term “cheat meal” implies a sense of guilt or wrongdoing associated with enjoying certain foods.

This negative connotation can create an unhealthy relationship with food, promoting the idea that certain foods are off-limits. In this way of thinking, when you do finally allow yourself to eat the “forbidden” food, people often eat in excess. Plus, people often fail to consider their own body’s needs, as the build up to this specific food has been so heightened. 

What if you could enjoy your favorite foods on a more regular basis, without setting strict diet rules on when you could enjoy them?

I’m here to tell you that it is possible to break free from rules around eating. Instead, you can listen to your own intuition, enjoy a variety of foods in moderation, all without attaching feelings of guilt. 

Despite What Diet Culture Says, All Foods Can Fit

A healthy diet is really all about balance and moderation. If you tell yourself that some of your favorite foods are “bad”, it’s bound to make you want that food even more. Plus, when you do finally eat it, it’ll often come with feelings of guilt – not because anything is wrong with this food, but because diet culture has convinced you that it’s wrong to include it. What happens then? 

You feel like you’ve lost all control around this food. You feel like you can’t trust yourself around this food. This just perpetuates the story you’ve told yourself – this food is bad, I always will eat it in excess, and I have no self control. 

I’m here to tell you that this is nonsense. 

In fact, allowing yourself to have your favorite foods on a regular basis will remove the charged energy around it. Sometimes as an experiment I tell my clients to always allow themselves to have their favorite foods. When I say this I sometimes get some pretty crazy looks, but hear me out:

I can guarantee you that if you allow yourself to have chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, lunch, dinner, you’re going to get sick of them pretty quickly. The more you make something normal and plentiful, the less you will feel that it’s a “special occasion” food. The fear often becomes “what if I never stop eating that food?”. I’m here to tell you that the body is smarter than we often give it credit for – she ultimately will guide you to a variety of foods and a balanced diet – that is, if we honor her cravings and learn to listen to her. 

So ultimately, categorizing certain foods as “cheats” can perpetuate the misconception that certain items are inherently bad or forbidden. In reality, a healthy diet is about balance and moderation. Allowing yourself to enjoy a diverse range of foods in appropriate portions fosters a sustainable and realistic approach to nutrition. It’s crucial to understand that no single food will make or break your health journey.

Cheat Meals and Intuitive Eating Don’t Mix

Strict dieting patterns, including cheat meals, can disrupt the intuitive connection between our bodies and the food we consume. 

If you intuitively want to eat a certain food, but then don’t allow yourself to have it because it’s not your scheduled “cheat meal” this is totally ignoring your body’s intuition. This probably will even make your craving for that food stronger. 

If you want to be an intuitive eater and master the skills of listening to your body’s needs and inner knowing, it’s time to ditch the notion of cheat meals. 

Tuning in to hunger and fullness cues becomes challenging when meals are labeled as “cheats.” Embracing mindful eating and listening to our bodies allows for a more harmonious relationship with food and fosters a better understanding of nutritional needs.

Sustainable Lifestyle Changes:

Rather than relying on the concept of cheat meals, I advocate for making sustainable lifestyle changes. This involves adopting a balanced and varied diet that includes nutrient-dense foods while still allowing room for occasional treats. Establishing healthy habits that align with your personal preferences and cultural background creates a foundation for long-term success.

Nutrition is confusing so it can be difficult to know where to start. 

Meet Your Body’s Nutritional Needs

The first step towards a more sustainable and realistic diet is to ensure you’re meeting your body’s baseline nutrient needs. Before you can appropriately navigate the variety and acceptance of all foods, it’s most important to make sure you’re fueling your body with adequate protein, carbohydrates, and fats. 

Once your baseline needs are being met regularly, it is only then when you can work on the more nuanced nutrition goals of acceptance and removing judgment. Not sure if you’re meeting your nutrition needs? Well, luckily, that’s what I’m here for!

Pay Attention to the Language You Use Around Food

The way you speak about food and the way you speak to yourself about your food choices mattes. Caution away from using terms like “clean eating”, “fordbidden foods”, or “junk foods”, as these labels can have aa huge impact on your relationship with food. Start by drawing your awareness to how you think about or speak about food. 

If you’re not ready to dive head first into a nutrition session, you can start by simply practicing permission to include some of your favorite foods. Instead of telling yourself “this is my cheat meal”, reframe the way you talk about the food and perhaps say to yourself “I am allowed to enjoy my favorite foods as part of a balanced diet”. 

Key Takeaways

As a dietitian, my goal is to promote a positive and sustainable approach to nutrition. 

I believe in fostering a healthy relationship with food that emphasizes balance, moderation, and enjoyment. 

Instead of adhering to the notion of cheat meals, consider embracing your cravings and adopting a holistic approach that respects your body’s needs and encourages a positive mindset towards food. 

Remember, nourishing your body is about more than just what you eat; it’s about creating a lifestyle that supports your overall well-being.


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I'm a dietitian, cook, and writer in New York City with a mission to spread the joy of food and eating, and empower others to live healthier and more delicious lives. I'll post on the blog to share some of my favorite recipes as well as fun and approachable nutrition tips and tricks. 

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