The cheat day is one of the all-time great innovations in diet and health culture. Truly a genius, genius idea.
If you're unfamiliar with the cheat day concept, it's just a pre-chosen day of the week where you get to break your rules--dietary or otherwise. You want to enjoy an extra snack? Go for it on your cheat day. Got your eye on that big slab of cheesecake? Have at it--on your cheat day. But don't forget the important part: make sure you keep your cheating limited to the one day you've chosen for it.
Better still, you can apply the benefits of cheat days in many disciplines. Are you trying to minimize your consumption of television or other vapid media? Give yourself one day a week to indulge in it without guilt. How about building a habit of waking up early? A cheat day gives you one day a week to sleep in and not feel like a loser for it.
Most importantly, the knowledge that you've got a cheat day coming up makes it easier to control yourself the rest of the week. Here's how:
1) It makes habit-building easier.
It's a lot easier to follow any habit when you only have to string six days together. It's a lot harder to build a habit when you know it's for .... FOREVER. But when you incorporate a cheat day, your new habit isn't for forever, it's just for the next six days. Then you can indulge. It just doesn't seem quite so hard to do, so you actually do it.
2) Satisfy the craving, pursue the pleasure.
Who says a diet has to be a life of permanent abnegation? One thing that sucks about dieting--or any new habit for that matter--is the ugly permanence of it all: no more "bad" foods. No more fun.
But with a once-a-week cheat day, you can let your hair down and enjoy some extra pleasure. Better still, the fact that you can indulge means you'll actually experience fewer cravings for that indulgence. You'll appreciate the "sin" more, and you won't need it quite so badly on your "good" days.
3) You'll feel like crap after a heavy cheat day.
A well-executed cheat day has some convenient follow-on effects. A dietary example: if you eat clean for six days but then indulge heavily on day seven, you're going to feel pretty lousy--both on that day and perhaps the next couple of days.
This is a good thing. It just reinforces better habit formation. You'll want more discipline and you'll want to experience more moderation going forward, and it will be even easier to make it through the next six days without cheating.
4) More mindfulness.
All of this adds more mindfulness--not just with how you eat, but in any area of your life where you seek improvement. You know what sinful foods are for, and you know their proper place in your diet. You know what habits you want to build, and what behaviors you want to change. And since you can still "cheat" once a week, you know they'll never find their way back into your daily habits again. And this helps you reach your goals faster and more effectively... and without any unnecessary suffering.
Once again, cheat days aren't just for food. I'm convinced we can take the cheat day concept and use it in nearly any area of life. And hey, why not consider a financial cheat day? After six days of carefully minding your spending, reward yourself with a "money cheat day" and go out and blow a pre-determined sum of dough on whatever you want!
Readers, what ideas can you share for applying cheat days in your lives? Share your thoughts!
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