The question: Sometimes you see recommendations to have a weekly cheat day in your diet – and other times you read that it’s better to have one treat a day. Which is smarter?
The expert: Angela Lemond, a nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
The answer: If you have a craving for something that’s not on your healthy-eating plan, satisfy it, then get on with your day – rather than dedicating an entire 24-hour period to indulgence.
“I would say it’s better to have one cheat per day and not an entire day of cheating or eating what I call ‘sometimes food,’” says Lemond. “That nickname gives you an idea of how often you should be eating those foods: sometimes.” In other words, not all day (even if that’s only one day a week).
Lemond says it’s also important to keep in mind that kilojoules aren’t necessarily a bad thing – you need them to maintain stamina and muscle strength. “In an ideal world, you’re using food as your daily fuel to maximise your life,” she says. So if you’re choosing your splurges wisely, they’ll contain at least some energy-boosting nutrients and enough kilojoules to keep you going. Bonus: “The more active you are, the more your body is going to give you grace to have those indulgences because it uses them for energy,” says Lemond.
On the other hand, if you restrict your kilojoule intake severely for six days straight and then gorge on whatever’s in your fridge, cabinets, and secret sugar stash, you’re putting your body at risk in two ways: First, you may not be not getting enough nutrients (including kilojoules) over the course of the week. Also, you’re probably going to eat really super crappy on that cheat day – “and that guilt perpetuates more dieting,” says Lemond.
Avoiding that bummed-out feeling is a final reason to stick with small daily treats. “I think individuals stay happiest if they allow themselves to eat the foods they enjoy, within reason,” says Lemond. “The way you can do that is to not feel like you’ve failed if you’ve had a biscuit or two. I hear a lot of ‘I was bad today because I ate this.’ But you’re not bad if you’re not eating that all day long. If you have a little bit here and the rest of the day you’re eating high-nutrient foods, that’s completely OK.”
In other words, a healthy lifestyle is one that isn’t centred around dieting; it allows for some indulgences, and they don’t have to happen on a specific schedule. As long as you eat nutritious foods most of the time, that’s what matters.
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