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Replace Cheating with Permission to Eat

  • Eating
It drives me crazy how weight loss marketers keep promoting the idea of “cheat” eating. Is that how you really want to feel about enjoying food you love? The whole concept is rife with dysfunction, although I’m guessing that the intent of “cheating” with eating was meant to be benign. It’s time to stop using the word and this dangerous concept.
The Oxford Living Dictionary (, accessed 8/10/17), defines cheat as follows: “Act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage” or “An act of fraud or deception.” So, when we’re told it’s okay to have a cheat day of eating or to cheat eat occasionally, we’re basically being encouraged to act fraudulently and to engage in deception, to be dishonest and take advantage. Who or what are we taking advantage of? Who is being deceived?
I totally understand what the intent of cheating is in relationship to food, but it smacks of the diet mentality and the “good/bad” morality that is wrongly associated with eating. As I’ve said repeatedly, good and bad are moral terms and you’re not an angel because you eat kale or a devil because you eat brownies. By using the word cheat when we wish to eat certain foods—usually those that are deemed “bad” and are on the lower end of the nutrition continuum—it again makes eating a moral issue.
When we think about cheating with food, here are some associations we feel: we’re getting away with something we shouldn’t be doing, what we’re doing is wrong, or what we’re doing is something to be ashamed or guilty of. Moreover, by giving ourselves permission to cheat, the issue gets more complicated. It’s not as if we’re impulsively choosing a lower-nutrition food because we took and ate it unconsciously. That’s more of an accident. Instead by giving ourselves permission to cheat, it’s as if we’re saying that it’s okay to do something wrong intentionally, a confusing moral statement at best.
Why not just allow ourselves to eat certain (low nutrition and delicious) foods because they’re enjoyable and we plan on eating them in a way that is mindful and according to appetite signals? Why not break the association with good or bad and eat what we want to rather than engage in convoluted and pretzel logic to justify eating it. What we want to avoid like the plague while eating low-nutritious food is feeling guilty or ashamed or as if we’re doing something wrong. By giving ourselves permission, eating such foods becomes part of positive self-care and is no big deal, with no undertone of morality. Stop thinking about cheating which makes you feel furtive and as if you’re getting away with something when there’s nothing to get away with. Just give yourself permission and eat.