Cheat Days and Resolutions

CW: Discussion of diet culture.

January. The month when New Year’s resolutions are made and, within a few hours, usually broken. Dry January, Veganuary, getting into better shape, every year we seem to make statements that we will change our ways, and by doing that change ourselves. This year was no different. Resolutions were made and some of us even lasted four days, until Lockdown 3 was announced in England and, for many, the thought of continuing dry January in a lockdown was just too much.

Personally, I’ve never been too big (or good) with resolutions. For years I have attempted to eat healthily, and low and behold, a chocolate bar is eaten within days and really, I don’t care that once again I have failed to give up something that I didn’t really need to give up in the first place. But for some reason, 2021 came along and I decided that no, this year would be the year; not only would I do dry January, but I would also cut out all the delicious snacks and sweet treats that I love. And so it began. For the first few days I was doing quite well: I resisted that glass of wine on 1st January and a mince pie on 2nd! Lockdown was announced and I thought, screw this. So I ate about half a gingerbread man which tasted disgusting and was quickly thrown in the bin and felt angry that I had broken my resolution with something so disappointing. But as I hate to quit, I started again, and have continued to have no alcohol or anything sweet in January. I’ve even started eating eggs and I hate eggs!

It was only a few days in when a friend said to me, “Oh come on, you can have a cheat day!”, and suddenly I felt uncomfortable. The phrase ‘Cheat Day’ just didn’t sit right with me. I understand the premise behind it, having one day off from dieting or healthy eating to eat what you like can be, for many, something to look forward to, or a needed break. Now I’m not criticising people who have cheat days; in fact, I have dieted for 6 days and needed a cheat day on the 7th! But now it doesn’t sit right. If you type “Cheat day foods” into google, website upon website list the foods to eat on your specific Cheat Day. From pizza to creamy pasta to fudge brownies, these foods apparently fall under one category. This, I realise, is what I have an issue with. If I want to have a Pizza, I don’t want to feel like I’m cheating. We all know that if you eat a pizza every day perhaps that isn’t the best for you health-wise; but for me, labelling food as a cheat-day-only meal feels wrong. I know we label foods that are good for us, but we don’t say, “oh you can only have broccoli for healthy days and not cheat days!”. By labelling foods as a cheat day food, won’t that make us feel bad when we do eat it? Personally, I don’t want to feel guilty for eating a chocolate bar; I want to be enjoying it because I like chocolate, and I certainly don’t want to be pressured to eat it on one specific day.

For many, the Cheat Day system works and there is nothing wrong with that. But if, like me, you don’t feel right with it, then that’s completely fine too. If you are doing Dry January or eating healthy, and you want that last mince pie or just fancy a Gin and Tonic – then do it! There should be no pressure when we eat things, so don’t feel guilty for eating that cake because it’s not a cheat day. Eat it and enjoy it!

Photo courtesy of David Holifield .

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