Why It's Actually Really Toxic To "Reward" Yourself With "Cheat Days"

by Julia Guerra

With #FitGirl culture saturating the crap out of social media, and completely unethical diet trends sweeping the world, consuming anything but salmon over a kale salad can almost feel like a sin all its own.

I think the biggest mistake people make when committing to a healthy lifestyle is failing to remember it's just that: a lifestyle, not a diet.

Going through the motions of eating clean and regularly exercising means nothing if your emotional ties to food (of all variations) are disordered.

And using toxic words like "reward" and "cheat days" in your everyday vernacular certainly don't help either.

By making the conscious decision to incorporate more vegetables, fruit, healthy fats, and protein into your meals, you're doing what is right for your body, and that is a reward in and of itself.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words have a psychological effect that can taunt and haunt you.

These are the reasons you and I should both wipe our plates clean of these unhealthy terms (and eat that doughnut, dammit).

This Toxic Vocabulary Can Cause Guilt

I've been in recovery for my eating disorder/body dysmorphia for four years now, and the top priority in making the transition has been to befriend food.

All food.

This includes carbs, sugars, and fats -- foods that may not necessarily be good for your body, but are heaven for your taste buds.

It was, and still can be, a struggle to break down the divider between to-eat and not-to-eat. I used to listen to influencers who said they allotted themselves one cheat day or meal per week to satisfy their sugar/grease/salt cravings.

I granted myself the same “privilege,” but convincing myself that a serving of ice cream for dessert on any day that wasn't my designated “cheat” or “reward” day only led to me overworking myself at the gym in order to burn off any “wasted” calories.

I was punishing myself for enjoying these indulgent foods and creating a different kind of disordered thought process that was really no better for me than my previous way of living.

Plus, If I'm Told "No," It Just Makes Me Want What I Can't Have Even More

For example, if I repeatedly tell myself I can't have that chocolate chip cookie as a snack, I think you can guess what I'll not only be craving, but actively focusing on for the rest of the day.

According to nutritionist and eating disorder specialist Melanie Rogers, R.D., it's really difficult for most people to compartmentalize their diet.

Strict limitations can lead to an overboard free-for-all once you've experienced a mere taste of freedom (literally), and before you know it, you're no longer treating your body with the kindness it deserves.

Eating Healthy Doesn't Negate Eating In Moderation

I know when I'm looking to curb a sugar craving, it's not uncommon for me to shun chocolate for a ton of fruit instead.

Unfortunately, sugar is sugar, and while the natural stuff is better for you, moderation is key.

According to Ryan Andrews, R.D., a coach with Precision Nutrition, listening to your appetite is vital for a truly healthy lifestyle.

You don't have to avoid the foods you're craving, or even embark on a mission to find the low-carb version of the meal.

Chances are, Andrews said, you'll probably eat a reasonable amount of the food you want if you simply let yourself eat it without beating yourself up over it.

Too much of anything can be toxic -- even an overabundance of good-for-you foods.

The solution is to simply go with your gut.

Don't "Cheat," Just Eat

Consistently eating healthy takes effort, but it also takes balance, which means fueling your body with more nutrient-dense foods in lieu of indulgences.

But it doesn't mean ruling out the sweet stuff completely.

Remember: To change your world, you have to change your mindset.

And in life, there are no cheat days.